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Politics/Current Affairs

Paisley and Adams Vs Ulster’s Naysayers

Friday, February 16th, 2007 at 13:07 by Bob Westwood

As your average sports pundit would put it, you couldn’t make it up. Northern Ireland’s best hopes of a stable devolved government, a working assembly, and (maybe) peace now lie in the laps of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.

These two men couldn’t be more different – one a loud, stern, pro-union Calvinist preacher blamed by many for stirring up anti-Catholic hatred in a generation of loyalists, and the other a slippery and evasive leader of a party linked with a vicious terrorist organisation prepared to kill and maim in the name of a united Ireland.

Many an observer in the Province has said ‘this shows how far we’ve come’, and they’re not wrong. However, as Paisley, Adams, and 248 other people, prepare to jostle for 108 Stormont Assembly seats in the elections of March 7th, some of their former associates aren’t prepared to let things lie, and could well cause trouble for them in the future.

On the Orange side of the fence, a number of figures in Dr Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have stepped down, or defected to Bob McCartney’s United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP). They’re unhappy with last October’s St Andrews Agreement, where the DUP (sort of) agreed to share power with Sinn Fein (the IRA’s political wing), so long as the Shinners agreed to (a) recognise the police and (b) make the IRA history. The latter part of the deal had apparently already been cut in July when the IRA disbanded, and the former was settled earlier this month in a special Sinn Fein Ard Fheis (conference) in Dublin, when the Shinners voted 9 to 1 to accept and support the RUC’s successors.

However, it seems even these (by anyone’s standards) major steps for the republicans aren’t enough for some unionists. When he handed back his party card, the ex-mayor of Limavady, Leslie Cubitt, said ‘Some people have said that I have deserted the DUP, but they have deserted me.’ The DUP’s MP for Lagan Valley, Jeffrey Donaldson, said something similar about the Ulster Unionist Party when he defected from them in January 2004 over their acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement, which involved, er… sharing power with Sinn Fein. So far, he’s remained silent about his new party and the current position they’re in.

But not all the naysayers are of unionist colours. Ruari O’Bradaigh, Gerry Adams’s predecessor as Sinn Fein President, has accused him and Martin McGuinness of selling out the republican cause, in daring to have all these deals with the Brits and Orangemen. Apparently, his party, Republican Sinn Fein, are about as happy with the Shinners sharing power with the DUP as some Paisleyites are with their party sharing power with republicans. In kicking off their campaign O’Bradaigh said ‘An Ireland unfree can never be at peace.’ (It comes to something how desperate your political plight has to be before you start plagiarizing WB Yeats.) O’Bradaigh’s party is bidding for five seats in the elections, though an idea of how organised they are as a party is offered by the fact that they didn’t register properly in time to be designated as Republican Sinn Fein on the ballot papers, and so are officially “Independents”.

Even without those Unionists and Republicans who don’t fancy working together in making laws in Northern Ireland, it would still be an interesting election. The Province looks set to get its first non-white Assembly Member in Anna Lo (the Hong Kong-born community worker is standing for the Alliance Party in South Belfast); and one of the many independent candidates include former BBC journalist Brian Rowan, who is standing in North Down. What’s more, so determined is he to ruin the DUP’s electoral hopes that UKUP chief Bob McCartney is contesting six out of the Province’s 18 constituencies, saying if he’s successful in more than one he’ll just nominate a party colleague to occupy any other seat.

Just in case outgoing DUP members think they’ll have a stable home to go to in his party, an idea of Mr McCartney’s leadership skills was offered in 1999:  Just a year after the first Assembly elections, when four out of his party’s five Assembly members left the UKUP. (One local joke went that the dissident members thought of calling themselves the Former United Kingdom Unionist Party, but gave up the idea when they realised what the acronym of that would read.)

But once the voting and counting (which in Northern Ireland’s system of proportional representation can take up to two days) are over, there’s that other issue of their forming a government coming up. Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern have given the various parties until March 26th to come up with a working devolved administration, and, as they’re both stepping down this year in search of a good footnote to their careers, they’re likely to lean heavily on the parties to just kiss and make up so they can all go home for tea and plaudits.

So, the Settlement To End All Settlements, if and when it’s carved out, will involve the Reverend Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, who in 1983 vowed to “Smash Sinn Fein”, becoming First Minister of Northern Ireland, and having Mr James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, who once said he was “proud” to have been a member of the IRA, as his Deputy First Minister. It’s still not a foregone conclusion that these men and their parties can pull off the un-pull-off-able. Even without the age-old issue of the Border to divide them, the parties still differ wildly on many social issues, including education. The prospect of Paisley, Adams and McGuinness eventually agreeing to work together may only be the start of their problems.

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One Comment on “Paisley and Adams Vs Ulster’s Naysayers”

  1. Sue Stewart Says:

    *Tries not to think of Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea/Judean Popular Front*

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