Let me open by saying it is a privilege to write for Centre for the Union and to be involved in working with this group. It is imperative that we deepen and strengthen links across all parts of the United Kingdom, and unionists from all constituent parts of our precious Union work together to ensure its continued success and vibrance.
In Northern Ireland now, we face an unprecedented crisis, the like of which has been unknown at any time since the IRA surrendered in August 1994, and loyalists (UVF/UDA/RHC) called a cessation of their campaign of resisting IRA terrorism in October 1994. The Belfast Agreement followed a little under four years later in April 1998.
We have, since then, for the most part enjoyed peace and the absence of large scale conflict. This has allowed a new generation to grow up in a new peaceful Northern Ireland, which continues (or at least did until the Protocol) as a vibrant part of the United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland Protocol (‘NIP’) is the fundamental cause of the societal and political tension which presently exists. It has caused the collapse of power-sharing, unprecedented toxicity between differing communities and has placed a strain on the loyalist ceasefires which have held since 1994.
And let me be clear, we must all work together to ensure that peace is maintained. There is no one sensible who would wish to see any form of violence in Northern Ireland. In that regard we must all be careful with our words and actions to ensure we do not pour petrol on a burning fire.
It is disappointing that nationalist parties (Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance) have continued with their inflammatory rhetoric, which has added to the toxic and febrile atmosphere which sadly has engulfed Northern Ireland.
The behaviour of Irish nationalists, and particularly the Irish Government, during the Brexit negotiations created a powderkeg precedent in Northern Ireland.
In their blinkered desire to advance their core constitutional political objective (dismantling the Union of GB and NI), they shamelessly used the threat of IRA bombs for political leverage, and in the case of SDLP MP Claire Hanna, threatened “civil disobedience…at a minimum” if there was to be so much as a CCTV camera between NI and the Republic of Ireland.
The leadership of Sinn Fein organised a protest whereby persons dressed up with machine guns, and the President and Vice President of Sinn Fein paraded around with a sledge-hammer. Republican activist Colin Harvey threatened that any land border “would be removed...” Given his academic background one can only presume he meant he was going to produce a strongly worded paper to give effect to his threat.
It is worth remembering those examples when you hear such persons piously
lecturing unionists and particularly loyalists. I absolutely do not condone or
encourage the following line of thinking, but it is hard to argue against the argument
(with any intellectual credibility anyway) when a loyalist says that given the threat of
republican violence was good enough to stop a land border, why should the threat of
loyalist violence not be good enough to remove the Sea border?
How do you credibly answer that? It seems that aside from obviously pointing out
that violence is repugnant and not what anyone wants to see, there is no true answer to the point that the threat of nationalist violence was rewarded, and unionism/loyalism had to pay the price of that by having imposed upon us the
“subjugation” of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
That only embeds the feeling of resentment, which has lingered and grown over two decades, that the real ethos underpinning the Belfast Agreement and ‘process’ is that unionism must give, and nationalism must get.
And so, because nationalism would not countenance so much as a CCTV camera on the land border, unionism had to endure the constitutional destruction of a border
down the middle of our country. How is that possibly a recipe for peace and
It should be no surprise therefore that the unionist community have rallied behind
the hardline stance of the DUP and TUV. In simple terms the message endorsed by
the unionist/loyalist community is straightforward: you can have power-sharing, or you can have the Protocol, but you can never have both.
That isn’t an unreasonable message. It is only fair that the unionist/loyalist
community take the position that if we are to participate in Belfast Agreement power
sharing, then the promises and safeguards which were provided to our community
We were promised, for example, that the principle of consent operated to protect
Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom. That position,
as a matter of law, is based upon the foundation of the Acts of Union.
And yet, the Protocol fundamentally “subjugates” the Acts of Union, thus diminishing Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.
That breach is fundamental and undermines the core basis upon which pro
Agreement unionism supported the 1998 deal. This has been confirmed by the late
Lord Trimble in a detailed affidavit to the Court of Appeal which confirmed that if theprinciple of consent was presented then as it operates now, he could never have recommended the Belfast Agreement to the unionist community. He felt betrayed and deceived. One of the leading loyalist negotiators, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has also said that if he knew then what he knows now, he could not have recommended the Agreement to the loyalist organisations and he does not believed they would have called their ceasefire in 1994.
These are genuine people who risked their lives for peace and who campaigned for
the Belfast Agreement. They should be listened to by all stakeholders.
In addition, there was supposedly cross community safeguards which were to apply
to key decisions to be taken by the Assembly (see Strand One (5) (d) of the Belfast Agreement and s42 of the 1998 Act). And yet, when it comes to the Article 18 (of the Protocol) consent vote in the Assembly, cross community consent has been specifically disapplied in order to deprive unionism of that safeguard.
In those circumstances how could any self-respecting unionist or loyalist continue to
support the operation of the Belfast Agreement when its core deception and deceit has been exposed?
It requires intellectual dishonesty of the most repugnant kind to suggest
unionism/loyalism should close our collective eyes to the fundamental deception which has been exposed before our very eyes.
This reality has seemingly dawned on the so-called ‘hardmen’ Chris Heaton-Harris
and Steve Baker. They arrived with such high hopes that finally the NIO would
behave like an arm of the UK rather than the Irish Government, but those hopes were rapidly dashed.
Both Heaton-Harris and Baker set out humiliating themselves before an appreciative Irish audience. And for their next trick in their self-generated circus, the two ‘hardmen’ believed they would strong arm unionism back into the Assembly with the threat of an election.
The threats become ever more desperate the closer to the deadline we came. The
Secretary of State continually stared deep down the camera to ‘warn’ unionists. His
junior assistant Mr Baker went to Fermanagh to make a twitter video with a ‘civil group’ (whatever that is).
Perhaps the most comical of all the circus-tricks was Mr Baker urging unionists to
trust the Conservative party. Yes, like 1912, 1985 and more recently with the
Protocol. They have indeed been true and loyal allies to the unionist cause. How
could we ever doubt their commitment to the Union?
Unionism didn’t budge (and, by the way, won’t be budging). The unionist/loyalist
community stood firmly behind the DUP and said: ‘bring it on’.It soon became clear that the hardmen emperors of the NIO have no clothes. The realisation has dawned that if they follow through on their threat of an election, unionism is going to come back with an ever stronger and more hardline mandate.
If they thought for one minute the UUP, who are fundamentally weak on the Protocol, would win an election (or even just avoid complete destruction) they’d have fallen over themselves to try and engineer roll-over unionism back into pole position.
They have seriously misjudged the mood of the unionist and loyalist community. Its about time the two hardmen, and their Government, followed through on their promises and removed the Union-subjugating Protocol.