Paisley, Beowulf and Plan B

Many cultures and societies have frightening non specific things they fear. Societies we now rather condescendingly call “primitive” are full of stories of frightening monsters which frequently needed to be appeased; usually by the sacrificing of virgins and such like before a hero confronts and defeats them. The minotaur from Greek mythology is a case in point. The people of Easter Island seem to have built massive statues to appease some unknown potentate. In the Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf (no not the film which I have not seen but was denounced by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight Review, and if the thinking man’s sex symbol disapproves: that is all we need to know; sorry I digress) the eponymous hero defeats the monster Grendel, then Grendel’s mother before at the end of his life killing a dragon but dying of the wounds he receives.

I suppose I should get on with the Northern Ireland politics bit.
A bit like one of these unspeakable monsters the DUP tell us they were faced with a similar (if more prosaically named) monster had they rejected the St. Andrew’s Agreement: Plan B. Whenever Jim Allister and other heretics complain about the agreement they are told of the dread Plan B which would have seen a greater role for Dublin.

This raises a number of interesting questions.

Firstly Plan B involving Dublin and London in running the country would not have involved having terrorists in government (the current British and Irish governments conspicuously lacking terrorist members). Clearly there would have been disadvantages for unionists. However, at least some unionists would probably have preferred this arrangement (even with the Dublin involvement) to the current situation with convicted and self confessed terrorists in government including one who of a time wanted to kill every British soldier in Londonderry. Such a plan might also have avoided some of our current ministers, including the comedy ones like Ms. Ruane who are indeed quite comical unless of course one has children of school age in which case she is more tragic than comic.

The next question is how long would Plan B have lasted. We were told in the run up to the St. Andrew’s that had no agreement been reached there would have been no further negotiations for many years. Remember, however, that Hain was desperate to get an agreement to help ensure Blair’s legacy was something other than Union flag draped coffins from the most unpopular war in recent British history. As such Hain might well have been bluffing; in the past Paisley might have called Hain’s bluff: but not this time. Any subsequent negotiations with a Brown government might well have had a less partisan British government to deal with than Blair’s with Mowlam and later Hain. As such it is surprising that Paisley lost his wile or nerve.

Next is the question of just how bad Plan B would have been. It might well have involved the end of academic selection but one has to question whether or not a minister could be found in all of Britain or Ireland to be as incompetent as Ruane. There is also the suggestion that Plan B might have involved the six super councils and effective repartition. I am highly dubious that these councils would have been given that much power although I agree that Irish on Fermanagh’s bins and bin lorries might well have been a disaster (they might even have painted them green). Other disasters like the tightening of planning laws would indeed have been a true tragedy, hurting various members of the DUP severely. The reality is that it might have been problematic but again it is highly likely that Hain was bluffing. In the Brown era with less interest in Northern Ireland and the nagging possibility of a hung parliament in the future it is possible that Brown might have been careful about antagonising unionists; leaving aside what does look like a general favouring of the United Kingdom in its overall sense in his politics. Also the fact that Britain would still have been paying the lion’s share of the subvention here: and he who pays the piper tends to want to call the tune.

Of course one of Jim Allister’s major theses has been that there was no real Plan B at all. He has claimed that Paisley never told him what it was and indeed if that were untrue surely the DUP would have revealed Plan B in all its ghastly awfulness by now in order to discredit Allister. I suspect there may have been a scarecrow Plan B but that it was not worked out or finalised and a real Plan B might not have been quite the Ancalagon the Black of Tolkien’s Silmarillon. It might instead have been Lord Tennyson’s Kraken which to quote the last line “In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die”; in other words it might not have amounted to very much.

So we do not know, but holding up Plan B as the terrifying assault on unionism which Paisley does: a sort of Kubrickian Doomsday machine may well itself, have been a bluff. Of course whatever it was, Plan B might well have been a disaster for Paisley as it might well have spelt the end of his ambitions to be First Minister himself as he would probably have been too old by the time the next opportunity came round.

Hence, to return to the beginning: No Beowulf our Dr. Paisley may fancy himself as a man who in his old age went forth to slay the dragon; but the dragon may well not have existed and if it did is most unlikely to have been of the dangerous fire breathing type. Maybe instead Dr. Paisley is a Faust, selling his political soul; in this case for power. Now I am sure various DUPers and others will ignore all my careful and painstaking allusions and will just attack the substance of the piece.