The Democratic Unionist Party under Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s leadership is certainly indulging in some very high wire politics.
Clearly, there are many in the pro-Union community who do not believe that the DUP covered itself in political glory when it enjoyed the limelight of the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement to keep then Tory Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Government in power.
It could be suggested the DUP’s refusal to back Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement started a political chain reaction which resulted in the Northern Ireland Protocol being dumped on Unionism.
With the next Stormont election expected in May 2022, if not sooner, the DUP needs to get into election mode as soon as possible to claw back the ground it appears to have lost in the opinion polls.
With that recent keynote LucidTalk poll showing the DUP trailing in third place among Unionists behind the Ulster Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Voice party, there must be a number of current DUP MLAs looking over their shoulders at their seats and potential DUP candidates wondering if they stand a pup’s chance of being elected.
Has the DUP got some magic rabbit it can pull out of the political hat before next May, or will it resort to another ‘Project Fear’ of ‘Vote DUP or get Sinn Fein in government’?
If it’s the Project Fear route, the DUP is embarking on a very high wire strategy. What happens if voters call the DUP’s bluff?
Gossip from the corridors of Westminster hints that after the traditional party conference season, the British Government will implement its proposed Command Paper, which will effectively politically neuter the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Gossip, too, is hinting that the Command Paper also contains two of the Ulster Unionist Party’s proposals from 2019 aimed at breaking the Brexit logjam. The big question remains - how many of the DUP’s ideas are contained in the Command Paper?
The DUP has delivered an ultimatum to the British Government regarding the Protocol that it will pull its ministers out of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont if the Protocol is not axed, thereby triggering a collapse of the Assembly and a potential pre-Christmas election - an election which is at the Northern Ireland Secretary of State’s discretion.
But if the British Government’s policy is to neutralise the Protocol using its Command Paper, could the DUP claim it was the party which collapsed the Protocol rather than let Stormont fall? Would that allow DUP spin doctors to spread the rumour in any forthcoming Stormont election that it really was the unionist party which demolished the Protocol?
The DUP has also threatened to pull its ministers out of North/South meetings. But there is now clear blue sky politically between the DUP and UUP.
The UUP wants a special cross border body established to discuss the impact of the Protocol. Such a body is about building relationships and devolves the issues regarding the Protocol’s impact away from a United Kingdom/European Union dimension, to make them a ‘next door neighbour’ approach.
Such cross border relationships already in relation to various medical treatments, so why not economic issues?
What Unionism really needs to do is to establish a Unionist Embassy or Secretariat in Dublin’s Leinster House to demand a say in the running of Southern Ireland. If the concept of a Shared Island is to become a reality, then Unionism needs to have a major say in the establishment of that concept.
And before critics slam the idea of a Unionist Embassy in Leinster House, they should remember what the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement established in Northern Ireland right under the very noses of Unionism - the Maryfield Secretariat.
That Secretariat, based near Belfast, was manned by Dublin civil servants and gave Southern Ireland its first real say in the running of Northern Ireland since partition in the 1920s.
With opinion polls showing that both the next Dail and Stormont elections could return Sinn Fein as the largest parties in Leinster House and Parliament Buildings, there is real concern among constitutional republicans, Unionism and moderate nationalism as to the type of ‘Shared Island’ the ‘Shinners' would establish.
In reality, Sinn Fein’s ‘Shared Island’ would be a Communist-style East Germany under another name. In Northern Ireland, it has been estimated that two-thirds of non-voters are from the pro-Union community, so Sinn Fein could actually win by default of Unionist apathy.
Given Sinn Fein’s standing in that LucidTalk poll, if the republican movement can get its vote out next May, it will easily lay claim to the First Minister’s position as the largest party in the Assembly.
In Southern Ireland, it will not make the same mistake as the previous Dail election - namely not running enough candidates. An historic coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail may have kept Sinn Fein out of government in Leinster House for the present, but could enough Sinn Fein TDs be returned next time around to ensure Mary Lou McDonald becomes Taoiseach, even with the help of a few Independent TDs?
Or could a situation happen in Dublin as almost happened in the Scottish parliamentary elections when the Scottish National Party became not just the biggest party in the parliament, but had a clear majority?
Imagine Sinn Fein repeating its Westminster General Election performance of 1918 when it took over 70 of the 105 Commons seats in Ireland when the entire island was under British rule?
A Unionist Secretariat is badly needed in Dublin to combat the effects of Ireland descending into a Marxist East Germany with unworkable economic policies in a Sinn Fein run so-called ‘Shared Island.’
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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.