Dixie Elliot It has been brought to my attention that Sinn Féin issued a statement, carried in the Belfast Telegraph, disputing the claims that Bobby Sands was buried in Belfast against his last wishes.

The party put this forward in attempt to dispute these claims...

Sinn Fein included a transcript of a further comm on March 9, and say the original is in the Bobby Sands Trust archive of the National Library in Ireland.

In it, Sands writes: 

If I don’t get seeing the Signer you should tell him of my change of heart on the Ballina thing, or should I say, change of mind... I was wondering (here it comes, says you), that out of the goodness of all yer hearts you could get me one miserly book and try to leave it in, the poems of Ethna Carberry – cissy. That’s really all I want. Last request, as they say. Some ask for cigarettes, others for blindfolds, yer man asks for poetry…

I thought that one would have to meet a solicitor (Signer) face to face in order to change a legal document?

However, as well as a screenshot of the above Sinn Féin statement I also include a screenshot of the March 9 comm given to David Beresford for his book, Ten Men Dead.  
If you look at the final paragraph in that particular comm, you'll see it's the same as the one above in which Bobby asks for a book of Ethna Carbery poetry.

But if you search that whole comm in Ten Men Dead you'll not find Bobby referring to a 'change of heart on the Ballina thing.'

Why is this I wonder?

There is also a section from another comm (see below) from Bobby (Marcella) in which he gave reasons for wanting to be buried down there (Meaning Ballina).

Clearly he had been bringing up the topic of being buried in Ballina a number of times in communications between himself and Liam Òg (Hartley).

I have included a section from Nothing But An Unfinished Song by Denis O'Hearn, in which it refers to Bobby asking his lawyer to draw up a legal document backing up his request to be buried in County Mayo next to Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg who had died on hunger strike in English jails.

Therefore, while the Sinn Féin statement is questionable due to the Ten Men Dead comm given to Beresford for his book, here is further evidence that Bobby wanted to be laid to rest in Ballina.

In the final screenshot you'll see that Bobby wrote, "so if I should die here, tell "Mr Mason" to bury me in my blanket..."

Postscript: Here's another question which has occurred to me:  why did Bobby even feel the need to ask a solicitor to draw up a legal document regarding his burial wishes? Was this proof of the pressure he was being put under?

* All credit must go to Carrie McIntyre for uncovering the contents of these screenshots.

Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.
Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie

"Bury Me In My Blanket" - Bobby Sands


A Morning Thought @ 1060

Padraic Mac CoitirThis is a powerful, but very sad, comm written by Bobby Sands as he embarked on his hunger strike and he sadly died after 66 days on this day 1981.

I heard about this comm a few short weeks ago and I was surprised his wishes weren't granted. It's very clear from Bobby's writings that he was under no illusion as to what he faced and the enemy that he fought so hard against.
Very few people were aware of the goings on within the leadership of the Republican Movement and I presume most IRA volunteers trusted a group of people that few knew personally. I'd go as far to say some of those people were put on a pedestal and very few would have questioned them. Once many of those people were known by us we realised they weren't as great as we assumed.
Being in prison during the blanket protest we would talk about the likes of Adams, McGuinness et al and be in awe of them - Oh how naïve and ignorant we were! I'm not suggesting for one minute they were incompetent all of the time and I am more than aware those were very turbulent times we all went through.

In later years I was on the Belfast National Graves Association and it was an honour for me and the others to be involved in an organisation that maintained the graves of our fallen including those of Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty. We were also involved in the funerals of many Republicans and on many occasions we were asked to carry out the wishes of those who died.

Could the leadership of the movement not have carried out the wishes of Bobby Sands? Of course they could have. When out for a dander ar maidín I bumped into a friend who was on the 81 hunger strike and we got talking about the comm written by Bobby. He said what could have been done was for Bobby's funeral to leave Twinbrook, then proceed to Milltown or somewhere down the road, then the cortege proceed to Dundalk or Faughart.
The question I, and many others, would like answered, is why Bobby's wishes weren't carried out?

Padraic Mac Coitir is a former republican
prisoner and current political activist.

Bobby Sands' Comm

On the 40th Anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, TPQ publishes a typed copy of a comm he wrote to "Liam Og" on February 25th, 1981.  

In the comm he outlined his apprehensions about the possibility of burial in Milltown, a cemetery he did not like.

He also expressed a desire for his remains to be wrapped in a blanket and not a shroud. He believed, much like the prison uniform, that a shroud would be humiliating. 

His family were not made aware of his written preferences. Nor were they shown the comm in which he expressed them. 

He is buried in Milltown Cemetery in a shroud. 


Comm donated to the National Archives by Danny Morrison on behalf of the Bobby Sands Trust. 
“The central hub for all the comms about strategy was the H-Block Information Centre on the Falls Road. Upon arrival they were immediately transcribed and the originals taken out of the office and into safe houses (because of the regular RUC/British army raids and seizures). All of these comms are lodged and preserved in the National Library” *

Text below formatted for ease of reading. Some words unknown and/or may be inaccurately transcribed.

25.2.81 Liam Og [Tom Hartley, who handled correspondence from the prisoners]. 

Dear Comrade, 

I got your wee note the other day in regard to what I was doing with signer [lawyer]. Firstly I wouldn't tell you to mind your own business because to a large extent it is as much your business as anyone else's. 

I've thought about it all and know how all my family feel at present and it isn't very comforting to know. 

I admit two things 

(one) I fear what will happen after death, [rather than] death itself and I know that what I fear may well occur, for that reason or partly because of that reason I done what I done with the [signer]. I believe that I'm right 

(two) even though I'm right I'm being inconsiderate and selfish. 

So I compromise my final consolence to what you suggested and I done it to our Marcella in about ten words, which in themselves were no doubt ten words too much. 

I would just like to explain a few wee things (I know I don't have to) but it would make me feel better, so I'll just cry on your shoulder 'cos you'll let me. 

You see comrade we have (all of us) our little human fears and whiches and so on, to be honest I don't like Milltown, what the difference at that stage) 

We always wanted buried in Carnmoney the Catholic part of which lies under the shade of the west side of Carnmoney hill I wrote a poem about this once, you should have it there, my reasons are many, as you know I grew up out there, even I realize that this during a war could never for obvious reasons, so there is also the consideration of my sister who I haven't seen for four years and whom I won't see again. 

That is why I wanted to go to Ballina and there are other reasons none of which pertain to the political hazzle involved. I even considered [Fochuairt], which lies on the Free State side of the South Armagh border. 

I don't like Milltown and that's being honest your probably wrecked calling me a morbid eccentric, I'm not I'm human and worry on wee things like those and finally I wanted wrapped in a blanket cause I don't want humiliated in a stinkin' suit or shroud and I've said enough. 

I've dropped the heap 'cos your right about my people etc. and I don't want to distress them any more. 

I'm sort of hoping I'll get a letter from my sister in Dundalk, would someone see her, my ma would hold the letters back from her 'cos she's rep. minded. 

I got Marcella's note last night. I heard about the girls and am relieved and happy about it. 

Index [Father Tom Toner] and Silvertop [Father John Murphy] have been in trying to discourage me, but they have no argument. Silvertop is not too bad but thinks I'm hard on the Amadan. Index does not like my opinions [blank] and in particular on the morale blackmailor. I feel better after a discussion with Index 'cos he can't offer an argument. 

When the H/S begins I won't be talking with anyone on the subject, I'm taking up an interest in football again!! 

They want me out on a visit with a Rep. nun whose father was once on H/S and came off it. Silvertop wasn't pleased with my reply. 

I thought the girls in Armagh were gallant and better doing what they done now than later. 

I have some wee points in regard to breaking the rigours of isolation but I'll get them to you later. 

I hope everyone well, tell Marie l love her, yahoo!! 

I'm saying nothing about you know who [blank] was asking, tell Pennies [Danny Morrison] and the Big Lad [Gerry Adams] the same! I'm alright

* This post has been updated to add the Irish Times's quote from Danny Morrison 

Bobby Sands' Wishes

Matt TreacyOne of the benefits of engaging with contrarian randomers on social media in the early morning is that you get to cheer yourself up no end at some of the absurdities they share.

In that regard I must thank Katrin for sharing the news that the Australian children’s cartoon Bluey has fallen foul of the Woke commissariat.

Bluey concerns a dog who lives in Brisbane, and is popular among pre school children. Those of us with children who were once less sophisticated creatures than their current manifestations will be familiar with such matters.

Twenty years ago I knew all about a Siamese twinned Catdog, large rabbits who were bouncers and “had issues,” mice who played baseball, and so on.

Anyway, Bluey is a talking dog and he and his family and friends walk on their back paws, own mobile phones and do all the other stuff that you might expect of talking dogs with houses and mortgages. It is fair to say that they are not generally representative of the broader dog community.

However, that is not their offence. Which, according to Australian ABC commentator Beverley Wang is that as a “parent of colour”, she finds old Bluey and the pups to be unrepresentative. Specifically, she demands to know:

Indeed. More’s to the point, where are the Jaysus dogs with the mobile phones and cars? Even at the zenith of my drinking days, I don’t ever recall meeting one. And I am not sure I want Bonnie and Barney to see this dreadfully anti diverse cultural appropriating monstrosity, because I’m not sure whether they would get insurance, and phones would certainly lead to an exponential rise in takeaway food bills.

The controversy over Bluey has opened yet another chapter in Australia’s increasingly fraught culture wars. Even reasonable and witty ripostes to Wang have been depicted as “hate speech,” which of course now is somewhere on the level of proposing a vote of thanks to Comrade Trotsky at the Minsk tractor factory union AGM in 1938.

One of Australia’s prominent political correspondents, Amy Remeikis of the Guardian has added her tuppence worth.

Well, none of us is actually a “white, able bodied and working/middle class” dog. I think that is fair to say. And to quote John Prine once more, apropos flying saucers, “And if I ever seen one, I’d keep it to myself.”


Matt Treacy has published a number of books including histories of 
the Republican Movement and of the Communist Party of Ireland. 

Bluey The Talking Dog Criticised For Lack Of Diversity

Maryam Namaziewith her TedX Warwick talk on Creativity in Protesting Religious Fundamentalism which has finally been published a year later but without slides.

Before my talk, there was an attempt to censor some of my slides with nudity. Also, the Islamic Society at Warwick University had petitioned against my talk.

I refused to remove any of my slides and the talk went ahead as planned.

However, TedX has now censored All of my slides – a de facto anti-blasphemy policy. This after over a year of back and forth asking about my talk.

Initially, I was told that my talk would not be published since it ‘violated the Ted Global guidelines,’ apparently constituting ‘political speech.’ After much pressure on social media, I was told it would finally be released but would ‘benefit from more context’ and an ‘advisory note’. Now, the video has been published without any slides. And the advisory for the video states: ‘Some viewers may find elements of this talk to be distressing or objectionable.’

I find the removal of my slides distressing and objectionable. I also find it distressing and objectionable that the lives of apostates and blasphemers are dehumanised so. But clearly, TedX is not speaking about the likes of me and us. #ExMuslimBecause

You can see the censored slides to my talk here: TEDxWarwick Namazie-Powerpoint

Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born activist and Spokesperson 
of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and One Law for All.

Creativity In Protesting Religious Fundamentalism

Peter AndersonThe big EPL news of the weekend was not City winning the league unfortunately. 

We beat Crystal Palace easily enough with a superb Aguero goal getting us under way, but we needed Liverpool to beat United as well and that didn't happen. The game was postponed after an anti-Glazer protest turned violent with fans invading the stadium and attacking the police. 

It was an interesting development in the whole European Super League controversy. Clearly the United fans are more pissed off than any of the other teams' supporters given the simmering resentment of the Glazer family. The anti-Glazer campaign got off to a flying start in 2010 with the fans regularly protesting in the stadium and by wearing green and gold scarves, the colours of the original club that became Man United. But that campaign fizzled out as it had no support from the then manager and club legend Sir Alex Ferguson. And indeed the great man got United back to winning ways in 2011 by taking the league and runners up in the Champions League, denting the momentum of the anti-Glazer campaign. Now, with Sir Alex gone and United unable to seriously challenge in the EPL or CL, plus the Glazers ESL plan, the anti-Glazer campaign is back for another go.

This brings up questions of what and how things should be done if they are serious in their desire to push out the American billionaires. The Glazers will not care a jot if some Mancs wreck the place every now and again. The public, who are largely on board with the anti ESL campaign, will run out of patience if there is weekly violence against the police. The only thing that hurts a billionaire is when you affect his bottom line. An empty stadium would set off the alarm bells but a mass strike by season ticket holders is almost impossible to implement. Regulars are loath to give up their season ticket in case they don't get it back. And if the season ticket holders don't buy their ticket will other fans refuse one? Protesting against the owners in a full stadium will not hurt the Glazers as they rarely attend the games anyway. 

When I was a season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid the fans had a disagreement with the owners and tried to organise a 'stay out', the fans would leave the stadium empty for the first 15 minutes of the game. Most of the stadium didn't go along with it and only the paddock reserved for the Ultras was empty. Most fans stated that we always have to support our team and so the protest failed. 

And failure is what I expect to happen to the Man U fans' protest, just like the Toon Army protest against Mike Ashley. It would take a mammoth offer to buy Man United: one that almost nobody could afford.  Or the team to be playing in an empty stadium for a long run of games: one that is for all intents and purposes impossible to organise, in order to oust the Glazers from Man U. 

The best that they can hope for is that the government intervenes to legislate against the ESL and the new CEO does a better job than Woodward of listening and communicating with the grass roots. Whatever happens I think it is important that all the owners of "the big 6" are aware of the resentment that we have of their plans for our football.

Peter Anderson is a Unionist with a keen interest in sports.

Old Trafford Trouble


A Morning Thought @ 1059

Ian Major Godless Unionists voted for the DUP, not for their Christian policies but because they saw them as willing to stand up to Republicans much more than the UUP.

It seems those days are over: secular Unionists now think the LGBTQ+ policies more important than the Union. Or maybe they think the Christians in the DUP will drop their opposition to abortion and the silencing of Christians on the immorality of homosexuality. 

They are very mistaken, if that is the case. I'm not and never was a member of the DUP, but I will never vote for any party that chooses to endorse abortion and ban pastoral prayer and counselling for those who come to them looking help for their unwanted sexual attractions. I will not vote for them, even if that means Republicans taking the seat.

Opponents of the motion have made it clear that they support a ban on gay conversion therapy, the psychological techniques that are abusive. But it seems the proposers intend that the only prayer and counsel acceptable is that which affirms homosexuality and would help the homosexual to embrace his/her unwanted sexual desires.
If the DUP remain faithful to their Christian electorate on these matters of first importance, they will continue to get the Christian vote. If they don't, I can see no point in voting for them. And the UUP will not gain those votes. The Union is not more important to us than basic Christian morality.

If the DUP cut loose from any residual disrespect for Nationalists, and maintain their Christian values, they may well add to the number of Catholics who already vote for them because of their pro-life stance.

This present crisis may well be a watershed for Unionism. If secular anti-Christian policies become the majority view of Unionism, and the DUP elect a leader who caves in on it, I reckon most Christians will walk away from politics completely. No support for any party, and no voting in elections. That certainly will be my position. Some Christians I know have already adopted that course.

Ian Major grew up a heathen Protestant, was converted at 17. He lives out his Evangelical faith as a Baptist.  

DUP Must Do The Right Thing Or Christians Will Walk Away

Fra Hughes ✒ After 18 years as an elected member of the legislative assembly for Northern Ireland, 6 years as leader of the Democratic Unionist party and the last year as joint first minister, Arlene Foster’s political future is now in question.

When 75% of the elected party members called for a vote of no confidence in her leadership she resigned on the 28th of April 2021. The new leader of the party is to be elected in May and her position as the first minister of Northern Ireland will finish in June 2021 as we head towards assembly summer recess. An opportunity will then exist for the new leader to enter into dialogue with Sinn Fein who also hold the joint position of the first minister about how to proceed. That is accepting that the Democratic Unionist party decide to continue with its role within the Northern Ireland Assembly, which seems unclear. Bringing down the assembly has no real relevance except as a political stunt.

There have been many scandals during the 6 years of Fosters as leader of the DUP and to date not one of those scandals individually was enough to call her leadership into question. We had the Renewable Heating Initiative, RHI, which was seen by many as malfeasance in public office or possibly corruption when public subsidies of millions of pounds were given to private individuals and companies as part of a renewable energy programme.

The social investment fund also saw millions of pounds go directly to community groups and individuals whom many felt were just conduits for money to enter into the Republican and Loyalist paramilitary and political grassroots. Jobs for the boys and girls to help secure the Peace by bribing paramilitaries?

More recently Arlene Foster seemed to finally endorse the Irish language act. The DUP had for years refused to finance and subsidise an Irish language act that would allow the native indigenous language to hold the same position within Society as that of the coloniser English language. This may have upset hardline anti-Irish unionists both within and without the party.

When the DUP voted alongside the Conservative Party to endorse a Brexit strategy that would remove Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union some members of the DUP said any deal was welcome that removed Britain and Northern Ireland in its entirety from the European Union. The result of the Brexit deal between Boris Johnson and the EU has ushered in the Northern Ireland protocol. This has placed Customs checks for some goods between Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish sea and not on the island of Ireland, which is seen as one integral body for Customs purposes and still resides within the European Union Single market as a special case.

As political unionism failed to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol they engaged with loyalist paramilitaries and their representatives. The result was violence on the streets of Belfast, Derry and Carrickfergus. Loyalism flexed its violent muscles against the state to try and force renegotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol not politically but through political violence and paramilitary thugs.

Just a few days ago Arlene Foster against the wishes of many in her party abstained on a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly concerning a tabled motion in connection with banning conversion therapy. This is a therapy used by some to try and convince members of the LGBTQ not to embrace their sexuality.

The DUP has been shedding votes to the more liberal Unionist party Alliance and the more extreme Unionist party Traditional Ulster Voice. Her leadership, her decision-making, and her role in leading the party have been called into question. The Northern Ireland Protocol is, without doubt, the Genesis for her demise as loyalist and more right-wing members of the DUP seem to be literally calling the shots. On the 3rd of May, we witness celebrations for some and the condemnation of others of 100 years of the state of Northern Ireland being in existence. A Unionist State for a Unionist people.

Many within the Democratic Unionist Party want a return to the past. They want a return to Unionist, loyalist, Protestant domination of society in the north of Ireland. This is no longer an option as both demographics and times have changed and the DUP no longer holds the type of power within society that traditional unionism once had.

If a misogynistic, hard right, fully paid-up member of the Orange Order is elected to the position of leader of the Democratic Unionist party I believe this is another nail in the coffin of reactionary unionism.

The Democratic Unionist party only really exists to promote the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. With democrat change and a united Ireland drawing ever closer, the rationale for the existence of the DUP will soon fizzle out. Without the sectarian coat trilling, the sectarian sabre-rattling and a diminishing sectarian voter base, which has sustained the DUP from its Inception 50 years ago, it will become marginalized on the periphery of politics both regionally in the North and nationally on the island of Ireland.

I believe a more moderate unionism will come to the fore as we slowly progress towards National reunification. The writing on the wall will not say’ No Irish Sea Border or Forster must go’ The writing on the wall will be the new dispensation in a new Ireland for a new future for all.

Fra Hughes is a Freelance journalist-author-commentator-political activist.
Follow on Twitter @electfrahughes

100 Years And Not Out But Arlene Is!

Just because it’s ‘Goodbye Arlene’ doesn’t mean it will be the Merry Month of May for the DUP. Political commentator Dr John Coulter analyses the choices for the party - keep moving liberal, or lurch to the Right?

Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster’s shock announcement last week she is stepping down from both posts could leave the party facing difficult decisions in the coming days.

Viewed as a so-called moderniser within the DUP, her successor - or successors if the party decides to split both posts - could well decide the fate of the power-sharing Stormont Executive and ultimately devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Already Stormont Minister and Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots - viewed as the champion of the party’s founding fundamentalist wing - has announced his pitch for the leadership.

While he is seen as being from the Free Presbyterian Right-wing of the DUP, he is also viewed as a pragmatist when it comes to working with Sinn Fein in the Executive.

In Poots, the DUP would be combining the posts - leadership and First Minister - ensuring that a fifth columnist group does not emerge among MPs and peers at Westminster.

Likewise, if the looming debates over the Protocol and the Irish Language Act resulted in another collapse of Stormont, Poots would still have his leadership role as party boss to push his Unionist agenda.

Although Mrs Foster was first elected to the Assembly in 2003 for the border constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, that was as a member of the more liberal Ulster Unionist Party. She later defected to the DUP, becoming its leader in 2015.

Although elections to the Assembly have been put on hold until May 2022 because of the pandemic, it is the Northern Ireland Protocol - effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea - rather than Covid 19, which is being seen as the cause for the crisis within the DUP.

All eyes will now focus on who will be elected to the post of party leader and First Minister, or whether the DUP will decide to divide both posts and have a First Minister at Stormont from its Assembly team, while the party boss would come from either the Commons MPs or peers. With Poots’ hat in the ring for leadership, could a deputy leader to replace Lord Dodds - the former North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds - come from the Westminster team?

Mrs Foster was only the third person to lead the DUP since it was launched in 1971. Whoever takes over may be facing a poisoned chalice in terms of leading Unionism through the Protocol crisis.

Rather than an economic crisis, the Protocol is being seen by many in the pro-Union community, and especially among working class Protestant loyalists, as seriously undermining Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK in this the NI state’s centenary year.

During the Easter holidays, parts of Northern Ireland witnessed some of the most serious rioting as loyalists took to the streets to vent their anger against the Protocol, injuring almost 100 police officers.

Ironically, Mrs Foster found herself in almost a carbon copy politically as the same crisis which DUP founder - the late Rev Ian Paisley - found himself in when he was forced to stand down both as First Minister and as party leader.

Rev Paisley had in 2006 signed up to the St Andrews Agreement with Sinn Fein, which the following year ushered in one of the most stable periods of devolved government in Northern Ireland since the signing of the original Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

With the late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as his deputy, the partnership with Paisley in the Executive became known as ‘The Chuckle Brothers’, such was the political and personal rapport between the fundamentalist Christian firebrand preacher and the one time senior commander in the Provisional IRA.

However, the DUP has always, since its inception, had a Hard Right faction influenced by fundamentalist Christianity as Rev Paisley had also founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951.

For years, the DUP played second fiddle politically to the rival Ulster Unionist Party, which had run Northern Ireland since the formation of the state in 1921. But in 2003 and 2005, the DUP ‘overtook’ the UUP in Assembly and Westminster elections respectively as the main political voice for Unionism.

Mrs Foster - given her UUP and Anglican background - was viewed as a liberalising influence within the DUP, especially as three past elections in Northern Ireland saw massive swings to the centre ground Alliance Party.

However, existing fundamentalists within the DUP fear that Mrs Foster’s middle of the road stance was taking the party further away politically from Rev Paisley’s founding ethos.

The success of Paisleyism in Unionism was that it gave a political voice to two previous muted sections of the pro-Union community - the loyalist working class and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

There was also a fear among those two factions that Mrs Foster had been ‘wrong footed’ over the Protocol by Westminster and that the DUP will suffer as a consequence in any future elections, sparking more support for the Alliance Party, a revival in fortunes for the UUP, an increase in support for the more hardline party the Traditional Unionist Voice, or even the formation of yet another Unionist political movement.

A Poots leadership would clearly signal a move to the Right-wing to combat the TUV, while there have also been rumours of plans to create a new middle of the road pro-Union party to combat the drift of Unionist voters to Alliance.

Such rumours have rekindled the ghost of the old NI21 party formed by two liberal UUP MLAs - Basil McCrea of Lagan Valley and John McCallister of South Down. However, NI21 imploded politically before it had a realistic chance of establishing itself on the political map.

The coup against Mrs Foster’s leadership would appear to have been orchestrated by DUP activists loyal to the vision of the late Rev Paisley and modern day pragmatists who saw Mrs Foster personally as a potential political liability in any future elections.

If she was to be replaced as leader and First Minister, there is no guarantee her successor would enjoy a cordial relationship with Sinn Fein within the power-sharing Executive.

If the DUP was to elect a more hardline leader, for example, from the party’s fundamentalist wing, it could trigger a collapse of the Executive in protest at the Protocol.

Likewise, the DUP could elect a Westminster MP or peer as the next party boss, thereby transferring the power base of the party from Stormont to Westminster. Ironically, another Lagan Valley DUP elected representative, MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leads the field among the Commons team.

Another MP mooted for leadership is Gavin Robinson of East Belfast, but given that his main rival in the constituency is Alliance - not the UUP - it has been suggested Robinson is more politically liberal than Foster.

His election would signal the intention of the DUP to become a clearly liberal Unionist party with Alliance its main target as well as the centre ground of Northern Ireland politics.

Clearly, there is a significant section within the DUP’s panel of elected representatives who saw Mrs Foster as being politically unable either to combat the Protocol, or unite the party.

With Mrs Foster being forced to resign, the DUP will be forced to consider which is more important - saving Stormont and devolution, or saving unity within the party.

The ‘nuclear’ option is to collapse Stormont and avoid a potentially humiliating outcome in a May 2022 Assembly poll.

However, given Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s Commons majority, the DUP does not enjoy the same clout in terms of a Westminster agreement as it did with Johnston’s predecessor, Theresa May, who relied heavily on DUP MPs to keep her Government in power.

The ultimate gamble for the DUP is that if it collapses Stormont, it may not get Direct Rule from Westminster as the alternative, but instead a form of joint authority between Dublin and London - a route that could place Northern Ireland on the road to Irish Unity.

It would be one of the great ironies of Irish politics if the DUP set in motion a chain of events which removed Northern Ireland from the Union itself. 

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

Save The Party Or Save Stormont? The Dilemma Facing The Democratic Unionists In Northern Ireland


A Morning Thought @ 1058

Anthony McIntyre ✒ casts his mind back forty years to the 1981 hunger strike.

Yesterday I addressed a small May Day event in Dublin. I chose to speak ad lib, interested in what might come out, off the cuff; what my unpolished thoughts would be. 

From my well-fed and overweight body I stood at the feet of a statue of James Connolly and spoke of the emaciated Bobby Sands who four decades earlier had only days to live, while my union colleague Damien Keogh laid a wreath. Both men, 65 years apart, died in British custody.

Forty years ago today it was a Saturday in the H Blocks of Long Kesh. Physically, the environment was more comfortable than the three preceding summers when the No-Wash protest was at first underway and then in full throttle. Greater physical comfort could never make up for the deficit caused by the  mental anguish that accompanied it. Bobby Sands was right at the edge of life, and we all knew it. It was just a waiting game. Even those who believed in miracles understood there was no turning this around.

Dixie Elliot writes with passion and intensity about the events of the time. At different points he shared a cell with two of the men who would later die, Bobby Sands and Tom McElwee. I cannot read Dixie Elliot’s reminiscences without at the same time hearing the shouting on the protest blocks. His writing has an auditory impact on me. Shouting was how most of our conversation was conducted. It was the only way to be heard in a world of concrete walls and steel doors. We would call a fellow blanketman somewhere on the wing with the universal protest opener: “are you listening?” A reply in the affirmative was the green light for the shouted conversation to begin. And when a number of them were going on at the same time … the din.

A heavily subdued silence descended like fog the day Bobby died.  

That Saturday I was in the cell with Laurence McKeown, his mood no lighter than my own. Laurny, as we knew him - or occasionally “the Big Pharoah” because of his height and the shape of his beard - would later embark on hunger strike. But for the intervention of his mother, Margaret, he would have died. He had gone 70 days without food before she acted out her words to him just before he lost consciousness: ‘You know what you have to do, and I know what I have to do.’ 

Later, she visited me in prison. A reserved, discerning and determined woman, I was not surprised she did what she had to do. Yet, I feel the stress of the hunger strike took its toll on her and she died much too soon, just two short years after it had concluded. The one consolation, if such a word is appropriate, is that she left this life without having to experience the loss of her son.

My own mother would later tell me that in the closing days of Laurny’s hunger strike she heard bin lids banging in the Twinbrook Estate where she lived and where Bobby Sands was waked and buried from. She began to cry, thinking he had died.

I knew Laurny well. His was not a game of brinkmanship or subterfuge. That he is alive today, was his mother’s choice rather than his. At the end of his hunger strike he was comatose and incapable of making any choice.

Dixie Elliot has made the point about the aborted 1980 hunger strike that he would never criticise those people who, unlike Laurence McKeown, exercised a choice not to take the final step. It is a sentiment I readily endorse. For those that did not die, but who endured 53 days of starvation, that alone merits my deepest admiration. There is no right we can assert for an obligation on their part to have died on our behalf, any more than we can fashion from their having survived a rod for their backs.

The above fleeting thoughts, and more, have fed in no particular order of priority into a loosely structured and incomplete memory of the time. As we approach the 5th of May, Bobby’s anniversary, a recurring thought is moving more to the fore. Richard O’Rawe has long disputed the narrative that the prisoners controlled the hunger strike, arguing persuasively that the clear wishes of the prison leadership were dismissed in order to allow some other agenda to proceed. The evidence for that is rooted in the events surrounding the death of Joe McDonnell and the subsequent hunger strikers. Now, it seems very much that the wishes of Bobby Sands too were ignored.

Bobby Sands’ sister, Bernadette, in an eulogy to their mother after her death in 2018 stated:

Likewise in the days that followed Bobby's death, she placed her trust in those whom he too had trusted. Leaving them to organise his funeral. Trust is the pertinent word and it was that trust that years later was betrayed when our family recently came to learn through documents viewed in the National Archives that Bobby's final burial wishes, which were not made known to us at the time, were not fulfilled and this added to the family's sorrow.

The coffin of Bobby Sands should have been carried exactly in accordance with his wishes; not on the instructions of a cabal of coffin surfers using him to carry them. 

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May 1981 ➖ Forty Years Ago