There have been thousands of words written about the late former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume and his contribution to the current peace process.
While he endured much criticism - both from Unionism and nationalism - about the Hume/Adams talks to bring the republican movement ‘in from the cold’ politically, it came at great cost to both his personal health and his party’s fortunes.
While there were many others, too, who made a significant contribution to bringing about the ceasefires of 1994 and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, John Hume was undoubtedly a major cog in that machine.
But what was the secret of his success? Was it his social communication skills; his ability to effectively communicate what his long-term goal was? Was it his dedication to his peace principle that no matter what flak was thrown at him, he would not deviate from his peace vision?
In my honest opinion, the secret of his success was his clear ability to get inside the mind of the people he was seeking to persuade. While he was a constitutional nationalist, he sought to understand how militants in the republican movement thought. The same tactic he applied to the Unionist and loyalist communities.
After many months of talking and negotiations, the Irish republic finally has a stable coalition government of some kind which keeps out the Shinners.
To move his specific vision of a united Ireland forward, the current Fianna Fail Taoiseach Micheal Martin has ‘beefed up’ his Shared Future Department as part of his Taoiseach office.
At first reading, just as the Good Friday Agreement was dubbed Sunningdale for slow learners, so too, could this Shared Future Department be branded Maryfield Mark Two?
When Tory Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher went behind then UUP leader Jim Molyneaux’s back and signed the 1985 Hillsborough Agreement with Dublin, part of that agreement saw the establishment of the Maryfield Secretariat near Belfast.
Maryfield gave the Irish government its first major say in the running of Northern Ireland affairs since partition in the 1920s. The Maryfield project had to be very delicately operated so as loyalists did not stage a repeat of 1974 when the then Irish government attempted to break the Sunningdale logjam by putting forward its own proposals for governing Northern Ireland.
The result was the no-warning loyalist bomb blitz in Dublin and Monaghan, which must rate as one of the biggest atrocities of the Troubles. However, it had the desired political effect as far as loyalism was concerned - Dublin backed down.
With Unionism now the minority political ideology in Northern Ireland if we take the past three elections into consideration, debate about Irish unity and what form and timescale it should take is now on the agenda as far as all shades of nationalism and republicanism are concerned.
In dealing with loyalism, the Irish government needs to adopt the John Hume approach. Specifically, the Shared Future Department personnel all need to get inside the minds of loyalism and understand how that ideology ticks.
The key issue which Dublin must understand is that loyalism does not enjoy the same political support electorally within the pro-Union community as Sinn Fein currently has within the nationalist voter base on both sides of the Irish border.
The Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness political strategy - encouraged by John Hume - saw Sinn Fein transform itself from being a mere apologist for Provisional IRA terrorism, to the main voice of Northern nationalism at the expense of the SDLP.
There has been no such repetition of that support in the pro-Union community. The political movements closely aligned to the main loyalist death squads, the UVF and UDA, remain fringe parties.
Had loyalism gone the same way politically as republicanism, then the Progressive Unionist Party (aligned to the UVF and Red Hand Commando) and the former Ulster Democratic Party (aligned to the UDA and UFF) would be the dominant political voices in the pro-Union community and not the DUP, UUP or TUV.
This reality has unfortunately caused Dublin to at times ignore loyalism at its peril. The other perception which Dublin could make at its peril is to take the view that all militant loyalism is represented by the UVF and UDA and that those organisations are more interested in making money through criminality than in preventing any slide into a united Ireland.
It seems as if Dublin is stuck in 1998, believing that loyalism has no stomach or desire for the concept of armed struggle should the penny drop with ageing loyalist leaders from that era that Loyal Ulster is edging towards a 32-county democratic socialist republic.
Just as Dublin miscalculated the support for Sinn Fein in last year’s Dail General Election by looking at the republican movement as if it was 1998, Dublin needs to take account of two significant changes in loyalism. Firstly, a new generation of loyalist is emerging for whom 1994 and 1998 are merely dates in history books.
Secondly, Dublin needs to take account of the changing structure of global terrorism as dictated by the Islamic fundamentalists. Loyalism should no longer be viewed as 1974-style thousands of marching UDA men on the street.
The tactic of an Ulster Workers’ Council-style strike to cripple Northern Ireland worked to collapse the Sunningdale Executive, but it did not work in 1977 with the Paisley-style strike and it certainly did not stop the implementation of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Unionists and loyalists tramped the streets, towns and cities of Northern Ireland with their Ulster Says No and Ulster Still Says No campaigns. They achieved nothing.
A dissident loyalist movement emerged post 1994 in opposition to the strategy of the Combined Loyalist Military Command. While the CLMC represented the mainstream loyalist terror groups, dissidents opposed to the peace process established the Protestant Military Alliance.
The terms ‘Red Hand Defenders’ and ‘Orange Volunteers’ came to represent those loyalists who actively opposed the peace process route of the CLMC.
Radical Islam established the terror structure of a small cell of a handful of people to carry out atrocities. The British and Irish intelligence communities during the Troubles were able to successfully penetrate loyalism and republicanism because they were comprised of four main organisations - UVF, UDA, PIRA and INLA.
Dissident republicans opposed to the Sinn Fein peace process have tried to outwit the security forces on both sides of the Irish border by forming several different groups, making its more difficult to penetrate, hence the emergence of the New IRA, Real IRA, Continuity IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs.
2020 dissident loyalism may only now be an embryo movement, but in spite of the fanaticism of this handful of people, they all recognise one key fact - they will never enjoy the widespread political or community support in the pro-Union camp which Sinn Fein has basked in for years politically in nationalism.
Indeed, should any modern-day dissident loyalist group of individuals carry out ‘lone wolf’-style atrocities, it will probably be the voices within liberal Unionism and ecumenical Protestantism which will be the most vocal in their condemnation.
This is why the pro-Union community has a duty to engage with the Taoiseach’s new vision and become persuaders that the Irish republic’s future lies in a closer political relationship with the UK in a post-Brexit British Isles.
In 1985, the pro-Union community missed a golden opportunity to play Dublin at its own political game. Instead of marching the streets during that cold winter, the pro-Union community should have established a Unionist Embassy in Leinster House in direct opposition to Maryfield and demanded a say in the running of the 26 Counties.
Ironically, Unionists need to firstly address the issue of what sort of Union they want. Answer that question and they can begin the process of persuasion.
Fail to address this issue, and the new dissident loyalist movement will slowly but surely gain momentum. Under no circumstances should those in the pro-Union community who call themselves democrats lose control of peaceful persuasion.
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