It's later than the unionists think
It's later than the unionists think

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

Just over a week from the orgy of unionist violence across Belfast what can be said about it all?

The first thing is no-one should be surprised, shocked or influenced by what happened.

This is all shades of unionism doing what it does best when faced with a crisis which is proving too big for them to crack.

The crisis which brought all shades of unionism violently onto the streets is their inability to cope with the onward march of change ?the cutting edge of the peace process.

The peace process is carving up the institutions of unionist power like a hot knife through butter and unionists are flailing about desperately trying to halt its forward movement.

We have been at this juncture many times since the IRA's first ceasefire in 1994. There is no need to panic nor to be deflected from the course set by the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

The British and Irish governments in particular need to ensure their jittery systems do not bounce them off course. We are not dealing with a showdown, a line in the sand or any of Paisley's biblical warnings of Armageddon. Last week's violence was a carefully staged piece of violent street theatre.

The unionist riots tell us a lot about unionist leaders.

They do nothing to end the pogrom against Catholics in north Antrim or the deadly loyalist feud but get very excitable over a rerouted Orange march. All shades of unionism have their fingerprints on the unrest because, for different reasons, they need the violence.

The party most in need is the DUP. Elected as the saviours of unionism; to stop in its words 'a concession a day to the IRA' they are seriously embarrassed by the British government's response to the IRA's decision to call off its armed struggle, in particular disbanding the last unionist militia, the RIR.

The DUP is the masters of the veiled threat, so a bit of loyalist muscle would not go amiss in advance of the negotiations.

Next in line for a whiff of the heady mixture of loyalist pipe and petrol bombs is the UUP.

Its electoral base is shrinking as fast as the DUP's is expanding.

A flirtation even with a weakened Paisley will not harm its electoral ambitions. The Orange Order's political compass is as wonky as its Belfast county leader's grasp of the English language.

Dawson Bailie's combustible friends might encourage him to spend a bit more time with a dictionary working out the difference between 'condone' and 'condemn' and less time on the streets marching.

Last but by no means least the UDA and the UVF.

Beset as they are with feuding, drug dealing and criminality, a spell in the arms of the DUP, the UUP and the Orange Order will rekindle old associations and give them a much-needed comfort blanket.

Am I being too flippant?

Are we really facing a serious threat, witnessing the beginning of another pan-unionist front similar to 1913 when Carson, Craig and the UVF landed guns at Larne and lined up with some very powerful forces in the British military and political establishment?

I do not think so. Few in the British establishment care about the unionists.

And the home-grown 'powerful' forces ?the 'B' Specials, the RUC, the UDR are gone and soon the RIR will follow.

The Orange Order is still here but only as an insipid reflection from its heyday.

So can a pan-unionist front made up of the DUP, the UUP, the Orange Order, the UVF and UDA save unionism from the engine of change hurtling down the tracks at them?

What would their demands be?

A new RUC, Specials, UDR?

Perhaps a new two-county state?

Who would pay for it all? Who really wants such a scenario?

The British, Irish and US governments do not. Nationalists Ireland do not. And for that matter neither do unionists.

When the DUP comes down from its self-inflated exalted position as leaders of unionism the rest of us will still be here waiting on it to deal.

Of course by then political conditions may well be even less favourable towards unionists than they are now.

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