Launch an Irish Unionist Party and contest Dail seats which could result in a situation that it is Unionists, not Sinn Fein, who end up as minority partners in the next Leinster House coalition government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail. That’s the strategy recommended by controversial commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his latest Fearless Flying Column.
The traditional Unionist war cries of ‘Not an Inch’ and ‘No Surrender’ may have worked effectively during the Williamite wars in Ireland in the 17th century, during the 1912 Home Rule crisis, and even during the Sunningdale saga of 1974, but that strategy has now become the Achilles Heel of Unionism with Brexit looming in 2019.
Unionism needs to box clever and not fall into the same pitfalls as republicans set for Unionism through the parades controversies, many of which were fronted by hardline nationalist residents groups.
Republicanism along with Unionism’s enemies within the London Establishment have always hoped that every time a potentially compromising initiative is spawned in London or Dublin, Unionists will react in their traditional defence poise by politically screaming – ‘Not an Inch!’
But if there is one glimmer of hope for Unionism, it is the pragmatic tactic shown by the DUP and its ‘pact’ with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s very shaky and rift-ridden minority Tory Government.
Westminster is a good place for the DUP to do business and Sinn Fein don’t take its Commons seats, freeing up the 10 DUP MPs to cut deals for Unionism left, right and centre. So why can’t this successful tactic be exported south of the border? Anything Sinn Fein can do, Unionism can do better!
What’s certain is that a Dail General Election is coming before Brexit. What’s equally certain is that neither Fianna Fail or Fine Gael will be able to muster enough TDs to form a government under their own steam – both parties will need coalition partners, and not Sinn Fein if it can be avoided at all costs.
In spite of Southern Sinn Fein spinning itself as the champions of the republic’s anti-austerity movement and burying any trace of Marxism in an unmarked political grave, the republican movement still has a number of embarrassing historical centenaries to face in the next couple of years.
Firstly, there’s the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which all republicans should have accepted as a stepping stone to an all-island republic. But republicans resorted to form – they split and began a bloody feud, which became known as the Irish Civil War.
That war saw republican butcher republican in ways which made the notorious Black and Tans of the earlier War of Independence era seem like pussy cats. Had Free State commander Michael Collins not been shot dead by his fellow republicans, he could have mounted a terror campaign against the Unionist North, which could have brought Carson and Craig to the negotiating table for a 1921 version of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement (between the DUP and Sinn Fein).
Even if the polls are correct and Sinn Fein under president Gerry Adams pushes well into the 20-plus seat mark in the next Dail, that’s no reason for either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael to be jumping at the bit to do business with republicans. So who is left?
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael could do so well in the next Dail showdown that either would only maybe require a handful of TDs from other parties or Independent TDs to form a stable coalition government to ride out the storm of Brexit.
So why can’t the growing Protestant population of the Republic field Irish Unionist candidates? You need only look at the ever increasing popularity of the annual Rossnowlagh parade on the Saturday before each 12 July to see the strength of the Orange Order in the border counties.
Could the Orange, Protestant and Masonic supporters muster enough voters to send around half a dozen Irish Unionist Party TDs back to Leinster House and spike the Shinners’ cannons?
At one time, I had high hopes for the liberal Unionist experiment known as NI21. Okay, I’m no liberal Unionist, but NI21 had the potential to launch a Southern version, SI21, which could have become a significant pro-Union force in the republic. It would also have nicely served the Hard Right’s agenda in Northern Ireland to see a political civil war among the centrist parties, such as Alliance and the Greens.
If ex-UUP MLAs Basil McCrea’s and John McCallister’s NI21 movement had succeeded, it would have wiped out the Greens and reduced Alliance to a handful of seats.
So Unionism must get its act in gear and formally launch an Irish Unionist Party south of the border. It could be a joint venture between the DUP and Ulster Unionists and could also pave the way for a formal merger in Northern Ireland between the DUP and UUP to form a single entity simply called The Unionist Party.
The Irish Unionist Party has the potential, if vote management and turnout are carefully and methodically organised, to win eight seats. This would break down as two in Donegal, and one in Dublin, one in Cork, one in Limerick, one in Cavan, one in Monaghan, and one in Leitrim. Perhaps this is a conservative estimate, but certainly with the support and organisation from the Order Order’s County Grand Lodges in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim, the ‘border five’ are totally realistic victories.
Likewise, an Irish Unionist Party could also attract voters from the Catholic community as well as the growing number of people attached to Christian denominations, such as Elim and the Baptists.
Just because Southern Ireland voted for same-sex marriage does not mean rank and file conservative Catholics have abandoned their faith. It means they have no real voice in Leinster House.
While I have long advocated the creation of an Irish Christian Party to restore traditional Biblical teaching back into society and politics, perhaps practically it would be easier to launch an Irish Unionist Party which would give Unionism an all-island identity similar to the one it enjoyed during the Glorious Revolution, the Protestant Ascendancy and in the great days of the British Empire when Ireland as a single political entity was a founder member of the Empire Parliamentary Association in 1911.
Even if all the Southern electorate eligible to vote who attend the Rossnowlagh demonstration came out on polling day, there would be enough votes to get three or four TDs elected from the border counties – and that could be the three or four which either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael need to form the next Dail, and not a Shinner in sight!
Imagine that; Sinn Fein beaten at its own all-island game – and all it takes is for Right-wing Unionists to think, plan and implement outside the box.
John Coulter is a unionist political commentator and former Blanket columnist.
Follow John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter