In terms of grammatical presentation, I would personally award Mr Richmond an honorary doctorate in literature for the very professional manner in which he presented his document for a New Ireland.
I am a third generation Ulster Unionist. I joined the Party as a Young Unionist in 1977. My late parents were Ulster Unionist Party members; indeed, my dad, Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE, served as Party Chief Whip in the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue and was a North Antrim MLA for the Party between 1998 and 2011. My grandparents were also Unionist Party members.
My own ideology is that of Revolutionary Unionism - initially persuading my fellow Unionists to look beyond the politics of ‘No Surrender’ and ‘Not An Inch’ and recognise the reality that Unionism as an electoral ideology is now in the minority in Northern Ireland if the past three elections are taken into consideration.
Whether you view the Northern Ireland centenary from a demographic, economic, electoral, or Brexit point of view, Irish nationalism is now politically ‘chomping at the bit’ for a border poll on Irish Unity some time in the not too distant future.
The cries for that border poll will intensify after 6th May if the Scottish National Party can secure an outright majority in the Scottish Parliamentary elections, thereby triggering new energy into the campaign for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Essentially, Unionism must become persuaders in a post Brexit Ireland. Unionism must persuade nationalist Southern Ireland that its future lies by rejoining the United Kingdom and taking its place among the nations which comprise the British Isles.
Southern Ireland is no longer dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. The clerical abuse scandals over the decades have irreparably shattered the influence which the Irish bishops once had on Southern politics, especially during the de Valera era.
The centenary of Northern Ireland should be marked with the signing of a new Anglo-Irish Treaty, bringing Southern Ireland back into a new Union so that Southern Ireland can resume its rightful place as an integral member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
While the CPA now represents more than 50 national and regional parliaments throughout the globe, Ireland was a founder member of its predecessor - the Empire Parliamentary Association - in 1911 when the island was all under British rule.
Given Brexit and Covid, we can all agree that a New Ireland is inevitable. But it is not Irish Unity which is required, but an Irish Union.
But let’s start from the basis of Mr Richmond’s paper on a New Ireland. Let’s quote from the executive summary as a basis:
Twenty-three years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, conversations regarding the future of Northern Ireland’s status have once again come to the fore of our political and public discourse.
This paper will address how we should begin to plan for the future of a New Ireland, any decisions on the future of our island must be based on open and honest discussions.
In order to achieve this New Ireland, I will argue that we must first focus on creating a shared island by building relationships across communities and by truly maximising the institutions provided for by the Good Friday Agreement.
A United Ireland worth having cannot be achieved without delivering on these aims but equally, these should be the shared aims of all political leaders on this island regardless of their opinion on the future of the island.
When it comes to a possible border poll, the lessons of the Brexit Referendum must be remembered, voting for a concept without material definitions of what the result will lead to is a recipe for disaster.
That is why I will lay out what I believe the concrete steps to holding a border poll should involve in line with the consent principle of the Good Friday Agreement using a Citizens’ Assembly and Parliamentary Committee oversight in advance to present a clear proposition on which to vote on.
In terms of what a New Ireland should look like, discussions will need to be first held on practical matters such as the economic impact and opportunities; what the political system of this New Ireland that allows for safeguards to identity will look like; the need for a temporary devolved administration in Northern Ireland; required changes to the legal system, as well as hugely important issues such as healthcare, education, social welfare, policing, infrastructure and European Union (EU) membership.
Symbols are emotive and easy to visualise and while their importance should not be overlooked, anyone thinking that a new flag or anthem will somehow resolve all issues is mistaken. They must be the final piece of the discussion with the heavy, practical and life impacting lifting done first.
While I never expect any Unionist to vote for a United Ireland, I fundamentally believe that a New Ireland must be a place where Unionists do not feel compelled to leave. We must address and work towards understanding the fears held by many who are wary of a United Ireland; to demonstrate a willingness to show they are truly welcome.
For those of us who desire a United Ireland, an old sporting adage should be borne in mind: “the only place success comes before work, is in the dictionary”. Achieving a United Ireland worth having will require mass amounts of work, patience, compromise and imagination.
It can be achieved.
The full document can be read at this link.
As the situation currently exists, Fine Gael and Unionism can co-exist politically, culturally, historically and especially amicably, on this island. The real elephant in the political room in terms of an Irish Union is who has the courage to write the paper entitled: “The Final Solution to the Sinn Fein Problem.”
Thanks mainly to Sinn Fein not putting up enough candidates in the last Dail General Election, Fine Gael did not have to worry about having to form a coalition government in Leinster House with the republican movement’s political wing.
However, it did take an historic partnership between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to keep the Shinners out of power. Knowing the mood of the IRA’s ruling Army Council, this is not an error - in terms of numbers of candidates - that it will allow its political voice, Sinn Fein, to make again.
Southern politicians need to understand that they cannot expect Northern Unionists to have to share power with Sinn Fein at Stormont, but then form an exclusive pact in the Dail to keep out Sinn Fein.
In practical terms, Mr Richmond needs to talk to the British intelligence community, and especially representatives from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, if he wants to write a workable paper entitled “The Final Solution to the Sinn Fein Problem.”
Sinn Fein is the party closest to the real thinking of Westminster and British policy towards Ireland and the future of so-called Irish Unity. This may seem a ridiculous observation to make, but must be seen in the context that the British intelligence community has so heavily infiltrated the republican movement that its network of agents, touts and informers can surely manipulate the republican movement - and ultimately Sinn Fein - in any direction it wants.
Now if British intelligence could manipulate Sinn Fein into returning to the roots of its founding fathers in 1905, namely to become a party favouring dominion status rather than an outright republic, then the concept of a New Ireland as part of an Irish Union could be workable.
Similarly, whilst Mr Richmond’s paper works effectively if the pro-Union voters continue to support the so-called ‘Alliance Bounce’, his New Ireland becomes a dead duck when militant dissident Loyalism is factored into his well-written paper.
As a TD for Dublin Rathdown, he needs to be acutely aware of what happened in 1974 when the Irish government attempted to fill the vacuum created by the fall of the then power-sharing Sunningdale Executive between the moderate nationalist SDLP and the liberal Unionism of Brian Faulkner.
Right-wing Unionism, in the form of the Unionist Coalition, simply did not have a workable alternative to Sunningdale, so the then Irish government put its proposals (effectively joint authority by another name) on the table for consideration. Tragically, the result was the no-warning Loyalist bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, which murdered around 30 people and injured another 300.
In selling his New Ireland agenda to the pro-Union community, Mr Richmond needs to be aware that just as there is a dissident republican faction which will never accept anything other than an East German-style extreme socialist republic, there are ‘crazies’ within the Loyalist community who would be prepared to leave Southern Irish cities and towns as smouldering piles of rubble.
Dealing with liberal Unionism, civic Unionism - commonly known as Appeasement Unionism - is the easy part of selling Mr Richmond’s New Ireland agenda to the pro-Union community.
However, the bitter medicine which Mr Richmond has to swallow is that he must first begin with easing tensions within the Loyalist community. His problem is made all the more difficult by the fact that Loyalism itself is split into various rival factions - so which one does Mr Richmond meet to discuss his New Ireland agenda?
Historically, the problem was partition. Instead of 26 counties to the Free State and six to Unionism, the Westminster Government of the day should have had the courage to divide Ireland literally in two - 16 counties apiece, take it or leave it. Had it not been for the Great War erupting across Europe in 1914, the inevitable Irish Civil War would not have been an internecine republican conflict, but a head-on slaughtering match between the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers.
Mr Richmond’s paper makes very interesting reading given that it is based on a New Ireland comprised of constitutional Southern Irish nationalism and Northern liberal Unionism.
What it clearly lacks is a workable agenda for dealing with the overt economic Marxism of the Provisional IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein, and hardliners within the dissident Loyalist community. Those are the real starting points for any document on a so-called Shared Island.
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 at http://radio.garden/listen/sunshine-104-9fm/tBZsuX1o