Time for Unionists to set egos aside?

Alex Kane argues that there is a danger to the pro-Union position in the current stand off between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Peter Hain, he argues, is decidedly more pro-united Ireland than any of his predecessors. It is time for Unionists to grasp the nettle and accept the unpalatable now, rather than the unacceptable later. That he suggests is better done with a united unionist strategy than one divided by ‘petty little egos’.By Alex Kane

The UUP’s Sam Gardiner has been banging on for the past few weeks about the dangers of Plan B being foisted upon us if the DUP doesn’t cut a deal fairly soon. To be honest, it seems a little bit churlish to complain about the DUP, when it was, in fact, the UUP that brought down the last Assembly and Executive. And brought it down for precisely the same reasons which the DUP now refuses to resurrect it.

But Sam does have a point when he speaks of British “disengagement.” Mo Mowlem was the most pro-Sinn Fein of all our Secretaries of State; but because her approach to them was all flirt and flimflam, she was more of an irritant to unionists than a danger to the Union. Peter Hain, on the other hand, is the most pro-united Ireland of our Secretaries of State. It isn’t just a mere hold-all item in his political baggage, either, rather a thumping great trunk which takes up most of his trolley. He has a thirty-year commitment to a united Ireland and British disengagement. He is no friend of unionism and a positive danger to the Union.

From the mid-1970s, when he was listed as a sponsor of the Troops Out Movement, Hain has been, to all intents and purposes, an Irish republican. At the time of the Hunger Strikes he said; “Britain is actually part, the main part, of the problem, not the source of the solution. Britain’s presence…reinforces divisions, institutionalises conflict and thereby positively obstructs a solution.” In 1987 his solution was this: “It’s got to be a policy that recognises that the historic partition of Ireland is the root of the problem. That Britain’s presence in the North continues to be the main obstacle to the solution to the problem.” In March, 1994, the magazine of the Troops Out Movement quoted Hain as saying, “I am a longstanding supporter of British disengagement from Ireland and the Irish people’s right to national self-determination.”

The most damning assessment of Hain comes from Paul Dixon, a senior lecturer in Politics and an acknowledged authority on Northern Ireland: “The evidence presented here suggests that Peter Hain, rather than valuing the Union, has been a consistent supporter, over many years, of breaking the Union…There is no evidence to suggest that the Secretary of State has made a damascene conversion to support the Union and he has refused to renounce his previous views. This background makes him the most partisan Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ever to have been appointed.”

So, does Peter Hain (appointed by a Prime Minister who knew his views and background) sound like a man who will give a stuff if the DUP calls his bluff on November 24? Indeed, isn’t there a very strong case to be made for Sam Gardiner’s suggestion that Hain would probably welcome the opportunity to move ahead with a Plan B that will ultimately cripple unionism and undermine the Union?

The choices facing unionists aren’t particularly palatable. Devolution with Sinn Fein, even though the Agreement remains riddled with “constructive ambiguity.” (Why won’t the parties even consider the option of creating an official opposition within the Assembly and make the whole process more democratic, accountable and worthwhile?) Failing that, it seems to be a case of take your pick between panjandrum style direct rule, de facto joint sovereignty or first step disengagement.

In 1997 the UUP stayed in the talks process on the basis that “walking away” at that stage wasn’t an option. It was the right strategy at that moment. The problem is, almost a decade later and the pressure is still on unionists to cut a deal for fear of something worse around the corner. That is no way for negotiations to be conducted, for unionists, yet again, have been placed in an intolerably unfair and vulnerable position.

Between now and November the DUP and UUP will need to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for unionism and the Union. That suggestion will not please leading figures in either party, but they must face the fact that the Union is more important than their petty little egos.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 5th August 2006


  • aquifer

    “Why won’t the parties even consider the option of creating an official opposition within the Assembly and make the whole process more democratic, accountable and worthwhile?”

    Because the pull of permanent inclusion in government is too great? Because having a pesky opposition addressing real issues could risk the breakup of the sectarian blocs? Because local egos are not so much little and petty as large and all-consuming?

    Hain’s genius is that he is staging the ritual humiliation of our political class, tackling the big difficult issues with verve. This show of political force reduces our ‘representatives’ to spectating castratii, suspecting that Hain will bring the same energy to suppressing any nascent sectarian insurrectionism, their previous resort when thwarted, as they must all be. Interestingly the reforms of rates, education, and councils could create an opening for tory or redistributionist parties, moving the dormant middle classes into the political arena.

    Hain is proving his bone fides to SF, forcing through the education reforms, for example. Ironically this kind of commitment to radical change could flush out opposition forces, especially if overdrawn UK political parties are better funded in future.

    Flags are cheap, but will not get all the votes if parties are funded to present their real programmes to a diverse public.

    Think the protestant gambler who wants to gamble on a Sunday, the Unionist who went to grammar school, the irish feminist who wants a full programme of birth control and childcare, the old nationalist landed with a monster rates bill.

  • barcas

    Ian Paisley, “petty little ego”

    An oxymoron if ever there was one.

  • bertie

    “In 1997 the UUP stayed in the talks process on the basis that “walking away” at that stage wasn’t an option. It was the right strategy at that moment.”

    It might have been the right strategy if it had been prepared not to agree to an imoral deal. As it wasn’t up to resisting the pressure to agree to things like release of prisoners, it should have walked away. Like an alcholic should keep away from alchol. The UUP should keep away from being in a position to appease terrorism. Luckily the electorate has helped it in this regard.

  • Bushmills

    The mainstream Unionist consensus for the last ten years has been, to coin a phrase “no guns, no government”, the Ulster Unionists smashed that consensus when they threw their lot in with gun-men in order to enhance their share of government positions – how can they even attempt to negotiate with a straight face now?

  • Is it possible for the ego politicians to think of the community for a change? Me thinks not!

    By definition politics is a game of popularity and each one of our uneducated moronic politicians has failed time after time to push this society into the age of enlightment.

    all of the politicians! That inlcludes Hume, Paisley, Trimble the lot.

    They are driven by ego and to be blunt serve only their self preservation.

    So here’s my suggestion ……….

    1. stop their pay at the assembly right now!
    2. All decisions in Northern Ireland are to be conducted on the Fupping Steven Nolan Show as he is so darn tooting important.
    3. We enact a law which forces politicians to stand on a sunday in a park on a stool and tell us why they should keep their jobs.
    4. We remove politicians who …….think Don Corleone was an opera, Alfred Hitchcock is something used by athletes and that the equality commission are based in equality street.

    5. Lastly we remind the voters in this country that whatever all of them are the same and the world won’t fall in on itself if we dont vote for them.

  • Marcus

    Alex Kane makes a very valid point.

    In my opinion, Peter Hain and the current govt won’t hesitate to press on with “plan B”. This won’t be joint authority – they are not stupid and won’t jump straight into that. However, it will be an awful lot more than tourism (as some Unionists like to delude themselves).

    This govt will be around for 2.5 – 3.5 years and, considering the demographics in NI, this will constitute the start of a process of disengagement.

    Unionism has no real voice in Westminster while it would have in the local assembly. I believe that the DUP would be unwise to call the govt’s bluff. There is no way that Blair and Co will back off – Blair has invested too much time and effort for that.

    I agree with Alex – if Unionism continues with it’s present strategy – they will be making a bad position even worse.

  • dantheman


    Cheer up ffs. Its your own fault you are in this mess and are forced to elect this rabble. They are all career politicians. Robinson, Wilson et al would be politicians in a UI.

    A UI is inevitable. Trying to get this point thourgh to the orange rabble is like trying to putting a cat into a cage when you are bringing it to the vet.

    PS: One solution would be to go back to the good old days of Stormont and only let houseowners have the vote. Considering the amount of property owned by southern investors, I predict a FF majority in the next sitting of Stormont!

  • Chicken Licken clucks again – ‘you’re all doomed, doomed I tells ya . . .’ unless you, what? renounce the wicked DUP? Embrace the red hot array of talent on offer from the UUP/UVF? And of course if we don’t heed the wise words of Alex Not-Right-About-One-Bloody-Thing-In-The-Last-Ten-Years Kane, well think of the unspeakable horrors which will befall us. Fractionally more jointry (of the sort we already have, and was explicitly justified as being a Good, Union-enhancing thing by the likes of Trimble and his running dogs). Monica McWilliams being put up for a CBE, and perhaps 13 or 14 more Quango places. And, er, that’s it. That UUP flacks have been reduced to this level of political bed-wetting is one thing. What exactly Esmond is getting for his, sorry, our money is quite another.

  • One other thing for the bedwetters: Hain stops being SoS this autumn. But no doubt he’ll have slaughtered all Orange first born by then, if we haven’t . . . blah, Trimble was right all along . . . Intransigence . . . drone . . . [incisors gripped firmly on the teat of public expenditure because we are so facking useless not one of us could actually get a job in the private sector]. And repeat.

  • Keith M

    dantheman “A UI is inevitable.” This is as nonsensical now as it was 80+ years ago when nationalists firststarted adopting it like a Buddist style chant.

    Thankfully these days it’s really only the really slow learners who are still left droning on like this. No longer will you find any politician in this country saying that they expect to see a “United Ireland” in their lifetime. They have seen three generations of Irish politician go to their grave, while the position of N.I. within the U.K. remains secure.

    Paradoxically it is these slow learning drones that feed into the unionist psyche. They allow some Unionist politicans to constantly warn of the threat of a UI as some kind of bogeyman lurking around the corner and only said politicians can potect them.

  • lib2016


    the ‘start of a process of disengagement’ is closing Ballymena and running down the RIR while Britain is chronically short of troops. It’s already in train.

    Keith M,

    who on earth has any confidence in any unionist politican to ‘protect them’? The election of the DUP was the sign that the unionist grass roots have lost all faith in their politicans – hence the choice of the bathetic ‘red berets’.

    Do you ever actually speak to loyalists?

  • No the election of the DUP served to demonstrate the true intentions of the loyalist unionist classes.

    Regarding unification – tick tock tick tock

    let’s count the friends of unionism on one hand. why theres those conservative chappies, few labour, south africans, then you have the 13 tribesmen who are in the orange order in zambia

  • Elvis Parker

    The demise of the UUP has obviously affecting Alex badly – this article is the biggest load of inward looking defeatest drivel I have seen in a long time. Even John Coulter sometimes has more sense than this.

  • Big Hughie

    “Between now and November the DUP and UUP will need to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for unionism and the Union.”

    And that’s where the story of doom and gloom ends: begging the question, like what exactly?
    This piece would have been worth running if it had at least suggested some idea of what “the best possible outcome for unionism and the Union” might look like.

  • declan

    ““A UI is inevitable.” This is as nonsensical now as it was 80+ years ago when nationalists firststarted adopting it like a Buddist style chant.

    Thankfully these days it’s really only the really slow learners who are still left droning on like this.”

    And by 2021 it could well be nobody droning on like this. The “2021 scenario” in which it’s clear that the nationalist increase has come to an end short of the level needed to result in a UI. At that time, nationalists in the West of the six counties could well start to think in terms of a fair repartition.

  • dantheman


    One thing I must ask, what do you think should happen to West Belfast and Moyle under such a scenario?

  • declan


    I don’t want to let this thread get sidetracked so perhaps that sort of detailed question can be limited to the threads explicitly on repartition.

  • kensei

    “I don’t want to let this thread get sidetracked so perhaps that sort of detailed question can be limited to the threads explicitly on repartition.”

    Why post the mother fucking STP here then?

  • Ziznivy

    Alex is spot on in this piece. What is conveniently forgotten by the present DUP mob, is that rejectionist unionism has suffered a major reverse before. It was only after Trimble took the reigns from Molyneaux that unionism began to play a role in shaping its future once again. Thankfully the Anglo Irish Agreement is no more, but an equally grevious defeat is not as improbable as the DUPes would have us believe.

  • I sometimes wonder, if Republicans didn’t have Fantasyland to live in, would they spend more time in the real world?

  • Greenflag

    Northern Irish Nationalists need to stop depending on Peter Hain or any other British Government official or any group of Unionist politicians to determine their politcal and economic future . Instead NI nationalists need to look to themselves alone. Economically Northern Ireland’s nationalists have more to lose from another 15 years of the ‘status quo’in NI.

    Based on the present Northern Ireland GDP of 29,000 US dollars per person (67% of which is public sector dependent ) and a growth rate of 2.5% for NI for the next 15 years then NI GDP in 2021 would be approx 42,000 US dollars per person or 10,000 US dollars per person less than the Irish Republic’s GDP per person in 2005 . At a 4.5 % economic growth rate the Irish Republic’s GDP would be approx 100,000 US dollars per capita in 2021.
    I can see no good reason why Northern Ireland’s ‘Irish people ‘ should put up with another 15 years of ‘ navel gazing ‘ in the failed political and economic entity of the 6 county NI State . They would be far better off economically and politically in a larger Irish Republic now rather than in 15 years time as some of the more ‘naive’ republican minded posters seem to think. Not having to deal directly with political ‘Unionism’ will be just an added benefit for Irish nationalists.

  • Keith M

    Greenflag can I suggest you lend your economic forecasting genius to the ECB. It is well known that forecasting economic growth beyond 12-18 months is next to impossible. (How often have forecasters got it wrong even in this limited timeframe?).

    You were granted a thread to dicuss the fictional solution of repartition and I think I can speak for several other posters when I say I’d be glad if you kept it there.

  • Billy

    Karl Rove

    I think there are quite a few Unionists living in “fantasyland” on this site.

    They seem to delude themselves that, by refusing to work with Sinn Fein in a local assembly, they have gained some sort of victory. Possibly – but at what cost?

    Do you really think that “plan B” won’t include a considerable say in NI affairs for the RoI govt? – the July 25th announcement and the adoption of the 7 council proposal (which originated from the RoI govt) seem to prove otherwise.

    Blair and Hain will both be around beyond November and, even when they both move on, this govt will be in power for potentially another 3.5 years. I don’t think there is any major shift in NI policy coming.

    Another “fantasyland” that Unionists live in is the idea that the vast majority of the UK electorate are really concerned about NI and are pro-Unionist. The vast majority of the UK electorate don’t understand the NI situation or care less about it. They see Paisley as a ridiculous figure and there would be very little (if any) interest if the UK govt moves to get out of NI.

    The final fantasy that some Unionists indulge in is that you can prevent the UK govt from doing these things – how? You have little or no political influence outside NI – NI is 70% dependent on UK govt handouts. What are you going to do – start an armed campaign aginst the UK govt to make them let you stay in the UK!!

    Based on previous experience, ‘Loyalist” terrorists will start killing any innocent Catholic unfortunate enough to cross their path but, if it happens in Ulster, it doesn’t impact UK public opinion or govt policy.

    I do not live in fantasyland – I am a middle-aged Nationalist and I doubt that I will see a UI in my lifetime. However, I think that anyone who will be around in 30 years or so will see a very different picture to today.

  • dantheman


    I don’t want to let this thread get sidetracked so perhaps that sort of detailed question can be limited to the threads explicitly on repartition.”

    Declan, see the post one above mine. It was your post and you raised the issue.


    You can be surprised how quickly things can move. Due to the lopsided nature of the state it’ll take a while. Look at the last 12 years (almost half of my life):

    -End of IRA campaign
    -End of sectarian shootings
    -End of a lot of punishment beatings
    -Disbandment of RUC
    -Increase in % of Catholics from 7% to 20% in police service
    -Disbandment of RIR
    -Closing British Army watchtowers
    -Much reduced troops levels
    -Closure of army bases
    -Closure of border checkpoints
    -Truth emerged about collusion between ruc/udr and loyalists
    -Apology from Mr Blair towards ‘any irishman will do’ tactics of brit police in the 70’s
    -Successfully stopped a no of sectarian orange marches through nationalist areas.
    -Successfully exposed to global media what a bigotted organisation the OO is, and some members have recognised the need for reform
    -Acceptance of Irish language status
    -Increase in Irish language schools
    -Acceptance that Irish government must be involved in all major decisions in the north
    -Increasing southern investment in the south
    -DUP/UUP/loyalists trips to Dublin to meet ministers
    -Football for all campaign by IFA and Linfield, proving that even protestant sports oganisations are finally facing up to th errors of their ways. Setanta Cup
    -8/18 MPs are nationalists (was 4/17 12 years ago)
    -Great increase in cross border trade, corss border transport links being set up.
    -Organisations such as intertradeireland being set up
    -Massive improvement in wealth and infrastructure in the south

  • Greenflag

    Keith M,

    (Below is a view from one of your less blinkered NI provincials)

    ‘A generation ago Northern Ireland accounted for about one third of all-island GDP. Now it accounts for little more than 15% and it is reducing all the time’

    And the boom continues . Regardless of all the predictions of bubbles bursting made 10, five and even two years ago, the southern economy is heading for yet another year of five to six per cent GDP growth.

    That is over twice the UK growth rate. And it has been that way for over a decade now. And while many are surprised at the duration of the boom there is no denying that it is real.

    In Northern Ireland our insular, even prejudiced, ways of dismissing it are no longer sustainable. The boom is not political spin or funny money from Europe.

    Nor is it transfer pricing or dodgy statistics. The otherwise excellent UUP economist Esmond Birnie MLA must really wonder about some of the sceptical analysis he offered some years ago on the Republic’s economy. The reality and substance of the boom is now visible everywhere on the ground.

    Ireland is now home to tens of thousands of millionaires. This year Ireland passed-out the USA as the biggest external investor in UK property. Irish entrepreneurs are active in major investments all over the eastern European economies and further afield.

    Officially Ireland has the highest GDP per capita in the world after Japan – 50% higher than that of Northern Ireland. A generation ago Northern Ireland accounted for about one third of all-island GDP. Now it accounts for little more than 15% and it is reducing all the time.

    So we in Northern Ireland must accept that things have changed. That our nearest neighbour has made the economic ‘step change’ and this must have implications for the economic relationship between north and south.

    Perhaps we in the north should now see our former poor relation as having become our rich uncle. So we should be asking ourselves two fundamental questions.

    Firstly – why are we seeing so little ROI wealth coming our way? Some £5.5 billion was invested in UK real estate in the last 24 months but only a tiny proportion of that was in Northern Ireland. Why?

    It must make economic sense for an expanding business in Dublin, where everything is at full stretch and ridiculously costly, to consider operating 60 miles up the road in a now peaceful north?

    The answer is that we are either a poor investment proposition or there is still a chill factor of the ‘Troubles’ impacting these decisions. It is probably the latter.

    The second question about low economic spillover from the south is what are we going to do about it?

    Invest NI, while chasing foreign direct investment worldwide, should think about beefing up its presence in the Republic. Why not prioritise investment from the south? Open a proper office in Dublin and in Cork and get some top notch people to work the economic and political front.

    But the big job is hearts and minds. If the normal laws of economics applied here, the southern managerial classes would already be migrating north. But they are not. We therefore have to get out and sell the north to southerners! Corporately and individually.

    And to paraphrase one of the north’s greatest ever ambassadors south, the inspirational Kieran McGeeney: “If you are serious about success and you have belief, you go to Dublin and really let them know you mean business.”

    ‘It is well known that forecasting economic growth beyond 12-18 months is next to impossible’

    Past performance is no guarantee of future success or results but if you want to hire someone to do a job properly and to a high standard it’s usually a better bet to employ someone with a verifiable track record of achievment . Now how would you rate the ecoomic and political track record ‘achievement’ of NI over the past 15 years ? or 30 ?