Sunday, January 11, 2009

The approaching fork in the road for NI Unionism

A press release, purportedly from Deputy Leader Dodds, has been in my drafts folder for a several days now; by a happy coincidence, this post from Mick Fealty has given me the opportunity to do a “Compare and Contrast”.

Deputy Leader set out his stall here for the DUPs’ priorities for the next year:
Increasing capacity within the Protestant community
Supporting the efforts of the Orange Institution to expand their range of educational facilities and programmes
Helping isolated border Protestant communities
Increasing official recognition of the Loyal Orders to ensure that they are included in all statutory and governmental consultation exercises – in keeping with their status as a key stake-holder within our community.

“Our community” being?...well...

But there’s no mucking about there; this is aimed directly at the Prodiban, cultivated and nurtured carefully over the years by their Prophet, Big Ian. Also, it reads almost as a pre-manifesto pledge, targeted at the faithful who may be on the point of being seduced by the now "purer" theology of Jim Allister and his TUV fundamentalists. The timing of this release wasn't accidental.

In the interests of fairness, a sentence is also dedicated to the nation that we, as Unionists, are theoretically dedicated to:
"During the direct rule regime our Loyal Orders were sidelined and ignored whilst the cultural traditions of our community were subjected to systematic discrimination in terms of funding and support from government. Using devolution, the DUP has worked to end that situation and we can be proud of what we have achieved through working together with our friends in the Loyal Orders."

Oops, not that one.
(Substitute “Brit” for “direct rule” and it could read almost as a Republican tirade).
Nope, here we go:
The DUP will continue to fight against the erosion of our British identity and will battle to ensure that any attempt to dilute our British way of life is defeated.

Our "British identity" and "way of life" being?
Don’t worry, rhetorical question.
In pursuing these important goals we look forward to the continued co-operation and support of our friends in the Loyal Orders. Through working together we can build on the good work started and ensure that the Loyal Orders are afforded the recognition and support they deserve."

We scatch your back, make sure you put your "1" in the right place come June.
Or the 12th will probably be cancelled.
It is a pre-manifesto, isn’t it?
Now, Unionism of a slightly different nature from Mick Fealty:
Yesterday I had an impromptu interview with Owen Paterson, the Tories’ current Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Marion Little, the Tories ‘Battleground Director’ for the UK. Little has been with the party for thirty five years, through the fat years and the lean. She also had her finger prints all over the last few big Tory victories; including Boris Johnson’s convincing victory in the London Mayoral election last May. It was a fascinating conversation; my thoughts below the fold…

They are keen to push a key message the Tories have been pushing right from the point they unveiled this new force: ie that Cameron is both serious and in for the long term about this venture. That’s not the way it’s been viewed in the local press, where it has often been viewed as a ‘sinister’ by many nationalist commentators.

One of their first priorities will be to bring modern techniques to the way the new party chooses its candidates. In the UUP this has been a notoriously anarchic bottom up process. One of the new innovations is to bring in a Parliamentary Assessment Board for the Northern Irish Westminster seats to impose minimum standards on those chosen to stand for the Commons.

Their priorities? Women and Catholics. The former will come as no surprise. UUP party leader Reg Empey has previously acknowledged that his party must improve on its abysmal record of getting its women members into politics. But the latter will be met with some scepticism.

Yet they seem serious about their intent. They are even prepared for the likelihood that running a Catholic candidate will lose them votes in core Unionist constituencies, for the sake of establishing the principle.


Stand back there a moment: "Establishing a principle"?

Instinctly I would be against the selection of candidates on any criteria other than strictly ability (and obviously political beliefs), but in the interests of the long-term “establishing a principle” of a Union for All and ultimately the continuing maintenance of that Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it, short-term, I’ve no problems with the kind of prioritisation mentioned. The Union I want is a Union isn’t dependant on being a fully paid-up member of the Loyal Orders, it isn’t dependant on how a person’s family or anchestors have voted and it most certainly isn’t dependant on the religion of the candidate wearing the Unionist rosette.

I really think Northern Irish Unionism is now heading towards its most important cross-roads since 1921; military republicanism has been defeated, political republicanism is intellectually bankrupt and completely clueless about its next step forward, both the British and Irish governments are completely behind "the principle of consent". We now have the room and freedom to decide exactly what kind of Unionism we wish to see developing within our part of the United Kingdom- the communal “Ulster Prods only” option on offer from the DUP (and TUV), or the secular, wider, multi-cultural United Kingdom version that potentially may arise from the Conservative/Ulster Unionist Party link-up. The Tories seem intent in pouring in the resources, both financially and logistically, to facilitate the necessary changes- but there are two imponderables which they cannot influence solely with money and think-tanks :

1.How will the UUP (with its infintely stronger network to the Tories on the ground) grassroots react to this shift in what is perceived as traditional Unionist philosophy
2.Is there in reality a sizeable unionist (with small U), presently non-voting, potential electorate who will reward the risks being taken by both Cameron and Empey with this project?

Both questions will be a little bit closer to being answered after this year’s European election, but this (as was pointed out in Mick's post) should be looked upon, at best, as a medium term-project- bearing in mind the amount of work to be done, it would be really very considerate of Mr Brown if he didn’t call the next General Election before May 2010;)

5 comments:

Esoterica NI said...

See

http://esotericani.blogspot.com/2009/01/unionist-missed-opportunity.html

tony said...

oneil

The sooner an alternative for moderate Unionists is on offer the better. I reckon you know my take on this pretty well. I might disagree with your Unionism vehemently, but I support and salute your stance on the current outdated sectarian shite that dominates Unionist politics.

Anonymous said...

Funny how you ignored the DUP outlining childcare as another key priority in 2009? Strange that....

There's none so blind....

O'Neill said...

Funny how you ignored the DUP outlining childcare as another key priority in 2009? Strange that....

Which political party doesn't believe in the concept of improved child-care? Nevertheless,I have taken the liberty of posting in full Mrs Foster's opinion on childcare:

“Access to affordable childcare is an area many in Northern Ireland will want to see improve. It is a key challenge for the devolved Executive. Greater availability of childcare has the potential to bolster the local economy. In 2006, 30% of local women identified looking after their family as the key reason for not being able to be in paid employment.

For years parents in Northern Ireland have benefited from family members looking after children, but this is now becoming less common. Also the excessive bureaucratic hurdles deter potential childcare providers.

More widespread access to childcare would assist single-parent families and those on low incomes. Currently there is a vast array of different forms of publicly funded provision, and it is important these are standardised and that we ensure there is the same level of provision right across the country.

The issue of childcare has perhaps suffered from there being no single government department clearly responsible for it. During 2009 our Party will be seeking to expand and improve the limited level of provision which currently exists in the province. Improvement in this area would bring benefits to a large number of people throughout Northern Ireland and also serve to assist our local economy in challenging financial circumstances.”

Now read again Dodd's post on protecting protestantism...can't you see the difference of tone? No claims regarding what the DUP has achieved regarding child-care, no badgering of votes from the child-care "lobby", no claiming of "child-care" as a DUP "issue".

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