There is a secular saying – if you can’t beat them, join them! This should not be interpreted that simply because Unionism as an ideology has found itself as a minority in Northern Ireland if the past three elections are considered, that it should accept the inevitable that either the Protocol or a border poll will deliver a united Ireland.
What happens to Unionism if the various political parties cannot negotiate the Protocol away? What happens if the British Government triggering Article 16 fails to dilute the Protocol’s economic influence on the island of Ireland?
What happens if loyalist street violence further jeopardises Unionism’s tattered political influence at Westminster? How will Unionism react if the next Stormont and Dail elections return a Sinn Fein First Minister and Taoiseach?
What happens if the ‘stay at home’ pro-Union community delivers Irish unity via the back door in future elections?
These are all key questions which Unionism of whatever shade needs to address rather than bury its head in the political sand, adopting the view ‘It’ll never happen in my lifetime, so it’ll be the next generation’s problem!’
Those in the civic Unionism camp suggest the pro-Union community should be doing more to sell the economic benefits of the Union to those who classify themselves as ‘other’, soft nationalist, or ‘neutral’ on being in the UK.
Hardline Unionism takes the same view as it did in 1974 and 1985 when faced with the Sunningdale power-sharing Executive and the Anglo-Irish Agreement respectively – pull everything down; collapse Stormont, and throw ourselves on the mercy of Westminster.
But that strategy works on the assumption a Westminster Government will always be committed to maintaining Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.
If the Scottish nationalists manage to get a second independence referendum – and win, could some in the English Tory Shires be tempted to take the view – lets cut all the Celts adrift politically and have a ‘mini UK’ comprised of just England and Wales?
This could be especially politically palatable if the UK loses the looming trade war with the European Union, sparked by the deadlock over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Unlike 1974 and 1985, Unionism needs a workable alternative if Northern Ireland is forced to swallow the bitter political medicine of living with a rebranded or renamed Protocol, which includes a significant input from Dublin’s Leinster House.
Put bluntly, Unionism needs to have a serious debate with itself about what its Plan B comprises in the event it cannot defeat the Protocol. Burning buses servicing predominantly loyalist areas and tramping Ulster streets should not be the solutions.
Unionism needs to box clever and defeat Irish unity from within, namely make unification so politically and economically unworkable that even a majority Sinn Fein government in the Dail eventually pleads with Westminster to take the entire geographical nine-county Ulster back into a Union!
Unionism needs to do its homework on how much of the ‘political bounce’ for Sinn Fein in Southern Ireland and Alliance in Northern Ireland is a mere protest vote against the establishment parties in both jurisdictions.
Essentially, Unionism must put the case that a Sinn Fein government in Dublin and Belfast under some kind of federal Ireland would be a total economic disaster for the island. In opposition, Sinn Fein is an effective loud voice and party of protest for the nationalist community.
But a Sinn Fein cabinet in Leinster House working with a Sinn Fein dominated Executive at Stormont is a recipe for disaster. What the heck does the Provisional IRA’s ruling Army Council know about competently running a nation?
Sinn Fein will always remain an integral part of the republican movement, a movement which is controlled by that ruling Army Council.
That Army Council is not going to hand over its authority to a bunch of well-heeled, university-educated, wanna-be middle class, immaculately-presented ‘draft dodgers’ who have never served their republican movement apprenticeship in the IRA.
Privately, no matter what the public persona, Sinn Fein will always play second fiddle in the republican movement to the Army Council. In cold fiscal terms, a Sinn Fein government will bankrupt Ireland, reducing the Celtic Tiger economy to a third rate version of the old communist East Germany.
To sell this message, Unionism needs to set up shop in Leinster House; Unionism needs to establish – and attend – a new cross-border body on the Protocol; Unionism needs to mobilise its voter base and register the ‘stay at home’ brigade; indeed, Unionism needs to campaign for Australian-style compulsory voting.
Sinn Fein won 70 of the 105 Commons seats on offer in the 1918 Westminster General Election when Ireland was entirely under British rule. When a majority of TDs in the initial Dail Eireann voted in favour of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, what did republicans do? They started a bloody civil war which outdid the Black and Tans in terms of brutality and slaughter.
If folk think Unionist unity is a myth, then so-called republican unity is an even bigger fallacy. Then again, a full-blown debate within Unionism on its potential role in a united Ireland may well be the trigger which fires the starting gun on real Unionist unity.
In an all-island scenario, a united Unionist lobby would be the biggest group on the island. Republicanism will never unite behind the banner of Sinn Fein.
If that was the case, why was there the historic coalition in Dublin between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens to keep Sinn Fein out of power? Bitterness from the Irish Civil War still lingers in modern-day republicanism of whatever shade.
Apart from the occasional multi-million euro collapse of the Celtic Tiger, constitutional republicanism has shown itself to be reasonably competent at running a nation. But militant Marxist republicanism as portrayed by Sinn Fein with the IRA’s Army Council delicately pulling strings in the background is a clear recipe for disaster.
Simple question to Sinn Fein voters in Northern Ireland – who will pay your benefits when the Brits are gone? Do you seriously believe Westminster will give the Dail a financial redundancy package for leaving the Six Counties?
It is not Unionism which needs to ‘dial down’ the rhetoric on the Protocol; rather it is Sinn Fein which must ‘dial down’ the rhetoric that a Sinn Fein government in Ireland will convert the island into an economic and sustainable political version of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
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.