So, why not. Let’s have another go at the Catholic Unionist trope that’s been doing the rounds. Gareth Gordon looks at the idea of Unionist Catholics, or unicorns as Alex Kane once put it.
Of all the respondents in this piece, Steven McCaffrey of The Detail is the one that has it down pat. Robinson’s tactic is about switching nationalist voters off from voting for a united Ireland. Although according to one senior political source in the party that Slugger spoke to this week, it is firstly about hollowing out the UUP.
It’s not a co-incidence that North Down has the highest occurence of those who chose the epithet ‘other’ in Kathry Torney’s data sheet on schools. Given that it’s the last place the UUP had a sitting place, and (given their plummet in the east according to today’s poll) probably a racing certainty of losing their last MLA in the next election, this has some validty.
In fact, the DUP’s biggest credibility gap has been those living in the posh houses of My Lady’s Mile and send their kids to Sullivan Prep; and not the Catholics of Holywood. Both prefer, if they do at all, to vote Alliance these days. Not that that directly matters to the DUP, it’s climate change they are after.
In Alex Kane’s News Letter column on Monday, he noted that the party at large seems to be coming to terms with reality more quickly than its rivals:
…this was a party which had come to terms with what it has done since 2003 No-one I spoke to admitted to being keen on having to share power with Sinn Fein, but all of them emphasised that it was the right thing to do. When pushed about why they couldn’t have signed up much earlier they said that David Trimble had yielded too much, too quickly and had nothing to show for his efforts.
And I make that point only because I think that neither the UUP nor SDLP has yet come to terms with what they did: hence their ongoing lack of confidence and sense of direction. [Emphasis added]
It strikes me, in retrospect (sadly, I cannot claim great powers of foresight in this regard) that the crisis around Robinson’s leadership in January 2010 was actually very good for the DUP. In one moment the party had a clear choice. Stick with the leader or have another one (Nigel Dodds) take over.
By all contemporary accounts, the choice was a genuine one. They stuck with the former and the party has been the better for the unanimity it has given rise to since. Not that there aren’t problems. Too many senior figures and not enough meaningful jobs to go around is one. Unlike in Sinn Fein, there is no automatic trapdoor for transforming senior figures into supernumeraries at the flick of a switch.
Kane’s column in the Irish News today asks if outside the confines of a border poll it is realistic to conceive of a pro union vehicle capable of pulling in Catholics if even the Alliance party fails to do so outside certain limited constituencies. But he also notes:
I don’t buy into the notion that every Catholic is a nationalist and I don’t run sacred of census figures (due on December 11, by the way) which suggest that the gap between Protestants and Catholics is continuing to narrow. That’s only scary if you do think that every Catholic wants a united Ireland: and, similarly, it’s only heartening if, like Sinn Fein, your unity headcount is also based on a nakedly sectarian calculation.
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