Irish government is unionism's new best friend

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

Are you allowed to mention Charlie Haughey these days amid the eulogies to his former bag man Bertie?

As Taoiseach, Charlie used to emphasise that the real issue to be resolved in Ireland was the relationship between unionists and the Irish government.

When you think of it the prospect of a Home Rule parliament with only the powers of a county council was what led to the establishment of the Ulster Unionist Party in the first place.

Of course Haughey realised and accepted that the relationship between Dublin and London had to be regularised. After all, didn't he inaugurate 'tea-pot' diplomacy with Mrs Hacksaw in 1980?

It also goes without saying that there had to be some way to prevent unionists oppressing northern nationalists and treating them like 'untermensch'.

The Department of Foreign Affairs pulled all those elements together for John Hume in what came to be called the 'three-stranded approach'.

Be that as it may, the essential issue was to try to find a way to persuade unionists to live on equal terms with the rest of the people on the island. The attempt to avoid the fate of mere equality was what caused them to be unionists in the first place.

A resolution of that issue means a deal with Dublin.

Haughey, being the kind of man he was, tended to go straight for the jugular. He always underestimated unionists' need for a toy of their own, preferably festooned with gee-gaws and the maximum display of coloured balloons.

He couldn't understand why anyone would want to run a powerless, provincial puppet show. Haughey would ignore this unionist requirement and repeatedly urge unionists to negotiate directly with him. He used to ask them to write what they wanted on a sheet of paper and they'd be amazed what guarantees he'd give them.

Unionists never contemplated taking up his offer, not least because of the baggage Haughey dragged behind him. Unionists misunderstood Haughey just as seriously as he underestimated their anxieties.

It's all different now because the unionists with the biggest inferiority complex are in charge at Stormont. Paisley's posturing at the Boyne with Bertie last May and this was deeply symbolic of the change in unionist attitudes to Dublin.

With Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hEireann rendered harmless the Irish government is now unionism's new best friend and strongest defender against the bogeyman Sinn Féin. Unionists prefer to deal with Fianna Fail than with Sinn Féin. It has finally dawned on them that modern Fianna Fail has no intention of forcibly incorporating unionists in a fenian republic.

What the DUP do have in common with SF is that they both know the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is not a final deal. However, the GFA has placed unionists in the position of being able to control their own destiny in that final deal with the Irish government. Charlie Haughey, with the old Fianna Fail mentality of "a British declaration of withdrawal and then the unionists will have to deal with us" would not have allowed unionists to get into that position but he never realised something like the GFA was a necessary pre-requisite for unionists doing the final deal with Dublin.

Paisley's pas de deux with Bertie and Brian has left Gerry and Martin standing in the wings but they also know they are not required on stage for the final scene, which, as Charlie Haughey predicted, will be between unionists and the Irish government they once so feared and loathed.

You might not have noticed this development but since the formation of the Stormont executive in May 2007 Sinn Féin have taken a back seat on the big occasions - sometimes not even turning up to applaud.

Make no mistake, Paisley's big hearty handshake with Bertie at Farmleigh House last year was the beginning of what will inevitably be a lengthy dalliance.

That dalliance will only be consummated when unionists are confident enough to behave as equals. Unfortunately you can't see Robinson and Depooty Dawds stepping up to that mark. When a unionist leader finally does cut the mustard the resulting compact between the two dominant forces on the island, Fianna Fail and unionism, will have serious consequences for northern nationalists.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning so that justice prevails. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2008 Irish Republican News