Mention the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘conspiracy’ in the same sentence and they are bound to trigger a fearsome reaction from the lunatic fringe of militant fundamentalism.
However, the Covid 19 crisis, coupled with the Brexit fallout, has equally triggered concern among some sections of the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland that the Province may have to be financially sacrificed to guarantee the economic survival of England and Wales.
Whilst the DUP once lauded current British Prime Minister Boris Johnston at its party conference before he landed the 10 Downing Street hot seat, many Unionists have become equally suspicious of the intentions of a Tory administration at Westminster since the start of the Troubles.
After all, it was Tory PM Ted Heath who got rid of the original Unionist-dominated Stormont Parliament; it was Tory PM Maggie Thatcher who signed the notorious Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave Southern Ireland its first real say in the running of the Province since partition; it was Tory PM John Major who agreed the Downing Street Declaration which paved the way for the disbanding of the RUC; it was Tory PM David Cameron who paved the way for the Brexit crisis in Northern Ireland; it was Tory PM Theresa May who added to the Brexit confusion, and as for Tory PM Boris Johnston … could BoJo be putting in place the final pieces in the jigsaw puzzle which will see Northern Ireland eased gently out of the UK?
The people in sharp suits at Westminster who always viewed Northern Ireland as nothing more than an expensive colony must be rubbing their hands with glee at the economic crisis which the Province finds itself facing with Covid 19 and Brexit combined.
Scotland has been milked by Westminster of all the North Sea oil it can provide, so if the Scottish nationalists get their way and we see an independent Scotland in the next few years, that’s another cash burden off-loaded by London; just Northern Ireland to push out of the Union and the English and Welsh dominated House of Commons can ensure that a mini-UK is economically sustainable.
The big problem which London faces is that the Republic does not practically want Northern Ireland (yes, in political aspiration, it wants unity); it cannot afford Northern Ireland and it does not want the extra Northern Dail seats which Sinn Fein would win, tipping the balance of power in Leinster House.
The key question at this point in time which the pro-Union community must debate is whether the Alliance ‘bounce’ in the past three elections in Northern Ireland is a genuine reflection of the Province becoming a more secular society, or merely a protest vote against the DUP and Sinn Fein, Brexit and RHI?
Traditionally, Alliance’s strength over the decades had always been east of the River Bann, with west of the Bann effectively barren political territory.
Under Naomi Long’s leadership that has changed radically. Alliance now has a realistic presence west of the Bann, and has been scooping up traditional pro-Union voters by the thousands east of the Bann.
With its roots firmly planted east of the Bann among the Protestant community, Alliance can now adjust its ‘soft unionist’ image and go after ‘soft nationalist’ voters west of the Bann.
If the pro-Union community - now the minority ideology in Northern Ireland behind nationalism and middle of the road - views the shift to Alliance as a protest vote, how can the Unionist parties recover that territory electorally?
Or is the nightmare which the pro-Union community has to face - better to be a poor colony in the UK than a prosperous province in an all-island dimension.
Dublin wants it political cake and eat it at the same time. Dublin wants a united Ireland, but doesn’t want the Shinners to have a significant say, and it most certainly does not want to foot the bill for Irish unity. Dublin will play the card - if London wants rid of Northern Ireland, let it pay the bill for unification.
Could the compromise then be a League of Island Nations, with part of them in the European Union, and part of them outside the EU? In practice, you would have the Republic, Northern Ireland and an independent Scotland in the EU, while England and Wales remain outside the EU.
However, the key question which the Conservative party has to urgently answer is - how does Westminster save the non-EU English and Welsh economies; where will the cuts come?
Given that Northern Ireland voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 EU referendum, would the European Parliament accept an independent Ulster back in the EU as part of a final Brexit settlement, especially if the Scots (who also voted ‘remain’) can secure full independence under the SNP?
The bottom line which the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland must face is - how much do English Tory MPs want to hang onto the Province as an integral part of the UK?
When the Brexit and Covid 19 chips are down, would such English Tory MPs vote to save the economies in their own constituencies at the expense of dumping Northern Ireland either out of the Union, or even a greatly reduced political union? Don’t forget, money talks!
Unionists need to get inside the minds of Tory MPs, particularly those in the English Shires.
You are a Tory MP who secured a Commons seat as a result of the ‘bounce’ against the Hard Left Jeremy Corbyn leadership. In short, you don’t have a safe seat that some Ulster Unionists once enjoyed with a majority in the tens of thousands of votes.
You have a choice. You can save jobs in your English constituency, but the price will be diverting millions of pounds away from Northern Ireland (which you don’t represent and have no voters in) and that part of the UK slipping into a closer political arrangement with another sovereign state (namely the Irish Republic).
In short, you save jobs in your English constituency; your save your seat, but you lose costly Northern Ireland from the Union. Select your option now!
Its not a case of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland having to become more ‘liberal’; its a case of them not making the same mistake as 1985 - underestimating how much an English Tory administration in Westminster is prepared to compromise with Dublin behind the backs of Unionism.
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