There’s been so much focus on the rudderless and leaderless political Titanic, namely the suspended Stormont Executive, the political eye has been taken off the motionless Direct Rule U-Boat basking calming off the Ulster shores waiting on the 12 December General Election outcome.
There has been much speculation on what the DUP could lose in the General Election, rather than on how many of the 10 seats it will hold, or potential new ones it could win.
We all know the real reason for any stalled peace deal between Sinn Fein and the Arlene Foster camp during the summer had nothing to do with humiliating republicans over a stand-alone Irish Language Act or guaranteeing a unionist veto, but had everything to do with inflicting meltdown on their political rivals.
Even the dogs in the street knew a General Election was in the pipeline - all that needed to be confirmed was the date.
The big problem for the current peace process is whilst Sinn Fein methodically reaffirmed its position as the main voice of nationalism in the North in the European and council elections, Foster’s DUP dished out another drubbing to the Ulster Unionists.
The DUP maintaining its lead over the UUP has forced the latter onto the electoral back foot in terms of 12 December. But the danger signals for the peace process is that it has brought the religious fundamentalist fringe into the centre arena of political talks.
Christian evangelicals within the body politic have been unable to prevent Westminster from implementing same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws to Northern Ireland.
If the DUP loses seats after the votes are counted on 12 December, could the party’s founding fundamentalist wing flex its muscles again? Could we see a mixture of political and religious sermons from DUP evangelicals lamenting that party losses - especially in Belfast - were because of a more ‘liberal’ stance by the DUP?
One of the successes of the DUP was that it gave a voice to working class Protestant fundamentalism in a unionist family which was controlled by the more liberal and pluralist unionist middle class.
A major side effect of the UUP electoral misfortunes since 2003 has been the fact that not only has the hard-line fundamentalism grown within the DUP, it has now become one of the most powerful lobbies within the North itself.
However, at the moment that fundamentalist lobby is powerful on paper - it still needs to flex its muscles at the ballot box. What happens if the Christian vote remains at home?
At one time, Paisley senior’s fundamentalist, uncompromising Right-wing gained a political platform in Northern politics on a par with the influence of the Christian Right-wing Moral Majority faction in American politics – especially in the era of the Bush administration.
In the nationalist camp, the SDLP is still in business, but talk of a formal merger with Fianna Fail in the Republic has been relegated to the long finger. Its just a working relationship as the party humiliated in the last General Election has its eye on winning three seats in the December poll - South Belfast, Foyle and South Down (the latter depending on tactical voting by Unionists).
Talk has now returned to the notorious peace train about to leave the mythical station as if it was a political version of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films.
May’s elections have confirmed the DUP’s seats in the first-class compartments, but for the UUP – it’s standing room only in the economy class.
Ever since the January 2017 Assembly suspension, there has been a constant media barrage the train must leave without Sinn Fein because of the stand alone Irish Language Act.
However, the real danger is faced by the Old Guard Paisleyites. They are the party of government within Unionism. It’s their responsibility as a devolutionist party to deliver a working, legislative Stormont – only this time, DUP ministers will not be able to work the electorate by either blaming Sinn Fein or boasting about their ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with the Tories at Westminster.
There is the real threat to Unionism after 12 December that the British, Irish and American governments give the peace train the signal to move on, with Sinn Fein sneaking into the rear guards van at the last moment, but leave the DUP still squabbling with its hard-line Right-wing fundamentalists on the platform.
It is the DUP that has shifted its ground – from the ultra-Right ‘Ulster Says No’ to the modernising ‘do a deal centre Right’. The DUP may well have stolen the UUP’s political garments, position, policies and voters. But it has also inherited the fleas’ nest of internecine feuding.
Electoral euphoria may well hide the effects of the flea bites for a few months. The real crisis will come when Foster has to sell the Sinn Fein deal to her ultra religious fundamentalists who have a traditional of not agreeing with anybody!.
As for the UUP, it needs to be ultra careful about how it packages the trendy talk about becoming a liberal party. That’s what the late Brian Faulkner’s Unionist Party of Northern Ireland tried after its Westminster defeats in 1974 – and it’s now in the political cemetery.
The UUP may be forced to re-establish itself as the party of the positive radical Right under the leadership of Steve Aiken. For such a move, the ghost of former boss Jim Molyneaux will be chuckling as will UUP members who were activists in the Right-wing Ulster Monday Club pressure group.
While words such as ‘liberal’, ‘middle road’, ‘moderate’, ‘centre ground’ and even ‘radical moderate’ may be the political buzz phrases of this General Election, when the votes are counted and the post mortems conducted, could the ‘hardliners’ move in for a rebrand?
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com