The Siege of New Forge: Unionism’s latest pyrrhic triumph.

In the great tradition of unionist pyrrhic victories, the RUC Athletic Association has decided against following the policing service in the state and moving towards becoming a body reflective and representative of its new membership and the political future heralded in by the respective political agreements of Good Friday, Hillsborough and the Patten Reforms.

The political unionist campaign perfectly illustrates the central flaw in the argument of those who would contend that either unionist political party is capable of remodelling itself in a manner which could ultimately attract electoral support from outside the PUL community in which it has remained perpetually entrenched.

The involvement of First Minister, Peter Robinson, in the row is particularly noteworthy, if not surprising. After all, Robinson did threaten to resign his post as First Minister unless British Royal symbols were retained within the Prison Service. (Yup, a resigning offence, well worth plunging the state into political crisis….)

Robinson’s much lauded (well, on Slugger at least….) intimations that the DUP would like to extend its support base outside of the PUL core have yet to be followed up with substantive actions. Yet this is hardly surprising, given that it is most likely that the DUP’s partial rhetorical shift (slightly reconciliatory….?) has more to do with the campaign to extend its dominance within the broad unionist family at a time when its primary electoral opponent remains in the doldrums, seeking a messiah figure to rescue the once-dominant Official Unionists from political oblivion.

In his press release on the issue today, DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt has called on the Chairman of the Association, AA Will Kerr, to resign over the matter:

“I welcome the decision taken today to withdraw this highly offensive motion to change the name of the RUC Athletic Association. I am pleased that the proposer and seconder of the motion made this decision and that common sense has prevailed. I sincerely hope this is now the end of the matter and I would call on ACC Will Kerr to do the decent thing and resign immediately as Chairman of the Association.”

What an intriguing proposition. For the crime of seeking to make the Association reflective of the policing service that exists today in the north of Ireland, the DUP would have this ‘Lundy’ character forced from office!

But the pronouncements of the probable new leader of the ‘moderate’ brand of unionism, Mike Nesbitt, betray unionism’s inability to date to fully embrace the implications of a truly shared future, where the legitimacy of both political traditions is respected and reflected in the institutions of the state.

Here’s Mike Nesbitt as quoted in the Belfast Newsletter today:

He said: “At a time when it appears a government department is allowing an application for European funding for a shrine to the IRA in south Armagh, this is just another example of how we are in danger of rewriting history, and disrespecting the sacrifices of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to defend their families, communities and society.”

Ironically, Lundy ACC Will Kerr invoked the words of the British Queen, so humbly addressed by DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds in the House of Commons earlier this week, in support  of his case:

Again, from the Newsletter:

….Mr Kerr has quoted the Queen, speaking on her visit to Dublin last year, saying she provided “profound guidance” when speaking of the need to “bow to the past but not be bound by it”.

The police chief said: “It is grossly unfair to suggest that this proposal is an attempt to airbrush former RUC officers’ contributions. This is not about symbolism or signs, and it is not about politics or disrespecting the past.”

He said the proposal was a recognition that the sporting association of the police family needs to reflect the transition to the PSNI more than 10 years since its formation.

Mr Kerr said: “Therefore, the [News Letter] article’s assertion that the vote is being put on the agenda in ‘undue haste’ is frankly absurd.”

Describing the new name as “a more generic and inclusive title”, the chairman said it would make the association “more comfortable for all colleagues and friends, officers and staff, past present and future”.

Ever vigilant, they crouch in the foxholes…..