2 + 1 = ?

Irish Senator Eoghan Harris thinks it is time for the UUP to disappear. Alex Kane argues the issue of Unionist unity is complex and sceptical of the electoral benefits. However, Kane’s analysis mixes the issues of a pact with a merger, two situations with different costs and benefits.

  • The Third Policeman

    Fair enough, merge away. From a nationalist point of view this would be a God send surely. At the cost of losing S.Belfast we gain a massively increased number of unionists who just simply won’t bother voting. You think the number of disillusioned unionists is big now? Wait till they can only vote for what would effectively be the DUP with a hint of uup.

  • slug

    I agree with Kane that merger would be electorally a bad idea, because DUP can reach people UUP can’t and vv. I am not persuaded (one way or the other) on his point that a pact in a couple of constituencies would perpetuate tribalism—it was interesting to hear the argument—let the debate continue. Empey sounds like he is pro-pact.

  • slug

    Third Policeman any pact would likely only be for a few House of Commons seats and maybe West Belfast Stormont. The new House of Lords elections, Europe, Stormont, and Councils are all (will all be) PR so not that much need for deals in that context.

  • The new House of Lords elections, Europe, Stormont, and Councils are all (will all be) PR so not that much need for deals in that context.

    It could be strongly argued that a wider choice for Unionists, the better for these elections. There are gaps (or potential) on both the left and right of the present political unionist establishment and it wouldn’t even require the setting up of new parties to exploit this situation.

    E.g. an individual, independent, liberal unionist candidate standing in somewhere like S. Belfast or N.Down would stand a pretty good chance in council or, perhaps, even Assembly elections, but I doubt very much that they’d get anywhere in a Westminster first-pass-the post scenario. The Prodiban Ultras could likewise do the DUP serious damage in places like Ballymena Council, but they’ve no chance of much more than that.

    The point is that Unionists are obsessed with this question of setting up parties, alliances, mergers…really, in the long run, it’s not required. Give the electorate as wide a choice as possible, increase the total unionist vote and ultimately make sure we win the Border referendum. If along the way one or two mishaps occur because of this strategy then it’s not the end of the world, Dr McDonnell is now my MP, as far as I know, Northern Ireland still remains part of the United Kingdom.

  • ulsterfan

    There may well be one party but not in Paisley’s lifetime.
    Too many Unionists hold a grudge against him for dividing unionism in the first place.

  • Objectivist

    What fit of insanity seized control of Bertie Ahern, leader of the ‘Republican Party’ to appoint this man to the senate ?
    What strikes me about this speech is its luridly partisan and tribal tone.It reads like a consultant’s report to one side validating its tribalism, and giving advice, on how to demarcate, consolidate, and expand its tribal base.
    Nationalists, apart from a sidewipe at Bobby Sands, are effectively consigned to ‘non-people’ status.
    Mention has been made of a ‘Hitler/Stalin pact’. The *real* Hitler/Stalin pact is the bizarre rapprochement between Fianna Fail and Sindo unionism.
    For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and if this merger takes place I believe that Sf and the SDLP will finally hop into bed – no more bizarre than the current FF/Sindo melange !
    Unionists would be well-advised to beware of Harris. he has a track record of being a cuckoo-in-the-nest – cf Fine Gael and the Worker Party

  • Turgon

    The question of a united unionist party or how many we should have is extremely difficult. I find both Harris and Kane’s analyses interesting.

    The idea of a single party has some attractions and would probably mean some short term electoral gains. This might cause problems with increasing sectarian division though I am doubtful that the UUP has that high a chance of gaining that many more catholic votes. I would have thought, however, that a single party would look divisive to nationalists. I also suspect that a united party would loose some votes to Alliance.

    The gain in unionist morale which is dismissed by Kane may be greater than he thinks. I can certainly remember when I used to canvass for the UUP in the early 1990s people often told us there should be one party and then they would be more likely to vote. I have no idea to what extent this view remains extant. I also think he underestimates the importance to west of the Bann unionists of regaining FST (yet again I defer to Dewi about the long term viability of FST as a unionist seat). I obviously cannot speak for nationalists but I would have thought that more moderate nationalists and catholic unionists would not be too annoyed about a single unionist candidate to regain FST. On the FST situation I know I am biased and am not trying to annoy oneill but I think describing Gildernew as an MP as “a mishap” is a bit of an understatement (McDonnell I would describe as an acceptable mishap more easily).

    Then of course one must turn to the issue of the Prodiban. None of us know how many of them there are nor how many would abstain rather than vote DUP, and indeed where they would abstain rather than vote (I suspect Fermanagh Prodiban will vote, East Belfast, North, South and East Antrim and Strangford ones may not).

    If the objective were simply to maximise the unionist vote one would probably need two or even three parties. Ideally the UUP would move a little to the left and get some Alliance votes, the DUP would stay where it is and the Prodiban would stand some candidates (insert an appropriate set of initials here). That strategy will, however, cost some seats and that does have a destabilising effect on unionist morale (and quite possibly subsequent unionist turn out: maybe even in a border poll). Also this strategy essentially condemns the UUP to playing second fiddle to the DUP forever. I would be surprised it that would be acceptable to the UUP. In addition repeated defeats and shrinkage would damage the UUPs own internal morale and possibly make it implode or simply become ever less popular hence, inhibiting the objective of maximising the unionist vote (people do not vote for losers).

    One must never forget that the reality is that the UUP and DUP compete with one another (and any third party) and so move, jostle and fight one another. They do not sit passively by waiting to scoop up all the unionist electorate. Hence predicting what is the best option is always difficult. If they did stay immovable in position the unionist electorate would probably find that rather boring and the turn out might well fall.

    So having one party is probably a bad long term idea (though maybe not as bad an idea as Alex Kane suggests). I would submit that overall unionist representation, morale and seats are maximised by having two (or possibly three) parties which agree to pacts in a small number of areas where there is widespread agreement that such a thing is valuable.

  • slug


    I think your final conclusion seems sensible.

    Where you say “reality is that the UUP and DUP compete with one another (and any third party) and so move, jostle and fight one another” I think that is potentially good. Its surely better to have a debate between parties and competition for voters rather than a single party that becomes complacent.

    Also if one party gets stale and loses its way then the other can step in with freshness as happened in the UUP-DUP switcharound.

  • PaddyReilly

    It is a long established formula in politics and religion that when you attempt to unite two disparate entities you end up with three: 1 + 1 = 3. For example, Guru Nanak decided to unite the Hindu and Muslim religions into one unified Sikh religion, but the result was three separate religions, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh.

    So the effect of uniting the UUP and DUP into one (say) UDUP could well be that you have a united UDUP, together with UUP and DUP rumps.

    The problem with Westminster elections is that anyone can stand. What is to stop a disgruntled UUP voter who refuses to join the new alliance putting himself forward as a Liberal Unionist? Or (less likely) a disgruntled DUP voter standing as a True Unionist? The results would be the same or worse.

    Ah these Unionists, how they scheme and plot. But what does it profit you if you gain FST and South Belfast but lose the third seat in in the EU elections? One thing I must say about the voters of South Belfast is that many of them are liberal first and Unionist or Nationalist second. Dr McDonnell suits them, he will not be dislodged by a hard-line Unionist.

  • Rory

    Harris would have us believe that “the Ulster Unionist Party” was “the party that made the Good Friday Agreement possible, and which can claim the lions (sic) share of the credit for the peace and prosperity which the people of Northern Ireland now enjoy. which would lead one to deduce that he also would argue that David Trimble was the more morally deserving recipient of his share of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Committee’s shekels.

    While no one would deny Trimble his shekels – he earned them by his capitulation to pressure – his willing contribution to any process that offered a just accommodation with republicanism is less easy to swallow and his party’s even less so. They all had, as with Paisley at St Andrew’s, to be led kicking and screaming to the table which, rightly as it turned out, they perceived as an execution block.

    The reality is that the contribution of Trimble and the Unionist Party to the peace process was rather much like that of Admiral Doenitz and the post-Hitler German Command to the ending of European hostilities in WWII.

    Would Harris, I wonder, write, “..the Nazi Party, the party that made an end to World War II possible”? On present evidence I shouldn’t be at all surprised.

  • Turgon

    Analogies are almost always flawed especially those than try to make situations analogous to the second world war.

    Whilst I hold no brief for Trimble yours is a particularly poor analogy. The glaring moral differences between the UUP and the Nazi party which actually make that analogy extremely insulting to unionists. Even if one ignores that the analogy is pretty stunningly bad.

  • Rory


    I did not make, nor do I make, any moral equivalence between the Nazi and Unionist parties, nor indeed any political equivalence, which is more to the point since parties seeking, or seeking to hold onto, political power are rarely motivated by morality.

    If the analogy failed to impress you, well then it did. Sometimes I fail.

  • Aquifer

    The UUP never troubled themselves to re-organise or to broaden their political appeal beyond protestant ulster orangeism. Merging with the DUP would be a logical and merciful end.

  • willowfield

    Merger would be disastrous.

    Unionism needs a “civic” voice in order to attract the votes of those not attracted to ethnic Protestant politics. It doesn’t matter that (currently) the ethnics are dominant and the civics are in crisis – unionism needs to look to the long term, and the civic voice will become all-important once we start hitting 50/50 demographics.

  • sean1

    Why dont they just merge with Fine Gael, the sdlp are trying to merge with Fianna Fáil to stop a wipe out. There is merit in it lads if only you could get rid of the baggage. Reg a TD?
    Stranger things have happened.First thing however to to rid yourselves of Harris.

  • David

    The UUP needs to disappear, but not because unionism needs one party status. Rather the UUP is anachronistic, in that it comes from the days when unionism ruled the roost and the OUP was a class rather than a party. The UUP should split and allow for the creation of the two party unionism that is needed if the Union is to survive.

  • Dev

    All the talk in the world about mergers will not change the actual facts on the ground, namely that in this country the electorate is broadly divided into two groupings in regard to the constitutional settlement, however, it does not follow that everyone in one of those two groups thinks and behaves the same.

    Unionism and Nationalism are, within themselves, made up of people who have widely divergent views on various issues going beyond the question of whether GB or RoI should have the misfortune of being stuck with us. As a result a one-size-fits-all party for either Unionism or Nationalism would not work because we are not all simply tribal animals (even though sometimes that’s hard to believe).

  • An Céilleachaireach Rúa


    I’m sure the internal party debates of your mooted amalgam would make for interesting listening:

    Michael Collins: Wasn’t he great altogether?

    Our speaker today is Deputy Empey….

  • darth rumsfeld

    oh to have been in the Reform club as Harris let loose and the assorted crusties and wrinklies choked on their g’n’ts. And this was a fundraiser …for the UUP !!!

    Next month, Martin McGuinness attends the East Belfast tombola and garden fete as guest of honour.

  • Peter Brown

    Oh yes Darth rumour has it numerous UUP luminaries are today sucking Complan having either swallowed or spat out their false teeth or are awaiting urgent hospital appointments to have their pacemakers adjusted. Only those YUs and the other 5% not yet unfortunate enough to require hearing aids or who forgot to adjust theirs to the T position were spared!

    I wonder how much was donated on the night in the light of the speech or did they just raffle off the the contents of Cunningham House (other than the principles – they lost lose long before the move from Glengall Street!)

    Didn’t everyone look happy in the photo in the Newsletter today presumably taken before the speech turned another UUP positive into a PR disaster!

  • páid

    I’ll tell you dat bye Harris is some soothsayer eh?

    Tells the WP that the game’s up, as the East Germans tear down the wall mit ihren bloßen Händen.

    Is there no end to this god’s power and wisdom?

  • Porlock

    Yep, who else but the UUP would invite a guest speaker who suggests that they should pack up and merge?!

    I gather he didn’t even have the courtesy to tell his hosts that he was releasing the text of the speech.

    Good to note, though, that Donaldson, who described Harris’ comments to a UUP conference a few years ago (that it was all over for the Provos) as “utter tripe from an utter has-been”, seems to have decided that the same Harris is now some sort of sage.


  • Jonathan

    This point got me thinking. I believe it was the DUP which first used the excutive to groom Westminster conteders. I was looking through a list of the excutive in 1999 and the only other name which might have been thought of as a potential MP I can see is Brid Rodgers.

    This did work well for the DUP and now this looks like the done thing