DUP dog barks in the middle of the day…

Sherlock Holmes fan Alex Kane examines once again the case of the dog that barked in the night time, or rather, most famously, didn’t… He believes theDUP is deplying the Rev William McCrea to calm the nerves of the party’s hard line followers who, he believes, “are not convinced, because the DUP is now asking them to believe that a bit of tinkering with the Belfast Agreement, that “treacherous and one-way-ticket to a United Ireland,” means that a Unionist utopia is presently under construction (without a provision for republican shrines).”By Alex Kane

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“Yes, to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

So, viewed from that perspective, what are we to make of the curious incident of the Rev William McCrea’s unexpected bark, published in the News Letter on July 18th, when he called upon people to “celebrate our victory over the IRA”? Was it a Road to Damascus moment; was it a mea culpa; was it a statement of the “bleedin’ obvious” for some slow learners in the DUP; was it a rhetorical flourish to justify DUP participation in what appears to be a remarkably cosy relationship with Sinn Fein? Or, to be utterly cynical, was it merely the DUP deploying one of its most hardline figures to flag up an official and ongoing softening-up of their traditional stance on both Sinn Fein and the IRA?

I only ask, because McCrea’s analysis dovetails very neatly into an opinion I have been expressing for a number of years in this column: namely, that Sinn Fein’s day “isn’t coming after all,” that the IRA “didn’t spend thirty-five years on a terror campaign merely to put former and existing members into a partitionist government,” and that the only new danger to the Union will be from “the blindness or stupidity of unionists themselves,”—particularly those who now seek to engage with Sinn Fein’s Unionist Outreach project.

It simply strikes me as very “curious” that the Rev McCrea should choose this moment (no doubt sanctioned by DUP HQ) to agree with the opinions of an unabashed and unapologetic Ulster Unionist. And judging from the letters, texts and e-mails to this newspaper, along with private conversations I have had with DUP members and supporters, I am not the only one who is surprised by this latest manifestation of what can only be described as New DUP. Let’s be honest, short of hoisting the Tricolour outside the First Minister’s home, there’s not much more that the DUP could do to make Sinn Fein feel comfortable!

But when all is said and done, the Rev McCrea is absolutely right; the IRA has been defeated. Let me give you some quotes from the IRA’s General Army Orders. “No member of the IRA may be a member of a political party which recognises the partition institutions of government as sovereign authorities for the Irish people.” “A Volunteer shall not swear or pledge himself/herself in any way to refrain from using arms or other methods of struggle to overthrown British rule in Ireland.” “Participation in Stormont or Westminster and in any other subservient parliament, if any, is strictly prohibited.” “The IRA will…support the establishment of, and uphold, a lawful government in sole and absolute control of the Republic (of all Ireland).”

I don’t actually know why it took the DUP so long to recognise that fact, when it has been palpably apparent since that moment, in 1996, when Sinn Fein joined the Forum and accepted that all future negotiations would involve and require formal changes to the IRA’s constitution and General Army Convention. But as soon as the DUP and Sinn Fein became co-equals in government it was inevitable that the DUP would have to find some means of justifying their new relationship. A bit of bluster from someone like William McCrea must have seemed a good idea at the time; particularly if it could be pulled off when the Assembly was in recess and great swathes of unionism were holidaying abroad!

What has become clear, though, is that elements within the DUP, within the Free Presbyterian Church and within their long-time core vote, are not convinced by news of supposed victories and suspected conversions. They are not convinced, because the DUP in general and Ian Paisley in particular has spent the past thirty-five years telling them that successive British governments were a bunch of spineless softies who did nothing but appease the IRA. And they are not convinced, because the DUP is now asking them to believe that a bit of tinkering with the Belfast Agreement, that “treacherous and one-way-ticket to a United Ireland,” means that a Unionist utopia is presently under construction (without a provision for republican shrines).

It would be wrong, however, to assume that the DUP will nosedive into some sort of internal or electoral meltdown. While they are obviously preparing the ground and flying kites for further shifts of stance, I would be surprised if they didn’t remain a united party. Local media and business consensus is broadly supportive, along with that of national and international opinion. And I don’t detect any great anti-power-sharing rebellion anywhere; not least because most unionists, even if reluctantly, accept that there isn’t a viable or available alternative to the present set-up.

It will be interesting to see what Jim Allister chooses to do. I would be surprised if he didn’t opt to defend his Euro seat in 2009 as an independent; and there are rumours in the undergrowth that he may try and cobble together a team of candidates for a General Election expected in 2008. But again, I suspect that the days of independent unionists are long gone. Meaning, of course, that the ongoing downward trend of the overall pro-Union vote will continue; an issue that has concerned me for many years, now.

Anyway, back to the Rev McCrea. However he and New DUP Central may try and spin his analysis, the fact remains that he, and they, have radically overhauled their thinking and embraced the political landscape fashioned by the UUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein itself, in 1998. Welcome aboard guys, albeit very belatedly. And how about an equally belated apology to those poor suckers who voted for you in the expectation that you would give them something entirely different? Or maybe, just maybe, an apology to those of us you condemned for predicting that this is exactly what you would do if you got into the driving seat!

First published in the Newsletter on 30th July 2007

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