Do these people understand the GFA/BA?

Thought the following comments by Peter Kyle, shadow NI Secretary for the BLP were fairly innocuous. But no. Apparently not. Northern Ireland unionists have expressed alarm after the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Kyle, said he would be prepared to call a referendum on Irish unity if certain conditions were met. Kyle would set out […]

Do these people understand the GFA/BA?

UUP’s Lord Empey: Cabinet must admit there will be an Irish Sea border due to Brexit | Belfast News Letter

Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland have refused to give consent to Brexit – but Westminster isn’t listening!!!

Unionist leaders have difficulty with a shared society never mind entering into a debate about a United Ireland !!

Sinn Féin leader in the North of Ireland and leader of the DUP Arlene Foster

Little Pengelly raps UUP over South Belfast seat bid

CANDIDATE: Councillor Michael Henderson

A DUP election candidate has said she is disappointed that the UUP is running a candidate in her constituency, potentially splitting the unionist vote.

Emma Little Pengelly is defending a 1,996-vote majority in South Belfast.

At the weekend Michael Henderson was selected as the Ulster Unionist election candidate for the area.

Mr Henderson represents Castlereagh South on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

The move could improve the chances of the SDLP’s Claire Hanna or Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw taking the seat.

Sinn Fein opted against putting a candidate forward in South Belfast after the SDLP declined to stand in North Belfast.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey also decided against standing candidates in Belfast to boost the chances of pro-Remain politicians being elected.

Ms Pengelly said it was “very disappointing to hear UUP are running a candidate in South Belfast”. She continued: “So many unionists, across all party views, have contacted me to express strong feelings on this.

“Can I appeal to all to remain stoic and calm despite this decision – no matter how strongly the views, please do nothing that could damage the cause or our campaign to hold this seat for the Union.

“We need all and every vote.

“Let us focus on uniting unionists behind the unionist cause that can win this seat, and let’s do so with the positivity, love and strength that unites us.”

The UUP was contacted about its decision to run in the South Belfast constituency.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Mark Edwards for the original story 


Terry Wright: For any ‘new unionism’ to succeed it needs to be new, not just politically expedient talk

Talk of ‘new generation unionism’ has echoes of a speech by former DUP leader Peter Robinson in Donegal

This letter from the former Ulster Unionist Terry Wright appeared in today’s print edition of the News Letter but the last line was mistakenly edited out, as was his name:

‘Everything needs to change so everything can stay the same.’

Letter to the editor

These words are spoken by Tancredi, one of the characters in the Italian novel ‘The Leopard,’ written by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampadusa.

The story is set in a time of political upheaval in the history of Italy, in particular Sicily, where the plot is set.

The main character, used to privilege and power but now facing unwanted change, must choose between upholding the mantras of the past or breaking with tradition to secure continuity.

It would not be appropriate to stretch comparisons too far or allow cynicism to cloud judgement but has this more than a passing resonance with Northern Ireland where we are asked to welcome the launch of ‘new generation unionism’ by the leader of the DUP?

With echoes of what former DUP leader Peter Robinson said in a speech in the Titanic Quarter, the essence of this latest initiative gravitates around building a collaborative vision with unionists of all shades and backgrounds through acknowledging that unionism is multi-layered with different cultural strands.

Begging the question as to what politicians when fully employed have been doing up to now, there is also a desire to re-invigorate political debate around issues of education, health and the economy. Gone it seems are the days of ‘curry my yoghurt’ and ‘crocodiles.’

Whilst encouraging to note belated recognition that the reality in the community is different to the conversation that the DUP has been trying to dominate, this fresh start modernism will need to fare much better than previous attempts and unless addressed, could founder in the political mire into which political unionism has been dragged.

This new generation unionism will be suffocated by the legacy of the well-documented issues of Spads, RHI, exotic holidays, misuse of expenses which led to court cases and the arrogant denial of the views of the community on Brexit.

These have not gone away, you know and will not be absolved by initiatives that suggest more than a tinge of political expediency in the hope that if things have to change, they can stay the same.

Honest remorse would lay a more solid foundation.

Large swathes of the so-called unionist but now more pro-Union constituency have already moved on. Tired of relatives having to wait unacceptably long times for healthcare; faced with the financial uncertainty of Brexit and the massaging of employment figures which classify 16 hours a week as a full-time job; and having to help family members who cannot afford their own homes or ,in some cases, cope with high childcare costs ,they will not parade blindly to the ballot box.

In the absence of devolved government, alternative leaderships have emerged on culture, social enterprise, peace-building and inter-community reconciliation.

Organisations are acquiring the tools and doing the job. Banishing the old unionist stereotypes for good, they work across the communities, with LBGT, multi-ethnic groups, in schools and bring professional expertise to festivals and inter-community projects

Prepared to challenge their own issues and perceptions they engage in dialogue and lead collaboration on conflict, the past and old prejudices. When problems and differences occur, they are addressed and not allowed to become a barrier to a better future. They are attuned to the community.

Welcome to new generation unionism.

Any leopard seeking to engage should be prepared to change its spots.

Terry Wright, Londonderry

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter for the original posting 

David Campbell: If Ulster Unionists stand in all seats, it will be a declaration of war on fellow unionists and a boost for Sinn Fein

I wonder who’s having a total meltdown over the upcoming elections?

Pressure on Nigel Dodds as Republicans and the new UUP leader rules out standing aside

Follow this link to find out more:


STATE papers just declassified from 1994 peace talks show loyalist leaders were “very disappointed at the continual references to the smallness of their mandate”.

This sense of entitlement continues on Thursday, with blogger Jamie Bryson (pictured below)  waving his even tinier mandate around and complaining loyalist voices are not heard. In truth, we hear a great deal from and about loyalist organisations, and spend a great deal of time and money trying to manage them and their relationship to the working-class Protestant population, which is how they would like ‘loyalism’ to be defined.

The quality of this listening effort could certainly be improved but in terms of quantity it is already generous to loyalism’s numbers. The voice that is missing from public life, strikingly so, is of mainstream unionism. It has almost completely silent in the 15 years since the DUP became the North of Ireland’s largest party. The DUP does not reflect mainstream unionist opinion. According to the latest North of Ireland Life and Times survey, conducted between last October and February, 62 per cent of people are unionists in the sense they support a long-term link with Britain. The DUP represents that view, of course, but has otherwise left most of these people politically and intellectually orphaned.

The survey is broken down by religious background, where ‘Protestant’ can be taken as a proxy for unionist. On abortion, 88 per cent of Protestants think abortion should definitely or probably be legal – slightly higher than the Catholic percentage. On same-sex marriage, 53 per cent of Protestants think it should be legal – much lower than the Catholic figure but still a majority. The survey also contained a set of questions on “respect”, covering attitudes towards different political and religious views, minorities and immigrants. Protestants reported the same high level of tolerance as Catholics, of around 90 per cent.

The Conservative and religious DUP has always been an objectively strange vehicle in which to place the hopes of an entire community. As the competitive dynamic of Stormont politics has driven voters into its arms, the elastic between the party and its supporters has stretched. Strains were masked for a decade by the managerialism of Peter Robinson. Unionists also had a more liberal alternative, at least in theory, via the UUP under Reg Empey and Mike Nesbitt.

Only 26 per cent of respondents described themselves as unionists, with 50 per cent describing themselves as ‘other’. This means well over half of people who support the Union have stopped calling themselves unionist 

What finally snapped the elastic was Brexit. Unionists voters divided roughly 40/60 Remain/Leave in the EU referendum, with the UUP and DUP representing each. But within a year the issue had become so fraught the UUP fell behind the DUP, with unionist voters dragged along by the mounting constitutional stakes. A separate online survey this month showed three-quarters of people who describe themselves as British oppose the backstop or the North of Ireland leaving the EU on different terms to Britain. Internet surveys may produce polarised results and opposing the backstop does not necessarily make someone a leaver.

However, ethnic solidarity has clearly come into play. That solidarity obscures the DUP’s loss of connection to the bulk of its target electorate, with the UUP now providing no alternative, on Brexit or anything else. The result can be seen in another Life and Times question, where only 26 per cent of respondents described themselves as unionists, with 5o per cent describing themselves as ‘other’. This means well over half of people who support the Union have stopped calling themselves unionist – presumably because, for them, ‘unionist’ means ‘DUP’. No wonder such voices are under-repesented: they have nothing left to say, as unionists, beyond waving the flag – the very type of unionism they are rejecting.

Some of these people must have switched to Alliance, whose vote has gone up in many areas on the order by which the unionist vote has gone down. However, Alliance is adamant most of its new supporters are new voters, provoked off the sofa by the Stormont stalemate. It appears that mainstream unionists are retreating to the garden centre to stick their head in a plant pot and wait for things to change. If they do not devise a wider idea of unionism beyond mere support for the union, change will happen without them.

With many thanks to:

Newton Emerson

The Irish News and Newton Emerson for the original story

Councillor Mark McKinty stands down over ‘driving incident’ – BBC News

History repeating as the Union itself stands at the ‘crossroads’

Fifty years ago saw the end of unionist-only government; now, there’s a lot more at stake

The North of Ireland’s prime minister Terence O’Neill and independent unionist candidate Maj RL Hall-Thompson during the 1969 election. Photograph: Tommy Collins/The Irish Times

Fifty years ago, on February 24th, 1969, was Northern Ireland’s “crossroads” election. Northern Ireland prime minister Terence O’Neill hadn’t wanted one, fearing, as he put it, “that those who would sow the wind by having a bitter election now would surely reap the whirlwind”. O’N eill was also the first senior unionist to realise that repeating the “we are the majority”’ mantra was not going to be enough anymore. But his hand was forced by increasing pressure from his own Stormont backbenchers about what they described as his continuing weakness in the face of civil rights demonstrations across Northern Ireland and reformist pressure from Harold Wilson’s Labour government in London.

Between December 9th, 1968 (when he made his “Ulster at the crossroads” speech) and early February, he was forced to sack a cabinet minister; another one – along with two junior ministers – resigned. A third of his parliamentary party called for his resignation. An election seemed his only option; so, buoyed up by the 150,000 letters of support which had followed his “crossroads” speech, he chose to ignore his personal “reap the whirlwind” opinion and appeal to a supposed “groundswell” of moderate support for his policies.

The Unionist Party endorsed and fielded official candidates who were both pro- and anti-O’Neill
It was to be a fatal miscalculation, yet fairly typical of an otherwise decent, thoughtful, reform-minded man who never really had his finger on the pulse of traditional grassroots unionism. As Brian Faulkner noted: “I do not think he ever felt really at home in Ulster politics. His personal remoteness made it difficult for him to lead his party along new and difficult paths at a very crucial period in the province’s history.”

Internal critics
And it was that remoteness, along with a reluctance to listen to well-disposed internal critics, which led to his comprehensive inability to appreciate the sheer scale of the opposition to him. My father, who knew him reasonably well, told me: “Just because Terence was looking at you and nodding politely didn’t mean he was seeing or listening to you.”

What followed was farce on an epic scale. The Unionist Party endorsed and fielded official candidates who were both pro- and anti-O’Neill. A group of pro-O’Neill supporters formed the New Ulster Movement three weeks before the election, backing pro-O’Neill candidates within the Unionist Party, as well as 17 “unofficial” Unionist candidates who were opposing the anti-O’Neill candidates from the Unionist Party. O’Neill, as tin-eared as ever, didn’t seem to have a problem canvassing for “unofficial” candidates who were running against candidates selected by his own party.

The result was a disaster for him. Of the 39 unionists who won, 27 were supporters (although some much more so than others). The comfortable majority he had banked on winning from the “groundswell” of moderate opinion didn’t materialise, leaving him with a paper-thin 27-25 overall majority in Parliament. Just one defector would cripple him. He was hobbled; deprived of the authority he needed to negotiate with Westminster and permanently at the mercy of his internal opponents. Ironically, both Brian Faulkner (in January-May 1974, after he had signed the Sunningdale Agreement) and David Trimble (after the 1998 Assembly election) found themselves in a similar position: lacking authority and flexibility because they didn’t have a solid unionist majority behind them, even though that same groundswell of moderate opinion was supposedly supporting them.

Eased out
Within two months O’Neill had been eased out of the leadership. But by that stage it was too late to avoid the impending implosion. Under his successors (James Chichester-Clark, who defeated Brian Faulkner by just 17-16, and then Faulkner, who replaced him in March 1971), the unionist government found itself forced into one concession after another. And with each new concession came another division. Between 1970 and early 1972 a number of new political/electoral vehicles emerged to eat into the Unionist Party vote: Vanguard, formed by Bill Craig, who addressed huge rallies and once spoke of the need to “liquidate” the enemy ; the DUP; and even Alliance, which started life as a home for moderate unionists uncomfortable with the direction of the Unionist Party. Along with that there were a number of new offshoots and independent mavericks operating on the fringes. It was the beginning of the end of the Ulster Unionist monolith.

O’Neill was undone by events beyond his control and the control of the Unionist Party
The biggest change over the past 50 years has been in the election figures. On February 24th, 1969, unionist parties and independent candidates accounted for 67 per cent of the votes cast; while the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which was pro-Union, won 8 per cent; meaning that almost three-quarters of the vote was unionist of one kind or another. On March 2nd, 2017, at the last Assembly election, the combined unionist vote was 45 per cent.

Unionist majority
It was 1969 that marked the end of unionist-only government. 2017 marked the end of an overall unionist majority in a local parliament or assembly. The unionist and pro-union vote is not always the same thing, of course, because there are people who do not vote for unionist parties but who might, nevertheless and for all sorts of reasons, choose to support the Union in a border poll. But the shift in electoral figures since the 1969 “crossroads” election suggests that unionists need to face the fact that it is maybe the Union itself that now stands at the crossroads. This time, though, it is the leader of the DUP monolith who will have to make the crucial decisions on behalf of unionist interests.

Irrespective of the fact that the DUP recorded its largest-ever vote in the 2017 general election, that it is presently a key player at a crucial moment in Westminster, and that Arlene Foster has no rival hovering in the wings with a dagger, her position is not much more comfortable than was O’Neill’s 50 years ago. She is not the mistress of her fate. O’Neill was undone by events beyond his control and the control of the Unionist Party. She, too, is at the mercy of events beyond her personal control or the control of her party.

Alex Kane is a commentator based in Belfast. He was formerly director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party

With many thanks to: The Irish Times and Alex Kane for the original story

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