The Nature of Unionism
BILL DELANEY puts Tuesday's events into the context of unionism's dark past and uncertain future.

One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached a river.

The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn't see any way across. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.

Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream.

``Hellooo Mr. Frog!'' called the scorpion across the water, ``Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?''

``Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?'' asked the frog hesitantly.

``Because,'' the scorpion replied, ``If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!''

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. ``What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!''

``This is true,'' agreed the scorpion, ``But then I wouldn't be able to get to the other side of the river!''

``Alright do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?'' said the frog.

``Ahh...,'' crooned the scorpion, ``Because you see, once you've taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!''

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog's back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog's soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.

Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog's back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

``You fool!'' croaked the frog, ``Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?''

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drownings frog's back.

``I could not help myself. It is my nature.''

Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.

On Tuesday evening, David Trimble sank his stinger into the Republican Movement, and now the mud is threatening to envelop us all.

Let us acknowledge that Mr Trimble has proven absolutely consistent throughout the peace process.

If my niece was political, I could tell her that Trimble has been reneging on deals since before she was born.

Earlier this month, he and his colleagues simply rejected the British and Irish governments' Joint Declaration. Nobody seemed to mind.

Last April, there was no form of words that could satisfy the man, despite repeated efforts by Gerry Adams. At times, it appeared he didn't like the punctuation.

And so on for the past five and a half years -- obstructing every institution, every appointment, every sign of progress.

He may be a happy-clappy camper in private, but in public, Mr Trimble takes a pretty hard line. He has used every opportunity to frustrate Republicans.

That same hard line moderated a little last week in his address at the Ulster Unionist conference. But that moderation was way too little, way too late and it was wishful thinking to hope otherwise.

Even if he wanted to, he had not left himself any room to transform himself in the public eye from a staunch defender of the union into a fervent campaigner for peace and the Good Friday Agreement. His ultra-conservative constituency do not like change, and neither does he.

And so, when the opportunity arose last week, he applied the brakes again, reneged again.

And it was mot done in the heat of the moment, with Trimble flustered with frustration, but with the calmness of a lawyer presenting a prepared argument.

But his argument is utterly hollow. His vituperate criticism of John de Chastelain's PR skills, and the broad attempts to drag the decommissioning body into the political arena, are bad enough.

But the unionist suggestion that the peace process was damaged by the dress sense of a Canadian General has driven Republicans to distraction.

Of greater concern is the ample evidence that the British government was cahoots to turn Tuesday into a charade, aiming to help turn the screw on Republicans on the eve of an election campaign. The British Prime Minister's chipper `cheer up' message, about `a glitch' which would soon be dispensed with, was the final insult.

For the backroom plotters, Tuesday's denouement provided an excellent intellectual challenge, the kind you might find in a game of Grandmaster Chess or a particularly fine rubber of Bridge.

A finesse is a Bridge tactic to win a hand by leading with a weak card, in the hope of trumping your opponent if he then plays his strong card; or by winning the hand cheaply if he does not.

In this case, in response to the announcement of the election, Republicans played one of their strongest cards. Trimble, the Dummy, failed to collect.

He now staggers onward to the election, speaking out of both sides of his mouth, hampered by his failure to grasp the opportunity presented.

But it is not clear that he and his constituency is capable of change, at least at the moment.

The need to extract a symbolic victory over Republicans (read transparent act of decommissioning) clearly remains undimmed.

It must be remembered that Bloody Sunday, collusion, shoot-to-kill, discrimination, RUC state-crime, are all live issues, perhaps discussed more these days than at any time previously.

It is generally recognised that unionists, especially older unionists of the political classes, are privately aware that their treatment of nationalists over the generations was wrong. And now, the crimes of the past are being resurrected on a daily basis.

Unionists may not know this, but nationalists generally recognise that past inequality was the product of an artificial ``us or them'' situtation. Partition and woefully inept British policy ensured the two communities were pitted against each other, with unionists presented with an artifically dominant position.

But partition is largely intact, and the ``us or them'' mentality remains. In this scenario, there are only two options in unionist eyes: unionists retain power, or unionists lose power to nationalists, who will wreak their revenge.

Hence the need for a transparent display of their authority, a demonstration that the nationalist people remain subjugated.

Any reinforcement of unionist superiority must be resisted.

Unionists are not yet ready to make peace. But when they are, it will be because they recognise that that framework has changed forever, and that nationalists seek equality, with no interest in revenge.

We must recognise that the kind of change in the unionist mindset which Republicans rightly pursue, has not yet been achieved. Meanwhile, the peace process, and the people of these islands, cannot wait that long.

The announcement of the election, which finally recognises the right to vote by the British government, is of huge significance for nationalists. In the present circumstances, and despite its partitionist nature, it represents nothing less than the emancipation of the people of the North of Ireland.

If Sinn Féin retains the broad support of nationalists and Republicans, any attempt to construct a devolved administration in the next five years will require a Republican and a Unionist to share the helm of that administration.

Ths finally provides the means for Unionists to come to term with its past. They will face their greatest fear -- that they no longer hold the whip hand over nationalists. They must be required to share power with Sinn Féin.

The key point is whether the two governments are prepared to stand up to the primal and incoherent need of unionism to collapse and subvert this process.

Republicans, for their part, have an obligation to understand the unionist dilemma.

We must demand equality as of right, and avoid weakness or submission.

But firstly, in tandem with healthy unionist voices, we must express regret and, most importantly, forgiveness.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News