Monday, February 26, 2018

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Direct Rule ... A Biblical God-Send

A good dose of British Direct Rule! That’s just the tonic which controversial commentator, Dr John Coulter, recommends in his Fearless Flying Column today for the ailing Irish peace process.

Direct Rule from Westminster would be a Biblical God-send for the DUP. Okay, so a whole bunch of new laws regarding same-sex marriage, the Irish language, abortion rights, and defamation would descend upon Northern Ireland, but at least the God-fearing wing of the Democratic Unionists could blame the Godless liberalism which has engulfed Westminster.

The bitter medicine which political activists and parties must face in Northern Ireland is that cuts must come and the nightmare of austerity which plagued the republic is about to be inflicted on the north - only one question remains, who will do the inflicting - London or Stormont?

Those of us who are of a vintage to recall the Direct Rule which befell the Province after the original Stormont Parliament was axed by then Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath in 1972 know the nearest Northern Ireland came to having Ulster-born Westminster MPs run affairs in Ulster was the likes of Brian Mawhinney, the former Conservative MP for Peterborough, who served as Education Minister in the Northern Ireland Office team.

The Mawhinney reign is perhaps best known for the axing of corporal punishment in schools in the late 1980s. The cynic could observe that the NIO Ministers certainly did not have to worry what the voters of Northern Ireland thought about their decisions as such Labour or Tory Ministers were based in mainland Britain constituencies.

The bottom line was - there’s no votes to be gained in Northern Ireland, so if tough decisions need to be made - it ain’t gonna affect my seat! This year, with no Stormont Ministers in place since January 2017, a pothole plague ravishing Ulster’s roads, and the Brexit steamroller coming down that road in March 2019, the bills still need to be paid.

People should not make the mistake of thinking that simply because Rev Ian Paisley is dead that the influence of the fundamentalist wing has equally waned. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which Paisley senior founded in 1951, may not have the same sway in the DUP as it did during the 1985 ‘Never, never, never’ era, but that does not mean that evangelical Christianity is dead and buried so far as the DUP voter base is concerned.

The liberal wing of mainstream Irish Presbyterianism may hold the reins of power in the Alliance Party, and the election-battered Ulster Unionist Party is perceived to have turned its back electorally on the Loyal Orders and Christian Churches, but there is still a strong undercurrent of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity rippling through the Province.

Okay, I admit that undercurrent is not organised enough to launch its own political movement. While not on the radar at the moment, until the DUP itself goes liberal like the rival UUP, Alliance or the Greens, then the concept of an Irish Christian Party - though much needed - is a political non-starter. #
Numbers may be statistically falling in the mainstream Protestant denominations - Irish Presbyterianism, the Church of Ireland, and Irish Methodism, as well as the Catholic Church - but there is a quiet revival taking place in Northern Ireland with the growth in popularity of the Pentecostal movement, such as the Elim network or the equally strong array of independent Pentecostal churches and fellowships.

The DUP will be fully aware of the electoral consequences of turning political backs on the Christian Church and Loyal Order communities. Even if it is a case of Christians turning their own backs on the ballot box, that could still cost Unionists their seats.

If every evangelical or conservative Christian - irrespective of denomination - came out to vote, how would that change the face of Northern Ireland politics? Even if Sinn Fein is to fend off any potential electoral threat from Fianna Fail in Northern Ireland, how does it persuade middle class devout Catholics to plump for the republican movement?

Is it any wonder Sinn Fein is so bitterly opposed to Direct Rule from Westminster? If mainland political parties start calling the shots in terms of new legislation for Northern Ireland in the advent, the DUP can rally the Christian vote in the pro-Union community by stating that the Tories or Labour brought in same-sex marriage.

If Sinn Fein goes too Left wing, would that seriously affect the party’s support from middle class Catholics? Or is it possible the republican movement could take a leaf from South America and indulge in Catholic liberation theology as a carrot to conservative Catholics in Northern Ireland?

So how should the DUP play the coming days? Firstly, push for full blown Direct Rule with Tory Ministers taking decisions on health, education, roads and budgets. Secondly, let the mainland parties bring in the laws which rattle the Church brigade.

Thirdly, once these controversial laws - such as same-sex marriage, Irish language, and abortion - are in place, then demand that the Tories appoint Northern Ireland MPs as NIO Ministers. As Sinn Fein does not yet take its Commons seats, there’s no chance of the return of a Westminster-based Education Minister from the party.

But for the DUP, the elephant in the political chamber is Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn. With polls suggesting he could get the keys to 10 Downing Street if there was to be a snap General Election, could a Prime Minister Corbyn persuade Sinn Fein to dump its abstentionist policy it has strictly adhered to since its formation in 1905?

There are grumblings within Unionism that the content of the draft deal puts the DUP at a severe disadvantage for any future negotiations to restore Stormont. Equally, there are rumblings within the republican movement that the content of that draft deal stressed that Sinn Fein had made too many concessions to unionism simply to get a partitionist parliament up and running again.

I’m not a gambling man, but I’d put heavy odds the DUP will reap more benefits than Sinn Fein from Direct Rule - no matter how well the British Government tries to dress it up. Not to sound a warning, but where does the Hard Right of Loyalism fit into this scenario?



John Coulter is a unionist political commentator and former Blanket columnist. 

John Coulter is also author of ‘An Sais Glas: (The Green Sash): The Road to National Republicanism’, which is available on Amazon Kindle.

Follow John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

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