Alex McCrory 🔖 answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading?

AM: I’m not reading a book because of poor concentration. My last read was at Christmas: Anatomy Of A Killing by Ian Cobain.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

AM: A difficult one to answer. If pushed, I would say Ernie O’Malley’s duo of books: On Another Man’s Wound and The Singing Flame. Both are autobiographical accounts of the Irish Revolution 1916-1923. The Shankill Butchers by Martin Dillon was the worst book I ever read. Not because it is badly written, but the bestiality and brutality it highlighted throughout made it the most difficult book to get through. 

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

AM: The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn along with Treasure Island by Mark Twain and RLS respectively. My father came across hardbacked versions of each when working for the Corporation. 

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

AM: Would have to be Mark Twain based on the above. I also read the Tom Sawyer adventure which overlaps Huckleberry Finn although they are separate books. 

TPQ: First book to really own you? 

AM: I find this easier to answer. My first novel as an adult was Trinity by Leon Uris which I read in jail. It is an Irish saga over three generations of families with opposing loyalties and histories.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

AM: I spent many nights in the cell reading the Jason Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum, a master story-teller. At the risk of appearing sexist, I have read few female authors. A couple that spring to mind are Dorothy McArdle, an Irish non-academic historian and Republican, and Marilyn French, feminist author of The Women’s Room. 

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

AM: Fact.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

AM: The Autobiography Of Malcom X coauthored by Alex Henley. Malcom’s evolution from street hustler to Black Muslim to nascent revolutionary secularist was an enthralling story. Spike Lee’s screen adaption of the book is worth a watch too. 

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

AM: Mein Kampf

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

AM: I usually receive books as presents. On one occasion, I bought my wife a gilt edged copy of Kamasutra. I must admit though, she was unimpressed by my personal interpretations. 

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

AM: I have not read that book myself. Perhaps you could suggest one being a close friend. 

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

AM: A big budget production of the Northern Bank Robbery based on Richard O’Rawe’s book Heist. If only just for the pure entertainment value. 

TPQ: The just must - select one book you simply have to read before you close the last page on life.

AM: A full account of what happened during the H-Block hunger strikes. History demands it.

Alec McCrory 
is a former blanketman.

Booker's Dozen @ Alex McCrory

Lynx By Ten To The Power Of Twenty Four

Gary RobertsonI was an awkward child, shy, retiring.

I didn't do people very well in all honesty. coming from a background of abuse with an alcoholic gambling addicted stepfather and a mother who by her own admission (much much later in life) was far too young to be a mum (15).

I found social interaction difficult. I'd spend hours fishing or just walking through the countryside watching birds, animals, just enjoying the solitude.

This was pretty much how it went for a long time. Friends were scarce and I found myself increasingly less comfortable as I grew in the company of others. I'd pursue pastimes that meant I didn't need to associate. One of these pastimes would gradually and eventually bring me out of my shell and help me find my place in the world - music.

John Miles sang in 1976 that "♫ music was my first love and it will be my last♫ and so it became for me.

I'd spend many wet, wild, cold afternoons in my bedroom listening to all kinds of music from silly love songs to grand operatic classics. This was the early 80s and whilst punk was still prevalent, new genres were springing up all over the place - literally every day something new. It was a great time musically to be alive and I embraced it as I guess most of us did.

Of course I had my favourites: The Cure 🎸Siouxsie and the Banshees 🎸 Joy Division 🎸 The Damned 🎸 Southern Death Cult amongst others, all bands already established from the 70s. The Ramones ... the list goes on. But for the turning point, the "big bang" if you like, we have to go back a couple of years to 1979 and Bauhaus. Probably to this day the greatest band to ever come from Northampton and Bella Lugosi's Dead ... this dark, gloomy, nightmarish feel burned into my young ears. It was like nothing I'd heard before and it felt right. This was the music for me - the sound for me. After yet another kicking from my stepfather I'd hide, curtains closed, under my bed, my small second hand battery operated radio clutched tightly as I'd listen to and sob along with the dreary lyrics of this music scene I was very quickly identifying with.

The one friend I did have was Alastair.

I'd known Alastair since I was 4 from the first day at primary school. He'd regularly bring chocolate biscuits to school and share them with me. Kids being kids would ask how you got that bruise or stuff like that.  Alastair was that kid and we grew close like brothers, the very best of friends.

We grew up in a very small village in southern Scotland, my parents having decided that Glasgow was no longer for them. My stepfather, through what he called "ex forces connections" (he was an RAF "man" in his youth) gained a job and a home in the country and that's where this really begins.

I won't bore you with the details of my childhood after all it's not a therapy session so let's hurry forward to High School/Secondary school.

By this time Alastair and I were heavily into our music and we tried to emulate our hero's looks Numan, Smith, McCoy, Murphy and others. The dark aesthetic fitted perfectly with us. After all, this was 1984 and 13 year old me was captivated by this "gothic music and look." We'd read what we could, we'd look for inspiration for new bands, new sounds ... Sisters of Mercy 🎸 Fields of the Nephilim Cocteau Twins 🎸 Jesus and Mary Chain ... these were exciting times.

The advent of Channel 4 and The Tube shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test ... even Top of The Pops brought new sounds: Depeche Mode 🎸 Soft Cell 🎸 Kate Bush were mainstream yet still edgy enough for us. We spent most of our teenage years together: we'd sit, drink, chat about everything from girls to ghosts, from aliens to Andi Sex Gang. We had each other our own little goth community - just the two of us - we didn't care and we loved it. Sure, he had "outside" interests, football, fishing, cycling - but we still had our bond, our club, our music. And not a dry evening went by when you couldn't find us somewhere, usually perched on the church steps in the graveyard, for safety's sake mainly so as not to get a kicking from the older guys or other guys who thought we were "queer" and "weirdos" Discussing everything and anything or just listen to music we had managed to record with the hovering finger from Radio1, Radio Luxembourg and others.

These memories, music, to this day, look, are still with me. And whilst life has taken many twists and turns I still smile when I hear these songs, these albums once more. For me, the quintessential goth track is Atmosphere by Joy Division. Sure, there were many before and after that, but its dark, dreary lyrics spoke to me and when people ask me for a place to start that's usually where I send them.

I hadn't seen Alastair much after that for a very long time. Other things sort of got in the way. But I ran into him one day not long before his life ended tragically, the way he wanted, by his own hand. And he asked me "Do you think we did goth right?"

Its taken all these years and finally writing this short piece to come up with a definite answer.

"Yes we did Ally yes we did." 

You see, there wasn't a code book nor a rule book. We did it our way and we had fun doing it. And in the end, isn't that what it was all meant to be about?

We were fledgling goths. We became adults and, now nearing 51, I guess I'm elder goth now. But all I have to do is close my eyes and there you are, there we are sharing orange "club" biscuits and being two kids again.

RIP my friend ... my brother.

⏩ Gary Robertson is a patron of TPQ.

Music And Alastair


A Morning Thought @ 1101

Andrea Redmondflags up that in Derry the reason for there being no Meanscoil is not as a result of anything the DUP has been doing.

I support the adoption of the Irish Language Bill and believe bilingual education and workplaces are important to cultural identity and children’s education. 

However, through my experience working within the community sector in Derry and as a parent within the Irish language sector, I have seen the detrimental impact that political cronyism has had on both.

My father was a school principal in Canada. He taught for years in the province of Quebec, where I was born, in the 1960s, and there he witnessed first-hand the language and cultural discrimination of Quebecers. So, upon returning home to Prince Edward Island, he advocated for an educational program called French Immersion to be mainstreamed in all schools in the 1980s.

PEI is an area of eastern Canada, predominately English speaking except for pockets of Acadians (French who escaped the British expulsions to the U.S. Carolinas). His public advocation of a bilingual country and education system merited a backlash, which we experienced directly as children, with threatening phone calls and abusive behaviour towards my father. The program however, was developed. It saw classes, beginning with pre-primary within English schools of children taught exclusively in the medium of French. Ironically the success of the program means it is much sought after - as the merit of children learning multiple languages at an early age is well documented - as well as, the economic benefits. Job opportunities in Canada, particularly the civil service, require French, as well as English. My oldest son attended French Immersion and was bilingual from an early age.

So, with this positive experience of how bilingual education can work, when as a family we moved to my husband’s home in Belfast in the 1990s we didn’t hesitate to enrol our youngest son in Gaelscoil na bhFal. and then Bunscoil Cholmcille when we moved to Derry. We had heard through friends, particularly when the time came for him to graduate into the meanscoil, of issues involving the sector in Derry. However, we believed firmly in the educational and cultural merit of our son continuing in Irish. He next attended Meanscoil Colaiste Bhride and was quite happy, as we were as parents with the excellent staff and his learning.

However, it became clear early on that the school was under threat. From our vantage, years of a whisper campaign had seen enrolment numbers dwindle. Again it seemed that issues between factions within Derry had impacted enrolment numbers. A parents committee was formed to lobby for the future of the school. It has to be said that majority of the families were Republican and ex POWs and many of us had been involved in community action before. At these meetings testimony from former teachers, teachers, and parents revealed the extent of the effort to undermine the school. The rationale for this seems to point to the desire, from one specific figure (hereby referred to as ‘Himself’) within Derry, to establish and ultimately control his own meanscoil at the expense of the existing one.

Our committee began a media campaign to save the school, as well as lobbying with elected reps, including the then education minister, Sinn Fein’s Catriona Ruane. As Catriona was once a former boss of mine from Feile an Phobail, the meeting was genial and seemed to go well: she did seem sympathetic. When publicly asked for support, Martin McGuiness said it was a case of low enrolment numbers and there he seemed to leave it.

However, undaunted we did receive public support from Eamonn McCann who wrote in his news column, pointedly, about political interference in Irish language education. Support also came from then MP Mark Durkan and MLA Mark H. Durkan. In fact a question was tabled on our behalf in the House of Commons. Our rationale was that it was an appeal to support a cultural group, as I believe there was also a Muslim school facing funding issues at the time and we felt it was important that our school's case be put on the public record and the possibility of securing Exchequer monies as the Department of Education didn’t seem to offer any solutions.

Of course there was an implicit critique of Sinn Fein’s handling of the situation, which at that point was obvious and acknowledged by us. At this juncture in our campaign we welcomed support from the local Sinn Fein MLA whose son was attending the school and the arrival of a major language group in Belfast, which we mistakenly thought would bolster our cause: in fact it did the opposite.

I suppose that’s the hardest part to fathom, still years later that we were let down by our own. For what - horse trading with the DUP? This was a costly mistake: to think that this group would support parents and not a particular faction within the city. In fact the Belfast group did little but lead parents in circles and even in one meeting a member of the group loudly talked to ‘Himself’ on a mobile phone, naming him loudly for us all to hear. 

Our lobbying did little to help the school survive. It was moved from its own site to be amalgamated within St Brigid's College. My child was facing his GCSE year. After two years prep in Irish, he had to write his exams in English. Other stresses included the children of the Meanscoil being bullied on a daily basis in the corridors, for being Irish speakers. For the staff too, the implications were severe - stress, illness, and job losses. The ill will within the sector was exemplified by many incidents. On one occasion two elderly teachers were harangued in the local Sainsburys in Irish by ‘Himself’, telling the women he would close the school and have their jobs. The whisper campaign and blame game made its way to Belfast, and here the demise of the Meanscoil was laid at the foot of a specific Bunscoil principal.

What’s the moral of the story? Derry still hasn’t a meanscoil, even with a thriving language sector - the nearest is Dungiven. My child did make it through school. He’s now living and working in Quebec and learning French. This experience has coloured his view of the city and, sadly, speaking Irish.

Unfortunately, the laughter of my child will not ever be in Irish. My role in the committee and my public critique of Sinn Fein has limited my ability to continue working in the community sector. I do think it’s a cautionary tale, and parallels that of the community sector in Derry which is now under the spotlight for political interference. The language sector needs to divest itself wherever possible from political cronyism. Perhaps it has.

Andrea Redmond is Feminist-Republican holding a PhD in Anthropology. She is the only female Republican Belfast women's muralist and community artist. A member of Sile na Gig she is now living in Donegal.

Laughter Of Our Children But Not In Irish

Fra Hughes ✒ Edwin Poots is now the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

A party formed by Ian Paisley in September 1971 - the ultimate outsider, a radical firebrand loyalist preacher who would later be brought in from the cold.

Ian Paisley led the counter-demonstrations to the Civil Rights marches in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.

He was a fundamentalist Protestant preacher who formed his own ministry with the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951. He preached at the Martyrs Memorial Church on the Ravenhill Road, Belfast.

His influence was wide-ranging and his fiery orations from both the pulpit and the street gave him a mandate at the polls when he formed the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971 to rival the Ulster Unionist Party which had governed Northern Ireland much like a one-party state for nearly 50 years.

He was very much an outsider.

He was not a member of the established order nor was he a member of the elite.

He was however elected to the House of Commons as a member of Parliament and also as a Member of the European Parliament

He found his niche in voicing and then representing the more conservative and hardline unionist voters, comprising many fundamentalists, anti-Catholic, Protestant Reform brethren, in unison with loyalist extremists and paramilitaries aligned with the Orange Order.

Paisley himself was a member of the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and addressed rallies of the Independent Orange Order.

He was very much a man of his time. Many accuse him of inciting violence and prolonging the conflict.

He eventually gained the prize he treasured most when he became the joint First Minister of Northern Ireland in the regionally devolved assembly at Stormont.

From maverick to minister, with many deaths in between.

With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 David Trimble, Ulster Unionist Party and Seamus Mallon, Social Democratic Labour Party, entered Stormont as joint First Ministers. They were ultimately replaced by Paisley's DUP and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein the following decade. The ultimate prize in politics locally of being First Minister of Northern Ireland led Ian Paisley and his DUP into government with SF. He was First Minister between 2007 and 2008 alongside Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

He was ousted and some felt he was betrayed by the party when he was forced to stand down as party leader, and Peter Robinson, one of his closest allies, took over the reins in 2008 as party leader and First Minister.

This coronation ended when Peter Robinson lost the support of the party and Arlene Foster became the first female leader of the DUP in 2015, becoming First Minister in 2016.

There have always been two factions within the DUP. Most parties have a left and a right.

The DUP could be described as having a right-wing and even farther right-wing.

There is a fundamentalist, pro-creationist orthodoxy, never on a Sunday, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, element within the party. And then there is the ever so slightly more pragmatic, slightly more progressive element.

Arlene Foster was deposed as a leader recently when a letter was circulated saying she had lost the support of the party over the Northern Ireland Protocol and, accordingly, she stepped aside.

Her replacement is Edwin Poots: a member of the farming community who has been described as a fundamental creationist.

His leadership position was ratified at a recent meeting of the officers and elected members of the DUP.

However, his candidacy has come at a huge price.

He only narrowly defeated his rival in the Leadership election, Jeffrey Donaldson, an ex- Ulster Unionist Party stalwart, now DUP MP for Lagan Valley, by the narrowest of margins.

He won by 19 votes to 17 votes. Chosen by the elected MP’s and regional MLA’s.

At the meeting called to ratify his appointment, there was a walkout by those opposed to his elevation to the position of party leader, including his main protagonist Jeffrey Donaldson, alongside others closely aligned to Arlene Foster the outgoing party leader.

This fracture could well see the voting base for the DUP disintegrate.

As hardline traditionalist fundamentalists and creationists, together with more sinister elements of loyalist paramilitaries, rally around Mr Poots, those who are uncomfortable with this heady cocktail mix of a bible in one hand and the threat of loyalist paramilitary violence in the other, may very well move towards the more progressive and comfortable unionism offered by the Alliance Party.

Some senior members of the DUP have claimed they were intimidated by elements of the proscribed Ulster Defense Association, loyalist paramilitaries, during the recent leadership contest, and police investigations are ongoing.

Where do we find ourselves now?

To many, this might seem to be choppy unchartered waters.

Believe me, we have been here before.

The symbiotic relationship between unionism and loyalist paramilitarism and indeed many of the state structures is nothing new.

It has been the case since the partition of Ireland and the inception of the state in 1921.

Has Ian Paisley reached out from beyond the grave to replace his imprimatur on the party he founded?

As the party was slowly, very slowly, becoming slightly more progressive under Foster, was this coup masterminded by Ian Paisley junior?

Is he the hand behind the throne?

What we have witnessed may very well lead to the fracturing of the DUP into yet another Unionist breakaway party, propelling both Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party into the two top government positions of Joint First Ministers with Sinn Fein taking the lead role in the 2022 elections.

As the DUP hardliners circle the wagons for their inevitable defeat over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and as loyalists threaten a summer of violence if the Protocol is not removed, we could be witnessing the final rattle of the partitionist unionist snake.

As the song says, ‘there may be trouble ahead, but let’s face the music and dance’.

Better days lay ahead, once the toxic boil of unionism is lanced by their own electorate.

Fra Hughes is a Freelance journalist-author-commentator-political activist.
Follow on Twitter @electfrahughes

DUP Leader, Poots in Boots ➖ But Whose Footsteps Is He Walking In?

Peter Anderson ⚽ assesses England's chances @ EURO 2020.

With the club football season over, attention has switched to the Euros. And with fans back in the stadium, it is going to be entertaining, as the big international tournaments always are. The big question is, how will England fare? They usually have a good team on paper, get to the quarters or semis then lose on penalties. How many times have we seen this scenario play out? This time may be different.

Current manager, Gareth Southgate, managed most of this team in the U21s with much success. The team know him and like him. Also, England play their group games at home, plus one of the semis and the final will be played in England. Add to that the fact that the team did well at the last World Cup. Admittedly not as good as the English press would have you believe, but they did look quite impressive. Southgate goes for a young dynamic side with high energy and he has the players with sufficient quality to play that style. And surely, they must win something one of these days! It would not surprise me if it was this year.

They kicked off their tournament with a solid performance against Croatia, winning 1-0. Sterling bagged the winner after being slipped through by Phillips. Southgate started with Kane, Sterling, Foden and Mount in attacking roles with the likes of Rashford, Grealish, Calvert-Lewin and Bellingham on the bench. Those are some good attacking options and if most of them hit some form England will score plenty of goals.

The weakness in the team, as always is Pickford. Erratic at best, he can produce wonder saves then have a complete howler. The injury to Harry Maguire may prove to be a blessing as Tyrone Mings filled in well. Rice and Phillips looked good in the deep midfield role, with Henderson on the bench they look strong there too. At the weekend they face the Smelly Socks in a local derby that no longer catches the imagination. In the 70s and 80s England v Scotland was always a great match to watch, but with the Scots already having lost to the Czechs I fear a thumping for Scotland.

Tougher tests surely await England after the group stage. Italy got off to a flyer, and the tournament favourites, France, face the always reliable Germans in the group of death tonight. I'd put money on them all progressing to the next round. While the unfancied Netherlands hit the ground running with a 3-2 win over Ukraine, the highly fancied Belgium destroyed the Russians 3-0. It looks like it is shaping up to be a great tournament.

I also have to mention the Danish star Christian Eriksson who had a cardiac arrest on the pitch against Finland. At the time it looked like it was going to end in disaster, but swift medical treatment saved his life, though maybe not his football career. Incredibly the match was restarted and the Danes lost 0-1. With a defeat in the first game and without their star man the road ahead looks bleak for the Danes.

With no Northern Ireland in the tournament, I will reluctantly be supporting the English. It would be much easier to support them if the fawning media didn't go over the top. If they win the media noise will be unbearable, but they are the players I know best watching them every week in the EPL.

Whatever happens I hope we see some classic games.

Peter Anderson is a Unionist with a keen interest in sports.

EURO 2020 ➖ England's Chances


A Morning Thought @ 1100

Ian Major ✒ teases out what a united Ireland might conceivably look like.

It is understandable why no Unionist politician can take part in any discussion about what form a United Ireland might take. They would be portrayed by their Unionist opponents not as self-confident defenders of the Unionist people, reasoning with Nationalists on why a UI would be unacceptable, but as weaklings already conceding the inevitability of a UI.

But that should not hinder any non-party Unionist from doing so. Indeed, it is desirable to reason with our Nationalist fellow-citizens, and the Irish nation as a whole, in order to fully understand the concerns and aspirations of each other.

The case for remaining out of a UI has changed somewhat from that of the founding fathers of NI. Gone is the downside of a Roman Catholic, priest-ridden State. And gone too is the upside of a thriving industrial economy in the North.

What now deters Unionists from considering a union with the Irish Republic?

The prime concern for most Unionists is the Gaelic nature of the present ROI, and that being carried over into a UI. That is, the underlying assumption that being Irish is in effect being Gaelic. The ethnic British in ROI do not have a share in the myth of the nation, except as remnants of the invaders. No mutual respect of origins exists. A defeated foe, welcomed to remain if they behave themselves.

That is not a UI that any self-respecting Unionist could consider voting for. So what sort of Ireland might be acceptable to them? Something like the following might at least gain a respectful hearing.

Consider the advance we made in getting agreement on governing NI after such a bitter conflict. The Belfast Agreement sought to reassure both communities here that the government we formed could not be used to damage either community. Mutual vetoes were built in to prevent any one community majority overruling a minority. Cross-community majorities are required on contentious issues. That was a massive confidence builder. Then too, power-sharing provided rights and responsibilities to both communities.

Rather than devolving government to regions to accommodate Unionist concerns, a power-sharing central government in a future UI, with mutual vetoes for both the British and Gaelic communities, would be ideal.

That's the practicalities of governance with cross-community confidence.

But the identity of each community with the State, with the new nation that arises with a UI, is a crucial issue too. What could be done to improve the feeling of joint nationhood with the Irish in a UI? A couple of ideas: firstly, to identify the new nation as a combination of the previous two, not a submersion of one into the other. The title of the new state might be ‘The British and Gaelic Republic of Ireland', allowing for a new meaning to the term ‘Irish'. Or ‘The British and Irish Republic of Ireland', but that complicates the old sense of Irish with the new one.

A new anthem would be required, celebrating the union, rather than celebrating the old conflict.

A new flag would be appropriate, given the baggage the present Tricolour has for Unionists. Perhaps replacing the orange with blue, denoting the Ulster Scots roots of many Unionists, and fully acceptable to all Unionists as representing them.

Finally, a consideration about the large number of Evangelical Protestants in NI. They are a minority among Unionists, but an important one.

The Most important consideration for Christian Unionists will be guarantees of civil and religious liberty. That used to be important for most Unionists, but the growing number of secular Unionists seem not to be concerned about it, or even dismissive of it. The failure by them to give assurances that prayer and counsel would not be included in any ban on gay conversion therapy is indicative of that.

If a UI would have a robust guarantee of civil and religious liberty, that would remove a strong concern for the many Unionists who are Christians.

You Nationalists/Republicans can't make Unionists discuss these matters, but you could ponder on the possibilities, some of which I raise here, and respond honestly. No need to fear your objections would antagonise the Unionists – we are already antagonised and expect the worst from you in a UI. 

Ian Major grew up a heathen Protestant, was converted at 17. He lives out his Evangelical faith as a Baptist. 

A Few Thoughts On Ulster Unionists And The Nature Of A United Ireland

People And Nature ✒ An 8-minute video from the Sheffield Festival of Debate.

Harpreet Kaur Paul 👫 Tom Baxter 👬 Simon Pirani talk about whether hydrogen can play a part in the transition away from fossil fuels, and why it is being pushed by companies who want to slow that transition down.

Hydrogen: Green Gas or Greenwash? - YouTube

⏭ Keep up with People And Nature.  Follow People & Nature on twitter … instagram … telegram … or whatsapp. Or email peoplenature[at], and you will be sent updates. 

Hydrogen ➖ Green Gas Or Greenwash?

As former DUP leader Arlene Foster enters the last hours of her reign as Stormont’s First Minister, political commentator
Dr John Coulter poses the question - will she eventually have the last laugh on those in the DUP who plotted the leadership coup?

As former DUP leader Arlene Foster prepares to become the former First Minister, many within Unionism, and the wider political community, will have different memories of her as a person, a politician, party leader, Stormont Minister and ultimately First Minister.

It is no secret that I have been a life-long member of the Ulster Unionist Party as were my late parents and grandparents. Arlene served a couple of mandates in the Northern Ireland Assembly along with my late dad.

But my abiding memory of Arlene is a rousing speech she made - when she was in the UUP - at the annual BBQ hosted by the late Drew Nelson, a former leading member of the Orange Order’s ruling body, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, at his home in the Lagan Valley constituency.

Jeffrey Donaldson and Peter Weir were also at that BBQ. Later all three, including Arlene, left for the DUP. But that evening in Drew’s home as I sat a few feet away from where Arlene made her speech I was totally impressed with her enthusiasm for Unionism. She could deliver an awesome speech.

It was at a time when the UUP was then in turmoil with still considerable bitterness politically between the Yes and No camps of the party over the Good Friday Agreement.

Whilst I had been part of Jeffrey Donaldson’s campaign team which secured him the Lagan Valley UUP Westminster nomination, and ultimately succeeded James Molyneaux as MP, my abiding memory of Arlene’s speech that summer’s evening in Lagan Valley at Drew’s was - here’s a UUP leader in waiting if Trimble is toppled!

Well, I got a bit of it right! She was a leader in waiting - I just got the party wrong! Unfortunately, the UUP at that time always had a reputation for airing its dirty political linen in public.

So, like many of my journalistic colleagues, it was with much amazement as we watched the DUP publicly implode at a Belfast hotel as what should have been a coronation for new DUP boss Edwin Poots (also from Lagan Valley) became a UUP-style slagging match.

It has left me wondering - if only Arlene had remained in the UUP along with Donaldson and Weir. At least the UUP operates a one paid-up member, one vote policy when it comes to electing a leader; at least there are public hustings so that the grassroots UUP members can ask questions of the leadership candidates - certainly not the secret so-called cabal in the DUP known as the ‘electoral college’.

But what will Arlene’s time in the DUP, and especially her tenure as First Minister, best be remembered for? And more importantly, at the age of 50 as she said herself, where does Arlene go from here politically?

Whilst we can talk about the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal, dubbed ‘cash for ash’, pre-election comments about ‘feeding crocodiles’ in reference to Sinn Fein demands, the collapse of the power-sharing institutions, ultimately what I recall about Arlene was the sheer brutality of the coup from within the DUP which toppled her.

Even by militant DUP standards, the manner of her demise as leader was even more draconian than that which forced the party’s founder, the late Rev Ian Paisley, to quit as First Minister, leader of the DUP and even Moderator of the Christian fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster he created in 1951 - 20 years before he launched the DUP.

Under Edwin Poots, the fundamentalists may now be back in control of the DUP and most of the modernisers and Unionist moderates who would have supported Donaldson have been pushed to the side.

But Arlene may still have the last laugh. While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the Stormont Executive to work together, Team Poots - as his DUP team of ministers and committee chairs and deputy chairs has become known - may well be driven into a series of embarrasing U-turns over an Irish Language Act and implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to keep the Stormont institutions running.

Likewise, resignations and defections from the DUP over the running of the party or the brutality of the Arlene coup could see former DUP members running as Independent Unionist or UUP candidates at next May’s expected Stormont general election - a move which could obliterate the DUP’s slender one-seat majority over Sinn Fein and hand the post of First Minister to the apologist party for the Provisional IRA.

As for Arlene, while she has indicated she will step away from the DUP, options include returning to the UUP, running as an Independent Unionist in her native Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, elevation to the Westminster House of Lords, or a public campaigner for women’s rights.

In a world of political uncertainties in Northern Ireland, one thing is certain - the body politic has not heard the last of Arlene Foster. And her ‘political ghost’ may come back to haunt Team Poots. 

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online

Will Arlene Have The Last Laugh On The Plotters?


A Morning Thought @ 1099

Anthony McIntyre ✒ In Midnight Sun Jo Nesbo follows through from Blood On Snow. So, the inimitable Harry Hole is absent. 

The principal character Jon Hansen is determined to escape Oslo, and so makes his way by bus to Finnmark at the northernmost tip of Norway – where “everything is South of here”. It is a remote plateau upon which the sun refuses to set and under which the Sami culture pulsates.

Jon ends up in the local community of Kåsund, where he immediately becomes Ulf, the name he pulled out of his head on meeting his first acquaintance when disembarking from the bus, Mattias. The village is much under the influence of a fundamentalist religious cult. It preaches the usual biblical hellfire and brimstone. An atheist, the remoteness and quaintness of the village appeals to Jon. It holds out the offer of the most propitious cover available, despite the religious bunkum, maybe even because of it: who after all might think of looking for an atheist among religious nutters?

The cover is what he is in need of most. A hitman who failed to hit, he is no longer the predator but the prey, being hunted by his former boss from Blood On Snow, the Fisherman. Although determined to escape he is up against a person as determined to kill him, a vicious gang boss who “always finds what he is looking for.” He should have stayed in the debt collecting and fixer line of criminal work in the nation's capital. He had messed up a contract killing and now those who hired his services are about to terminate the contract with extreme prejudice.

As a hit man, he can expect little in the way of sympathy but is fortunate to find it in the person of Knut, a ten year old who introduces him to his mother, Lea. Both are members of the community's religious cult. Lea allows him to stay in her husband's cabin and provides him with a rifle and ammunition. Lea’s circumstances are not as healthy as she might wish. Daughter of the local preacher, she should be the village vicar - just that the Church in Finnmark would never allow a lowly woman to attain such a lofty pulpit. Ulf falls for her but the husband is a local hood who has violently abused his wife.

Jon had also ridiculed Christianity: "thou shalt have no other gods before me. Every dictator’s command to his subjects, no doubt." He concluded much as Augustine of Hippo had more than 1600 years before him that some Christians were so stupid that they took the bible literally to the point of being a laughing stock. Edwin Poots is not a peculiar North of Ireland phenomenon: the type can be found everywhere. And as Christians do not like being mocked, this could be a source of potential tension.

Yet the Christian community is the only refuge available when the inevitable moment arrives in the form of human devils.

Like other stand alone novels by Nesbo, this is a work that did not meet with the same approval ratings as Harry Hole narratives. The plot is not as complicated but is probably easier to follow for that. At the end of a Hole book there is the temptation to revisit the plot just to put everything in its place. Not with the free standing works. Once finished there is no reflection, just satisfaction. Currently reading a much longer The Kingdom, it is to state the obvious to say that there is refreshing simplicity to following a well written uncomplicated plot.

While I love the Harry Hole series, in the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “every hero becomes a bore at last." So before letting it get to that stage I opt for the switch every so often.

A tale of redemption, revenge and remoteness, this is a book of such brevity that the bus journey made by Jon from Oslo to Finnmark would be more than enough time to read it in one go.

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Midnight Sun