There is the real danger that either next Monday, 13 January, or 31 January could send Northern Ireland back around a quarter of a century and the peace process forged between 1994 and 1998 could be flushed down the political toilet in 2020.
Next Monday is the first crucial step - an agreement must be reached for reforming the power-sharing Stormont Executive, which has been mothballed since January 2017, or Northern Ireland could face another round of Assembly elections, or Direct Rule from Westminster.
The former could see simply more of the ‘same old, same old’, but with Alliance holding the balance of power; the latter will see a return to the Thatcherite days when Tory Ministers - unelected by the Ulster voters - will rule the roost.
Given the size of BoJo’s majority in the House of Commons, a Conservative Government may well decide to take its revenge on Northern Ireland for the DUP failing to support the Boris Brexit deal in 2019. Austerity will take on a whole new financial meaning in Northern Ireland as the Tories inflict previously unimaginable cuts to services across the Province.
And before I’m ironically accused of Corbyn-style Hard Left Marxist political sabre-rattling, I write from the strength of having lived through Maggie Thatcher’s treatment of Northern Ireland during her reign as Prime Minister. If Thatcher could throw Northern Ireland’s Unionists ‘under the bus’ with the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, The Boris Government could do likewise in 2020 in a post Brexit Ulster.
It is in Unionism’s best interests to get an Executive agreement in place by next Monday, because looming in the dark political shadows is the potential menacing force known as dissident loyalism.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all the wee meetings taking place across Northern Ireland to voice concern at the Boris Brexit deal represent that dark shadow.
Months before the Boris Brexit deal came on the political table, senior moderate voices on both sides of the Irish border were warning about the potential threat from an angry loyalist movement.
The security forces on both sides of that border have concentrated their efforts on combating the threats posed by the dissident republican movement, and especially the New IRA faction.
But all the while, a new dissident loyalist movement has been steadily emerging and British and Irish security forces are in danger of making the same fatal errors they made in 1971 when internment without trial was introduced.
That tactic worked very effectively in 1956-62 to combat the threat by the then IRA in what became known as the Border Campaign. At that time it was based on accurate intelligence. The 1971 internment debacle was based on outdated information and only served as a recruiting tool for the IRA.
The British and Irish governments must not fall into the pitfall that action against the loyalist movement to prevent a dissident faction emerging must be based around those involved in the 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC), which drew up the loyalist ceasefires by the UVF, UFF and Red Hand Commando.
The British and Irish governments - and the Unionist political family - must realise that a new generation of loyalist has emerged for whom much of the Troubles, the 1994 ceasefire, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, all-island referenda, and 1998 Stormont Assembly are either dates in history books or events their grannies talk about.
And while many in loyalist paramilitaries subsequently became involved even more in criminality, those same criminals will not be to the fore in any new dissident loyalist movement.
The nature of terrorism has changed radically since the Good Friday Agreement, the start of the Troubles and even the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of 1974.
During the Seventies, republican and loyalist paramilitaries were structured as if they were about to fight a civil war in 1914 instead of going off to the bloody trenches of the Great War. Terrorists groups were organised along the lines of brigades, companies and platoons. They were easy to infiltrate - and control.
The threat from the ‘super-grass’ and informer system forced both sides to adopt a Chinese Maoist cell structure in which one terrorist cell either did not know the identity of other cell members, or did not know about each others’ terrorist attacks.
Dissident republicans operated the system of completely separate organisations operating independently of each other, hence the emergence of the New IRA, Continuity IRA and Real IRA in a bid to outwit infiltration by the security forces.
However, in the past decade, radical fundamentalist Islam has defined the nature of terrorist attacks. Small groups of no more than three or four individuals which prepare for a single attack, usually a suicide attack. This should not be misinterpreted that dissident loyalists will adopt suicide bombing as a method, merely a recognition that in organising attacks, it may be only three or four people involved.
In an era where loyalists believed in the concept of mass movements, some organisations - such as the Black Friday Brigade - were dismissed as ‘a two men and a dog outfit.’ But that very small structure is now the preferred method of organising a terror cell.
There is also the tactic favoured by the Far Right terrorists, which is the lone wolf strategy, where one person plans and carries out an atrocity. Their only link are the victims being targeted as coming from a specific community or political creed.
In Northern Ireland terms, The CLMC did not represent, or could not control, all shades of violent loyalism. It could not stop Billy Wright setting up the dissident Loyalist Volunteer Force in the aftermath of his expulsion from the Mid Ulster UVF by the Belfast leadership.
The CLMC could not stop dissident loyalists carrying out terror attacks in the name of the Red Hand Defenders; it could not stop other militants carrying out arson attacks in the name of the Orange Volunteers (OV), a group whose name was thought to be defunct since the failed loyalist strike of 1977.
Some dissident loyalists even set up their own version of the CLMC, know as the Protestant Military Alliance, comprising the OV and RHD, although the latter was suspected of being a cover name for dissident members of the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando disillusioned with the Good Friday Agreement peace process.
Just as moderate nationalism under the leadership of John Hume brought militant republicanism in the form of Sinn Fein in from the political cold using the Hume/Adams talks, so too, must modern-day Unionism ensure that loyalism is not abandoned in a post Brexit Ulster.
There must, equally, be no more ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ stunts, such as the Third Force or Ulster Resistance, whereby DUP individuals encouraged loyalists to form vigilante groups, but when the political temperature became too hot, the DUP individuals abandoned both organisations.
Evangelical Christians within the Protestant Loyal Orders also have a moral obligation to ensure that loyalist anger at the Boris Brexit deal does not spill over into violence, but is kept to purely democratic expressions.
Listen to Dr John Coulter’s religious show, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, or listen online at www.thisissunshine.com