The past several weeks have been some of the most truly gobsmacking in my 43 years thus far as a journalist in Ireland.
Never have I witnessed such public disarray in the DUP since its formation half a century ago. And under new boss Doug Beattie, the election-battered UUP now has a realistic opportunity to stage a political resurrection in the next Assembly poll, no matter when that takes place.
Even Jim Allister, the leader and sole Traditional Unionist Voice MLA, must be pondering where his party could make gains in the future Stormont showdown.
However, whatever the projected fortunes of the DUP, UUP and TUV, the pro-Union community has got to address the significant disconnection which the Loyalist working class deeply feels towards political Unionism.
Of course, such working class Loyalism may be quick to remind me that two political movements already exist to air their opinions - the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). And let’s not forget the utterances of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC).
But the problem with all three bodies is their links to the Loyalist death squads. The PUP is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando; the UPRG is linked to the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters, and the LCC articulates the views of the Loyalist terror gangs. The question still remains - what about folk who call themselves ‘Loyalists’, but who do not associate themselves with terrorist organisations?
In practical terms, could they see themselves as being so disconnected from the existing Unionist parties that they band together to run either a new political party for Loyalism, or independent Loyalist candidates in the next Assembly election?
Likewise, would the emergence of yet another pro-Union party fragment the Unionist vote even further given that Unionism as an ideology electorally has become a minority ideology if the past three elections in Northern Ireland are taken into consideration?
Such disconnection has also seen less Unionists coming out on polling day in supposedly pro-Union constituencies compared to predominantly nationalist constituencies.
The ‘to do’ list of the leaderships of the DUP, UUP and TUV will include the need to mobilise the pro-Union community not just to register as voters, but to actually make the effort to turn out to vote on election day as seemingly gone as the election glory days for Unionist candidates when they could command Commons majorities of more than 30,000 votes.
The pro-Union community’s biggest challenge is not so much the increase in the number of nationalist voters in Northern Ireland, but the increasing number of so-called ‘stay at home’ Unionists.
Transfers will be all important in deciding the fifth seats in each of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies at the next Stormont poll, so could the relaunch of a movement once known as the Loyalist Front party encourage more folk who classify themselves as ‘Loyalists’ to actually enter the polling booths?
Similarly, even if the DUP, UUP and TUV could agree a Unionist Coalition as existed for the two 1974 Westminster General Elections, would that Coalition recognise the Loyalist Front as a legitimate political movement to vote for?
There is also the issue of who the LCC urges its supporters to vote for. If the PUP and UPRG field their own candidates, could this harm the prospects of any new Loyalist Front party?
There is also the added impact of the Unionist parties recognising the danger of the Loyalist disconnection and amending their policies to attract more working class Protestant voters, but does this mean the Unionist parties have to move more to the Right-wing to attract such Loyalists?
Then again, if the Unionist parties do more further Right, how does this affect their progressive liberalism agenda to halt the so-called ‘Alliance Bounce’ of the middle of the road Alliance Party?
The nightmare scenario for the pro-Union community is that the parties enter the next Stormont election campaign with a still deeply divided DUP, the UUP not making enough advances to overtake the DUP, and the TUV not having enough candidates to become more than a ‘one man band’ in the Assembly.
Likewise, how will these Unionist parties react if a future Loyalist Front party can present itself as a coherent, united movement with all candidates singing from the same political hymn sheet with policies and an agenda which can realistically both protect the Union and render the Northern Ireland Protocol practically meaningless?
Similarly, the organisers of the various anti-Protocol protests, along with the membership of the Protestant Loyal Orders and marching bands could urge their supporters to join the existing Unionist parties and campaign for Loyalism from within in the same way as Ulster Vanguard influenced Unionism from within before it decided to become a separate political party in the 1970s.
In this Northern Ireland’s centenary year, it is not just political Unionism which once more finds itself ‘at a crossroads’, to quote a former Northern Ireland Prime Minister, but also Loyalism itself as a movement.
Whilst a long, hot summer is being predicted by the prophets of doom, at the very least, Unionism and Loyalism must ensure the men and women of violence within the pro-Union community never again take centre stage and begin to dictate the political agenda.
As the Twelfth beckons, the speech writers must burn the midnight oil to ensure the language of their speeches cools the hot heads rather than enflame tempers.
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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.