Satire is the only sane response to Jeffrey Donaldson’s remarks on plans to reform the Act of Settlement. O’Neill’s post on ‘Unionist Lite’ is, therefore, especially nicely judged. The DUP junior minister’s religio-constitutional musings would be funny, if they were not so serious. Donaldson is, after all, a leading representative of Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-Union party.
There is an argument, based on constitutional conservatism, which can be invoked to defend the status quo. Cranmer, good Anglican that he is, makes a fist of it. It does not involve inferring that Catholics cannot show sufficient loyalty to the United Kingdom because of their religion, nor does it bizarrely imply political, rather than merely religious, allegiance to the Vatican as a component of Catholicism.
Personally I am more readily persuaded by Henry McDonald, and his contention that the constitutional impairment of Roman Catholicism is to the detriment of the Union, particularly in Northern Ireland, where it forms an impediment for some Catholics, who might otherwise be more comfortable expressing unionism. It certainly represents an embarrassing, though minor, anomaly for those of us who argue the essentially civic character of British citizenship.
As for Donaldson, his comments acquire an additional layer of irony when one considers his warnings of ‘constitutional crisis’ had the Abortion Act been extended to Northern Ireland. Obviously, whilst placing religion above country makes Catholics a hazard to the United Kingdom, Donaldson’s own explicit threats against the sovereignty of Parliament, which were animated by his religious faith, don’t preclude him from being a model (Protestant) citizen.