The piece which I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph arguing that UUP coyness about eighteen UCUNF candidates should come to an end has precipitated a more or less instant response from Ian Paisley Junior. It comprises a concoction of little Ulsterism and innuendo which provides a neat summation of the DUP’s version of unionism. The party, in truth, has little aspiration to play a full role in the United Kingdom’s politics, or strengthen Northern Ireland’s role within the Union, it is much more preoccupied with fighting parochial cultural battles against Irish nationalists.
The Conservatives and Unionists arrangement offers the chance for Northern Ireland to participate in a pro-Union bloc comprising more than 320 MPs. Far more critical to the UK’s preservation, Junior contends, are two seats which may or may not be taken from Irish nationalist parties, should the UUP and DUP agree single candidates for South Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone. He is mired in precisely the short-termist, ourselves alone mindset which placed Northern Ireland on the ‘window ledge of the Union’ in the first place.
Does the DUP ever envisage a normal, participative role for the people of Northern Ireland, within the UK? If so, what is its strategy for achieving such a result? And if not, in what respect is it a unionist party in the first place?
I doubt we’ll ever get satisfactory answers. After all the DUP has shown no sign that it cares how Northern Ireland’s economy fits into a broader UK picture. So long as our block grant is preserved the rest of the country can hang.
However, it is important to clear up a few of the misrepresentations which colour Paisley’s interpretation of my article.
1) No threat is implied, financial or otherwise, by the insistence that UCUNF is predicated on eighteen candidates in eighteen constituencies. Nor is the subtext that the Conservatives should browbeat an unwilling UUP into acquiescence. But when a political deal is reached between partners, clearly it must rest upon principles. Providing EVERYONE in Northern Ireland access to national politics is critical to the New Force project. If that precept flounders then it undermines everything else which underpins the electoral pact.
2) The ‘stream of consciousness’ (what an odd phrase to use) which results in my conclusion that eighteen Conservative and Unionist candidates would ‘strengthen the Union’ is relatively straightforward. Providing the electorate in Northern Ireland with the means to elect the next government of the UK will strengthen the Union. Playing a full role in day to day Westminster politics, rather than preserving a status which is exceptional, and semi detached, will strengthen the Union. Attempting to heal division, rather than exacerbate it, will strengthen the Union.
3) Unionism and the Tory party might not be concepts one and indivisible (Tory, Tory, Tory - the Dupes refusal to say ‘Conservative’ manages to make them sound both childish and vaguely autistic), but the Conservative party is a national, UK party which champions the Union. What is Junior’s definition of unionism? Does it have anything to do with the United Kingdom as a whole or is its solitary stronghold Ulster? We know, after all, that his father flirted with Ulster independence and indeed a federal Ireland. I much prefer Sir Reg Empey’s contention that unionism, without the United Kingdom, does not exist.
There is no attempt in Paisley’s article to argue that agreed candidates would not contribute to the ‘overall sum of sectarian bitterness’. It is a point which he ignores entirely. Likewise, he does not address the restriction of voter choice which a deal would entail.
Ian Paisley jnr is attempting to prevent political entitlements, associated with British citizenship, from being offered to people in Northern Ireland. He is intent on preventing the electorate from playing a full role in national politics. And he has the audacity to present his attempts as a prospectus to strengthen the Union! Anyone whose unionism is informed by a genuine desire to participate in the United Kingdom, rather than sectional Ulster Protestant interests, will surely see through his diatribe.
David Gordon's excellent book, 'The Fall of the House of Paisley', is available at the bookshop.