On the 16th of February 1886, Lord Randolph Churchill, a member of the troublesome “Fourth Party” backbench faction of the opposition Conservative Party, wrote to a colleague that the “…Orange card would be the one to play” if hardline Tories were to undermine any new attempt by the ruling Liberal Party government to introduce legislation into the House of Commons that promised “home rule” or limited autonomy for Ireland within the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In effect, the MP and arch-populist was arguing that violence and the threat of violence by the unionist minority on the island, orchestrated and justified by pro-union sympathisers in Britain, would be key to thwarting the democratic aspirations of the nationalist majority. In a subsequent rabble-rousing campaign that featured tumultuous rallies and fiery speeches in London, Dublin and Belfast the opportunist aristocratic and his allies brought that plan to bloody fruition, sparking an “Orange terror” that he both condemned and encouraged with a remarkable degree of political dissimulation.
By the summer of 1886 the revived belief that there could be some peaceful change to Ireland’s subservient constitutional status within the United Kingdom was squashed through the machinations of the Tory-led imperial parliament sitting in the Palace of Westminster, leaving it to a future generation of men and women to find a more revolutionary answer to the island’s perennial British question. That controversy was well over a century ago. Yet here we are again, watching the UK sink into political turmoil and acrimony as the country argues its future relationship with the rest of Europe while an extremist strand of unionism in its legacy colony in north-east Ulster threatens to unleash a modern incarnation of the Orange card.
The shuffling of the militant deck began in recent weeks when the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party, the original peace process dissidents, held a clandestine meeting in Belfast with several individuals closely associated with a number of illegal British terrorist groups, notably the infamous UDA-UFF and the UVF, a summit closely followed by threats of imminent action by the loyalist gangs. That sequence of events culminated in the DUP making statements in the House of Commons and the news media predicting, or “warning”, of the possibility of imminent loyalist violence on the streets. And all in supposed opposition to the latest and most hopeful compromise deal reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to end the lingering impasse over Brexit.
None of this has stopped mainstream politicians, journalists and commentators in Britain from expressing some sympathy with the Democratic Unionists or normalising their aberrant position within Westminster. Instead, the unloved heirlooms from the dark basement of British colonialism have been dragged out into the political limelight to be fawned over and elevated beyond their status in an attempt by the rival factions in London to gain the upper hand over each other. And if the bullet-tattered dead begin to appear in Belfast or Portadown, on the floors of pubs, in the seats of taxis, at the gates of company carparks, in the grounds of sports clubs, or on the roads outside schools, the DUP and those who give them succour, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem, Leaver and Remainer alike, will issue statements of condemnation, denying any contribution towards the excessive rhetoric, the talk of “enemies” and “traitors”, of “war” and “battles”, that will encourage or justify the taking of Irish lives among those imbued with a murderous surfeit of British loyalty.
If the wheel of history turns in the wrong direction it will be the incompetent engineers of Westminster and Downing Street who will have broken the delicate mechanisms that made peace possible, returning us to an era of conflict that serves no one but the political war-profiteers of Belfast and London.
This is one hell of a piece of writing. It’s beautiful in its truth. It’s terrifyingly bold in the telling of it. Thank you.
I second that!
The most chilling thing for me in recent days was watching the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, give an interview that amounted to him issuing a warning on behalf of the DUP and their loyalist allies. After seeing it the first time, I waited for a few hours and then watched it again to ensure that I wasn’t overreacting. I wasn’t! It really was astonishing that a chief of police would speak as he did.
Would you put a link to that in? Would be interested to watch that.
Here you go. It forms part of this Newsnight report: https://youtu.be/8x21SiXdCs0
Unionism was always going down this route when the end of their electoral majority beckoned. The end of NI is an existential threat to Unionism because it is the foundation upon which their British identity rests, without it they believe they cease to be Britiish. Alex Kane among other Unionists have been explicit about this. Others have said they would leave upon re-unification, which is essentially the same psychological re-evaluation of identity.
Thing is, senior Unionism has known this day has been coming for a long time. Unionism ran the NIO and NI state bureaucracy until the AIA began a glacially slow change. They have had access to the raw census figures and assigned 90% of No Religion to Protestant community in the 80s/90s to flatten the growth curve of CNR community. That was dropped in 2001/2011 when the clash with the electoral figures, and the school children demographics became far too egregious to be plausible.
There is going to be a body count because Brexit brought the UI timetable forward 5 years, the Troubles era Unionist paramilitaries would have been over 55 by then and likely to be less enthused about returning to conflict. The primary determining factor in minimizing that body count will be how long it takes to achieve a UI. The sooner done, the less time the Unionists have to ramp up the atrocities the better, they will keep it up until a UI is achieved and only after that will it begin to die down and eventually peter out. The best way to deal with them will be the Irish army and Gardaí on the streets of Ulster, they won’t indulge them in the same manner the UK state did.
I’m not so sure about the census figures ever being fiddled in NI – it seems to me that a growing Catholic demographic was always well documented. In particular, I don’t like the bundling of Protestants and unionists together, as if by definition they are the same thing. As well as this not being the case, it smacks of sectarianism.
It is true that the DUP and their henchmen have begun to smell the coffee and are panicking. The DUP supported Brexit because they calculated it would destroy the Good Friday Agreement and the possibility of a border poll. What they’ve managed to do, thus far, is to start many unionists quietly thinking about what a UI within the EU would mean for them as opposed to Brexit. Remember, at least 46% of unionists voted to Remain in the EU.
Don’t ever imagine that the loudest voices in NI speak for everyone they claim to speak for.
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NI would release raw census summaries and an interpreted census summaries. This latter would attempt to place those who claimed no religion into one of the two C/P communities – using the census details not published. At times 90% of NR were placed into the P community. The argument out of the NIO was that young Unionists were becoming secular and identifying as NR, while Catholics were not. Which was odd considering where the children were and what they were claiming as their religion. Running demographic predictions on the interpreted data put electoral parity 2035ish, rather than 2025ish.
After watching the BBC Spotlight series where it seems the govt deployed a two prong strategy of using the SAS to kill IRA and Loyalists to kill people related to IRA members why would it be beyond consideration that the NIO massaged govt data to aid in demoralizing Republicans?
“…why would it be beyond consideration that the NIO massaged govt data to aid in demoralizing Republicans?”
It’s not beyond consideration at all, it’s just that you claim it as fact and there’s no evidence to support your claim. The same as there’s no evidence for your claim that 90% of people identifying as “No religion” were added to the Protestant numbers (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one). Christ knows there’s been enough terrible behaviours on this island without having to make stuff up. At root, of course, you are seeking to extrapolate from religious head-counts and use these as hard-and-fast indicators of political affiliations. This is a huge mistake, for at least a couple of reasons. Do we never learn?
This from Tom Kelly in the Irish Times makes the point better than I ever could: “Because Northern Ireland is no longer made up of two communities, and two traditions. There are now three: unionist, nationalist and non-aligned. And the third category is growing. The latest social attitudes survey suggests half of Northern Ireland’s population now self-identify as non-aligned.”
The issues and caveats you enumerate are what make building a model of NI demographics with which to attempt predicting a date for a majority in favour of a UI fun.
This is what I found when I was crunching census/electoral data in ’03 onward to try and figure out if and when there might be a majority in favour of a UI. The best correlate to that is community background, noting the caveats that apply to that.
So I know everything you’ve listed, and others you haven’t, done my best to factor it into my analysis and then found that the Horseman at Ulster Is Doomed, Faha at Bangor Dub’s and Paddy Reilly on Slugger had done the same thing, come to the same conclusion and done it better than me. Faha is the most detailed and up to date, if you are interested in wading into the figures.
Now Brexit has overtaken us, and climate change will in 5 yrs.
Yes, I take your point(s). Best about it is, since the GFA there is/was a majority within both traditions that enjoyed the best of both worlds and whose position essentially boiled down to “anything for a quiet life”. The DUP have managed to mess that up good and proper by forcing people to take a position.
In a way that is the most telling aspect of this, Tamam, that the DUP had a situation where under the GFA/BA there was a sort of pause where there were no huge efforts to change that situation, and almost unblinkingly when an opportunity came, even if they thought initially the referendum would be won by Remain, they just couldn’t resist throwing it all up in the air. I think the ‘quiet life’ dynamic was key to the last twenty years – with an invisible border, circumscribed but very real all island linkages and implementation bodies, the broader EU context as well as a very active Scottish administration as well which has begun to exert itself internationally as Scotland, things were calm. If the eventual outcome of Brexit is something close to the current Johnson deal the DUP will have plenty of time to reflect on whether their approach was unbelievably counterproductive from the off.
Yes, we tend to forget that for most people politics is very low down their list of “everyday things to think about” until it intrudes directly into their lives. By their feverish pursuit of Brexit, the DUP in their arrogant sense of entitlement and rank stupidity have forced the NI people to think about “big politics” and make a decision on what sort of future they want. The likes of Dodds, Foster, Wilson, Paisley Jnr etc never could see what was staring them in the face – that the Good Friday Agreement, and the relatively settled Northern Ireland it delivered, strengthened the union with Britain. By hitching their wagon to Brexit and the Tory extremists they have managed to severely weaken the union – by how much remains to be seen.
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I think the chief constable’s comments are very possibly accurate, intemperate as they may be. Looking from across the water it does seem that there could be the possibility of the loyalist hardliners trying to foment violent dissent. Especially if some external dark actors should assist in steering it that way.
These considerations aside the hardliners who are now so upset with Johnson’s new deal might now care to reflect on their DUP colleagues who stood so resolutely behind Brexit and their so thought of Tory soulmates who’ve now sold them short.
With no hard border across Ireland to deliver a citadel NI one has to have a wry smile as just how the lumpen hardliners are only now waking up to a border down the Irish Sea – and a move towards a United Ireland. Dear oh dear oh dear how could the loyal subjects have been so let down. Well turkeys and Christmas come to mind especially when they should have known who they were dealing with.
But the hardliner loyalists are not the majority of Unionists and I think it clear that many unionists would actually be quite happy remaining with Ireland in a halfway membership of the EU.
Moreover, with the UK’s exit from the EU other issues such as workers protections could come very much into view.
Currently the U.K. and the ROI operate the same worker protections like the 48 hour working Directive, the Right to Maternity Leave, TUPE or the Aquired Rights Directive, and a raft of other protections. Out of the EU however the U.K. government have plans to introduce the Great Reform Bill which will in all probability seek to reduce rather than enhance worker protections. What then for the NI citizenry as they see better worker protections down the road.
Of course it’s not all one way. The lack of an NHS in the ROI is a big issue. Can’t quite imagine people, of all persuasions wanting to join up with a country that doesn’t have an NHS. But that’s one that Varadakar and Dail Eirean has to address.
Or what of business and the sale of goods into GB. With 56% ( or 18% ) of NI export currently going to GB does being out of Europe, or is it part in Europe hinder or help NI business. The former I suspect – not that the hardline unionists would know as they wrap themselves in flags and pictures of an unelected monarch.
Oh for an independent Scotland within the EU along with a United Ireland in the EU. That would I think would be a fabulous arrangement with Scotland the land bridge to mainland Europe.
Ah we shall see how it plays out.
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I think, at best, the PSNI Chief Constable was very naive in his comments. Whether or not there might be disorder because of the current proposed Brexit deal is not for him to speculate publicly upon. His line should have been, “Brexit is a political matter, and not for me as Chief Constable to comment specifically upon. What I will say is this: in a democracy people have an absolute right to protest, as long as they do so within the law. What no one has a right to do, no matter how angry they might be, is break the law. If people do break the law, no matter who they are, then the PSNI will arrest and charge them.”
So many people outside the usual suspects are telling unionists how angry they should be it’s almost justifying a violent reaction. They’re running the risk of self-fulfilling prophecy.
My first thoughts on the UK general election proposed for early December.
Corbyn is a gift to the Lib-Dems (and the SNP) and by extension the Tories. If the Brexit Party goes up against the Tories (which isn’t certain) they’ll take votes off them, but not nearly as many as some people think. I suspect Johnson will come out of this with, at the very least, a clear working majority.
Closer to home, if Alliance plays its cards right the party could win big-time (for them). They should steer clear of attacking BOTH SF and the DUP (eg on the non-assembly issue) and instead concentrate their fire almost entirely on the latter. There is nothing to be gained by attacking SF but much to be lost by spreading their fire too thinly. They should go for the soft and the usually-sit-at-home unionists by launching an all-out attack on the trustworthiness of the DUP. The DUP are extremely vulnerable on many fronts: ignoring the will of the majority on Brexit; sleaziness re cash-for-ash and Paisley Jnr’s lobbying etc; meeting UVF/UDA chiefs but not business leaders/farmers immediately prior to Johnson’s Brexit deal; naivety/hubris in propping up the Tories only to be pushed under the bus. About 46% of unionists voted Remain and that vote should be there for the taking for Alliance.
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SDLP standing aside in North Down East Belfast and North Belfast. Good News for pro remainders. SF should now do the same in South Belfast.
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Yes, well done the SDLP for setting an example. The other pro-Remain parties should do the same. South Belfast, in particular, is there for the taking.
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