Nothing would give me greater pleasure as a Unionist than to address any committee of the Leinster House parliament about why Southern Ireland needs to negotiate a new Treaty to bring the 26 Counties into a closer relationship with the UK through a Union of the British Isles.
Sinn Fein election victories in Assembly and council elections in Northern Ireland have prompted forums to emerge talking about what a supposed new Ireland or Irish Unity might look at.
Again, I have no difficulty as a confident Unionist in speaking at such forums and outlining my own ideology of Revolutionary Unionism, which encourages my fellow Unionists to develop an all-island identity.
Just as republicans have been having debates on their aspirations of Irish Unity, so too, as a Revolutionary Unionist, I want to see a debate on my aspiration of Southern Ireland having this formalised much closer bond with the UK.
Unionists in the past have focused so much on what Dail speaking rights would give republicans, that they have never paused to consider the tremendous propaganda springboard any such concession by Dublin has given the unionist family.
In fact, unionists should unite and go a step further and copy the Irish government’s initiative of 1985 when it established the Maryfield Secretariat as a result of that year’s Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Unionism should establish either a Unionist Embassy or Unionist Secretariat in the heart of Leinster House.
Such a political tactic would throw Sinn Fein demands for Dail speaking rights and Seanad voting reform into a tizzy by giving the perception that Unionism was a truly all-island organisation.
The Ulster Unionist Council should mark the 110th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 by using 2024 to launch a Southern Unionist Council to reflect the concerns of the Southern Protestant population, and especially the views of the Southern-based Loyal Orders in border counties such as Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan and Leitrim.
In the 1920s, there was a significant voice within Southern Unionist opinion that Carson and Craig should have used the fledgling Northern state as a haven for political, financial and religious support for the minority Southern Protestants.
Southern Protestants then faced the physical threat from both the pro-Treaty Free State Army and the anti-Treaty IRA.
Many Southern Protestant families watched in horror as the Ulster Unionist Council openly retreated into the six counties and organisationally turned its back on the all-Ireland organisation of an Irish Unionist Party.
Southern Protestants were then left with two options – they either moved out or got involved largely with Fine Gael. In the border counties of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim, the Orange Order specifically became the rallying point for Protestant political activity, whilst further south, the Church of Ireland became the voice for liberal Protestant opinion.
This development of a liberal – even ecumenical – Protestant theological ethos in the South should not be misinterpreted as Southern Protestantism turning its back on the evangelical principles of the Reformed Protestant Faith.
Rather, it was a pragmatic move by Southern Protestants who had come to terms with the harsh reality – especially in the west of Ireland – that if they wanted to survive in a Catholic-dominated state, they had to ‘keep their heads down politically’.
Tactically, they knew they could not rely on their Northern Protestant counterparts for support. They were on their own as a minority and the only way to gain effective and meaningful political representation was to involve themselves with the Southern political parties – not establish potentially provocative Unionist organisations.
This feeling of betrayal was not only shared by many in the Southern Protestant community, but by a significant section of the ultra-Right Carsonite Unionist lobby in the new Northern Ireland.
Whilst Craig was the guiding political hand in the new state, Carson had been mobilising messiah who had conceived the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912 and armed it through the Larne gun-running escapades. Hardline Carsonites had wanted a nine-county geographical Ulster as the Northern state whereby the three Southern counties with Catholic majorities would be ethnically cleansed and used as a buffer zone with the new Free State.
The Carsonites held the view the Free State’s provisional government – under the direction of republican hero Michael Collins – had, during the early 1920s, supported IRA attacks on the North, hoping to force it into a union with the South. Indeed, many Carsonites held the opinion that Collins – once he had dispensed militarily with the anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War – planned a full-scale invasion of Northern Ireland.
Whilst this plan effectively died with Collins’ assassination by anti-Treaty rebels in 1922, these same hardline Carsonites wanted to take advantage of the conflict in the South during the civil war and open up a second front by invading the Free State itself.
It is doubtful whether Carson himself would have approved such a venture, although it became a military Holy Grail amongst many of his more hardline Right-wing supporters. Their plan was to establish a Protestant-controlled state comprising around 18 of Ireland’s 32 counties.
However, both invasion plans were effectively mothballed as the two fledging states concentrated on political stability in the late 1920s rather than further bloodshed and territorial expansion.
This expansionist ethos did not die with Carson in 1935. Half a century later following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Unionist political backlash saw a series of fringe and mainstream organisations founded to combat Dublin’s role in Northern affairs.
In 1986, one such Right-wing loyalist group, the Ulster Movement for Self-Determination (MSD), advocated an independent Ulster. MSD’s emblem was a nine-county Ulster and part of its philosophy was that an independent Northern Ireland would annex the three remaining Ulster counties from the Republic.
Whilst MSD was a political movement with no paramilitary connections, it is difficult to imagine how its aims could become a reality without sparking another civil war. Not surprisingly, by the loyalist ceasefires of 1994, MSD was largely defunct.
The ‘Northern say in Southern affairs’ debate was realistically reopened two decades ago in 2003 by Sinn Fein when it launched a strategy document, The Ireland of the Future - National Representation.
A key plank was Northern representation in the Oireachtas, which if it became reality, would further strengthen Sinn Fein's claim to be a truly all-Ireland party and would increasingly isolate the moderate SDLP as a relevant voice of nationalism on the island.
At first reading, the Sinn Fein proposals would also appear to be ‘a red flag to a bull’ to Northern Unionists. Republicans would be hoping that Unionists would misread their demands as another political paving stone on the path to joint authority in the North and ultimately a united Ireland.
However, Unionists should avoid making the same mistake as they did in 1985. They completely missed the point that the 1985 Agreement gave them a say in the running of Southern affairs, too.
In the aftermath of the silver jubilee of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there needs to be an increasing mood within Unionism that Northern Protestants should ‘return the serve’ on the cross-border debate and start interfering, commenting on and even trying to influence the internal affairs of the Republic.
Numerous Unionists already travel south to speak at various functions - a strategy, which in the 1980s could have led to people being disciplined by the Unionist parties.
However, the new ‘look South’ tactic should not be misinterpreted as Northern Unionism warmly embracing the Republic or facing up to any prospect of future Irish Unity, but rather a desire by Protestants to copy Sinn Fein and open a ‘second front’ politically in the current limping along peace process.
The real danger is that if the peace process stalled or even collapsed, and if constitutional unionism does not seize the initiative and organise in the South, loyalist extremism may steal that mantle from unionism and start exploding bombs in the Republic. 2024 witnesses the 50th anniversary of the horrific Dublin and Monaghan bomb massacres.
The price for total failure in the peace process will be the return of the mainstream paramilitaries to the fore. The practical danger is that there may still be those within modern loyalism who could be preparing an Omagh or an Enniskillen for a Southern location.
That thinking must always be sidelined. Terrorist violence should never be an option, or alternative no matter what the political stalemate.
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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.