By Brian Feeney
Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, Paisley stood on a platform outside Belfast city hall roaring at a monster crowd of unionists, perhaps 100,000 strong. Beside him stood his glove puppet, the Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux whom Paisley held in a suffocating political embrace. It was the inauguration of the ‘Ulster says NO!’ campaign. Just to cap it all, Paisley concluded his harangue by bellowing, ‘We say nevaar, nevaar, nevaar’.
That was just the Anglo-Irish Agreement which didn’t require unionists to do anything. They didn’t even have to talk about it. It would have been preferable if they had, but it was designed to deal with boycotts and walk-outs and huffing and puffing. If at the end of this week, or even by Christmas, Paisley were to say yes to the current upgraded deal on offer from Dublin and London it would be the greatest political U-turn ever seen on this island. The oul’ curmudgeon would end his political career standing on his head.
He would have to accept every single item he has spent the last 40 years ranting and raving against. Dublin involvement in the north: ‘nevaar, nevaar, nevaar’. Now enshrined in the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Council and all-Ireland bodies overseen by a North-South Ministerial Council. No to a power-sharing executive: now share power in the north with Sinn Féin. ‘Save the RUC’: now sign up to running the PSNI with republicans. And so on and so on. Indeed the very paper presented to Paisley last week was written and agreed by civil servants from Dublin and London.
What was it all for? The Carson Trail, the rallies, the moonlit gatherings on the hillside, the Third Force, Ulster Resistance, the 1977 strike when he promised to resign from public life if it failed. It failed but he didn’t resign as everyone knew he would not. A catalogue of failure unsurpassed in Irish political history.
That’s why, as the DUP ponder the present joint offering they are hyper-conscious that they are being required to accept what
they spent the last six years campaigning against and which in November 2003 they obtained a mandate to overturn, the Good Friday Agreement. While the whole party will have to eat its words, no-one is in a more embarrassing position than the party leader.
At the end of 40 years of wrecking every political development, will Paisley’s sole achievement be to have postponed the inevitable by 30 years?
And what is that ‘inevitable’? Quite simply the formal recognition that the north does not belong to unionists, but can only be run with the consent of both communities, with institutional links to the Republic, all total anathema for Paisley when he commenced his rancorous career in the 1950s. Of all people it will be Paisley who finally, publicly, admits on behalf of unionism that nationalists have an equal say in how the north is run and furthermore that unionists will not be permitted to run it without nationalists.
Make no mistake, that’s what any deal will incorporate in black and white. Poetic justice for the man whose text is ‘Come ye out from among them and be separate and touch not the unclean thing’. By signing up to complete, formal equality for nationalists and links to Dublin, what the DUP will be doing is admitting at last that there is no point in Ulster unionism. Its sole reason for existence was to provide and defend a privileged haven for the diminishing minority on the island.
There is some poignancy in the fact that the vehicle for circling the wagons round that haven took on formal existence in the Ulster Unionist Council, set up exactly 100 years ago in December 1904 and established in March 1905 as an ethnic umbrella. It was clear from the outset that the northern herrenvolk coolly intended to shaft fellow unionists in the rest of the island who were to be callously consigned to the grey mists of an Irish Ireland.
There won’t be a monster rally to celebrate its centenary. Here’s another fact you can be certain of: there won’t be a bi-centenary. Here’s another amazing, stunning fact: since a deal would mean nationalists accept living in the north as part of the UK, they will only give their consent, which was never asked for in 1920, if they get to run the police. Mind-boggling if you’re a unionist, isn’t it? Pretty mind-boggling for nationalists too. Here’s the deal though. Not only do the British and Irish governments quite correctly not trust unionists to run the north themselves, the only way they will trust them is if nationalists run security. Do you think Paisley is up for that? Before this Christmas?