How Reg Empey stumbled upon the high ground…

Roy Garland explores the interesting twist the UUP’s co-option of the PUP leader David Ervine has given to Unionist politics. He believes that the move and the DUP’s apparent abandonment of plans to back Tommy Kirkham for Mayor of Newtownabbey are indicative of the emotional limitations of the DUP and an internal unwillingness to take risks.

People throughout the community were shocked at Sir Reg Empey’s courage and honesty about the past deeds of some unionist politicians. Honesty about the past is a scarce commodity but surely has to be central to any genuine move towards peace and stability. In contrast, the DUP’s decision to opt out of a deal to elect Tommy Kirkham of the UDA aligned UPRG in Newtownabbey, illustrates if illustration is needed, the hypocrisy, dishonesty and fear of risk-taking that is endemic in DUP politics.

Although this analysis pays no heed to the larger game being played out between the DUP and Sinn Fein, which makes it unlikely the DUP would abandon it’s long term strategy/tactic of remain aloof from direct negotiations. Still, it does pose questions as to how far the DUP is prepared to provide leadership for the whole of the Unionist community, not least those working class communities in which Loyalist paramilitaries still wield considerable influence:

…instead of helping loyalists build a new shared future and fostering new links with other parts of the UK and the Irish Republic, the DUP and other reactionaries remained a drag on progress and now seem set on condemning us to government by Westminster and Dublin. This undoubtedly discouraged UVF decommissioning and the standing down of their organisation.

Into the midst of this dismal scenario Sir Reg Empey and Mr Ervine have thrown a mighty spanner that has upset the selfish calculations of the DUP. Sir Reg’s frank admission that, along with DUP machinations, Ulster Unionists also played fast and loose with paramilitaries is refreshing. At a stroke this created new possibilities. The disadvantaged and marginalised loyalist communities, whose fears hindered progress, might now enter the fray to frustrate the cosy circles of complacent negativity.

He concludes:

…getting out of the pit of sectarian enmity is a risky business. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared’. Sir Reg may have stumbled inadvertently onto this path but his actions now challenge us to dare to make peace. Many recognise the inherent wisdom in this though Empey’s personal motivation doesn’t really matter. It is actions that count. Rewards may or may not come in terms of UUP electoral gains but the time has come to do what is right rather than what is expedient. Scepticism about DUP hypocrisy and their policy of avoiding all risk-taking while doing nothing, grows.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty