Cutting the Unionists out of the loop…

Good piece of writing in the Irish Times today from Graham Gudgin a former special advisor to David Trimble during his tenure of Northern Ireland’s First Minister’s office.He lays out a key flaw in the governments’ modus operandi:

The approach of both governments has been to first deal with the IRA and then to persuade the DUP back into government with Sinn Féin. Hey Presto the Belfast Agreement will have been restored and all will be well. The problem with this benign scenario is that every DUP spokesperson makes it crystal clear that a long quarantine period will be required before any move back into government is contemplated. Optimists talk of two years, others of 10 years.

The DUP’s attitude reflects the long deterioration in unionist confidence in the British government and increasing resentment at the continual flow of concessions to the IRA, which they see as an unrepentant and still well organised terrorist and criminal organisation.

For unionists, he argues, the governments’ fixation on achieving the objective of winding up the IRA’s long war seems irrelevant:

Many now prefer direct rule to any devolved assembly with Sinn Féin ministers. Any desire for devolution is felt more strongly by professional politicians than by their electorates. IRA statements and even the reality of decommissioning attract less interest than elsewhere, and in truth will not make much difference to people’s lives. There is little expectation that criminality will end, nor murders of people like Robert McCartney.

Interestingly he points out that sectarianism did not begin with partition (although he argues that that was badly handled), but had its origins in communal tensions back in the 1840s. He also notes that most Nationalists are seemingly oblivious to the disquieting effects their particular pitch for unification has on Unionists at large:

Few nationalists are able to see their aspiration as divisive, and none perceive how they feed loyalist paranoia and increase the need for the Orange Order and others to mark out their territory and proclaim their presence and their strength. The stronger security measures and more responsible political leadership that nationalists call for to deal with loyalist violence will be as ineffective as they were in the 1960s. It is time to deal with the fundamentals.

More pressing is the need for an end to divisive parades and the dismantling of loyalist paramilitary organisations, along with their paraphernalia of flags and symbols. However, this is only likely to happen when both the Orange Order and the loyalist people who support the paramilitaries perceive an end to the threat to their British identity. To achieve this, a starting point would be direct talks between Orange and loyalists, on the one hand, and the Irish Government and the SDLP on the other. The nationalists need to persuade the unionists that they present no real threat to their British identity. At present there is little sign that even moderate nationalists North or South are willing to do this, but a start could be made.