Real anti-agreement Unionists please stand up?

You might be forgiven for thinking that the author of this ‘letter’ was entirely obsessed with Unionist politics. It is simply that this is where all the interesting stories are happening. The nationalists have made most of their basic decisions on the agreement, and consequently there is rarely anything of substance to comment upon.

What does remain of the Nationalist agenda to be completed, eg the decommissioning of the IRA, or coming on to the Policng Board, seems unlikely to happen without the prosecution of a coherent and effective democratic case by its political opponents. It seems things may be moving in precisely that direction.

Malachi O’Doherty is always worth reading in any circumstance. He is a rare creature in terms of NI political columnists because is a self declared ‘three strander’ – that is he believes and consistently argues from the stand point of the legitimacy and practical outworking of the Belfast Agreement. Today he highlights a possible consequence of the UUP’s shift towards the hardliners – it might not work!

“The Unionist party will become the party that will be tough on Sinn Fein’s participation but at the same time will seek a way to make devolution work. The question for them is how they do this. If they take the view that they will not share power with Sinn Fein until the IRA has wholly disarmed, then they are setting a test that they can not verify. If they imagine they can share power with the SDLP but not with Sinn Fein, then they simply don’t understand that nationalists can not accept minority representation when their numbers qualify them for full partnership.”

He goes on to sharpen the edge of this nasty little dilemma:

“If I was Jeffrey today, I would be trying to find a means by which I might get back into the Assembly alongside Sinn Fein, after withdrawal on the principle of refusing to share power with terrorists, and without my full price being paid. I would consider too that if such a re-entry route was conceivable, David Trimble might have thought it up himself by now. He is not threatening withdrawal, therefore he hasn’t. Jeffrey will compromise or he will lead his people into the wilderness. He may start thinking now about what that compromise will be.”

It seems certain that Peter Robinson has tumbled to this and may be one jump ahead of the no-camp Unionists already. The DUP no longer consists of the one slogan of the ‘Ulster says no’ years (Telegraph editorial here), and have not since Robinson and his intellectual heavyweight colleague Nigel Dodds won the internal argument over whether or not they should take their Ministerial seats.

This leads to an interesting possibility: the DUP are quietly and under the covering fire of much big headline rhetoric, moving over to a newer, tougher version of a pro-agreement Unionist party. Which is virtually the only thing that will buy them serious amounts of Unionist votes!

As Civic Forum member Paddy Joe McClean said recently, “democracy is war, conducted without the violence”. It is up for grabs which Unionist bloc is prepared to give the Shinners a fight, but it’s no forgone conclusion that the UUP is the only one who’ll give full democracy a chance.