Socialist Worker

Unionist vote threatens hopes for peace

Issue No. 1690

Unionist vote threatens hopes for peace

NORTHERN Ireland's Unionists have shown they are not prepared to make even the smallest concession to achieve peace. The Ulster Unionists-who ran Northern Ireland for 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s-want to keep Ireland part of Britain at any cost. They also want to keep Catholics as second class citizens. Last weekend the Ulster Unionist Council almost toppled the party's present leader, David Trimble.

Trimble made his name by enthusiastically backing anti-Catholic Orange marches. But, as part of the recent peace process, he has made a few small concessions to "moderate" Catholic parties like John Hume's SDLP. This has enraged hardliners in his party. They organised a leadership challenge by the Reverend Martin Smyth. Trimble only just won, by 57 percent to 43 percent, even though Smyth had made it clear he had no particular interest in leading the party. Smyth represents all the most bigoted, inflexible and reactionary traditions of Unionism. He:

  • Was grandmaster of the Orange Order, which excludes Catholics from membership, for 25 years.
  • Accused the Catholics of Lower Ormeau in Belfast of "Nazi fascism" because they dared to protest against an intimidatory Orange parade.
  • Said, "It is often alleged that one cannot be returned as a Unionist for Stormont unless one is an Orangeman. It is a pity that this is not so or we would not be in the mess we are in today."

Smyth's unexpectedly high vote sent his supporters delirious. The ultra-hardline Unionists also rejoiced when the Council passed a motion which said there should be no future power-sharing with Sinn Fein unless the Royal Ulster Constabulary retains its name and sectarian symbols. This motion seeks to stop any reform of the overwhelmingly Protestant RUC. It was so reactionary even the RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan and Tory peer Lord Cranborne criticised it.

David Burnside moved the motion at the Council. He is a former public relations chief for British Airways. He was previously press officer for the Vanguard movement which built links with fascists in Britain and elsewhere. Later Burnside worked for the Institute of Directors. The Unionist leaders' decision to wreck power-sharing with Sinn Fein by constantly raising the question of weapons decommissioning has encouraged all the most backward elements in their own party.

They are now threatening to devour their own "moderates". Last weekend shows that it is ridiculous to blame the IRA for all the problems in Ireland. Yet Peter Mandelson and the British government adopted this line last year as the peace process stagnated and then began to fall apart.

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Sat 1 Apr 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1690
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