The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Unionism's New Puppet Masters


Robert Matthews • 23 May 2006

With the whole 'Da Vinci Code' hype going on, conspiracy theories are ten a penny. However some things are more than mere coincidence and do point to something real however far fetched it may at first glance appear.

For some time now I have watched the shifts and turns within politicised, organised unionism. Unionism has witnessed a titanic struggle over its long term leadership over the past decade. It now seems that Ian Paisley is the unchallenged master of all he surveys. But he is eighty years old. Even he can't endure forever (can he?). The big question staring everyone in the face is 'what happens next?' All kinds of rumours and speculation abound. Will it be Robinson? - Probably! Will it be Dodds? - possibly! Will it be Allister? - Probably not! Will it be Donaldson? - not the faintest chance!

I believe that while we have concentrated on questions like this, something else has been taking shape that may well render the whole exercise pointless in that it won't really matter who eventually succeeds Paisley.

Already the manoeuvres taking place within Unionism have caught some observant eyes. John Coulter writing in 'The Blanket' has drawn attention to part of the picture beginning to take shape. However Coulter has missed one vital linkage that makes his analysis, while valuable, still partial and somewhat skewed in the wrong direction. Coulter identities four DUP MLA's as indicators as to how that party will go. His conclusions are understandable, but flawed.

The four names I want to mention are, in no particular order: George Dawson MLA and Mervyn Storey MLA (as Coulter correctly says), but also (and here is the vital ingredient that Coulter has missed), David Simpson MP and Pastor David McConaghie. Their interconnectedness, collective approach and shared involvements allow us to see the emergence of a new ruling elite within unionism - not based upon class, or wealth, or even party allegiance, but based simply upon their own shared and archly conservative religious agenda.

Consider the following:

Dawson, Storey and McConaghie are all prominent members of the Independent Loyal Orange Order; with Dawson as the Grand Master and the other two as senior Lieutenants. Whenever the leadership of the three Loyal Orders have met recently with government etc, it was Dawson who did the speaking, even though the IOO is by far the smallest of the three. When he was unable to attend, who filled in for him? McConaghie and again he did most of the talking at the shared press conference (and as I understand from Orange sources, most of the talking in the actual meetings themselves). Let us not forget that it was Dawson, McConaghie and Storey who led the Protests against former Grand Master Martin Smyth over the Prayer Breakfast, yet now they speak on behalf of the Orange Order in public.

These three are also senior officers in the Caleb Foundation - which ties together the main Evangelical denominations in a single campaigning unit. Whenever the Civic Forum was established who represented these churches on it? McConaghie!

Dawson and McConaghie are also members of the ruling committee of the Evangelical Protestant Society, behind the 'Bulwark' magazine. The Society has significant influence not only in the Evangelical denominations, but actually more so in the historic Protestant Churches. When the GB based United Protestant Council split recently over the issue of Loyal Order membership, what happened? A new organisation was formed with the EPS (and hence Dawson and McConaghie) as the key central body.

Dawson and Storey are also MLA's in the NI Assembly and here is the other not widely known factor; McConaghie, as well as having been David Simpson's campaign manager who plotted the overthrow Trimble in Upper Bann, has remained as his 'chief of staff'/press officer/speech writer.

Let us look at Simpson's Westminster record. Which MP has majored on an inquiry into paedophile priests? Simpson! Which MP has majored on opposing civil partnerships for gays? Simpson! Which MP has majored on campaigning for creationism to be brought into school science classes? Simpson! When it comes to tabling written questions about Loyal Order issues it hasn't been the DUP leader (Paisley), deputy leader (Robinson) or party secretary (Dodds) who has led the way, but the new boy, Simpson! Storey and Dawson have noticeably NOT picked up and used for press releases the Parliamentary contributions of any other DUP MP, but noticeably HAVE done precisely that with Simpson's! Issues peculiar to both North Antrim (lignite mining) and East Antrim (Coolkeeragh power station) have conveniently found themselves onto Simpson's list of Parliamentary concerns. Obviously a high level of co-ordination is taking place.

Simpson is of course the man who whupped Trimble. He is also a senior party officer of the DUP. His relationship with McConaghie ties him in with Dawson and Storey. Ah but that is not all; all three - Simpson, Dawson and Storey have somehow, conveniently managed to get themselves placed onto the DUP economy group to tackle the most important issues we shall face in the near future - despite Storey not coming from that kind of background. Thus all three (and given McConaghie's relationship with each, all four) shall oversee the DUP's entire approach to trade and investment, economic competitiveness and job creation.

On another front; I have already alluded to the recent coming together of the Loyal Orders under Dawson's leadership (just as the Caleb Foundation brought the evangelicals together under him). Are we to believe that just as the Loyal Orders are making their pitch for the replacement of the Parades Commission - led by Dawson, that at that very time Simpson should just happen go public about the Don McKay appointment, in the process ensure that one of his own lesser party colleagues would face the drop and as a result put the Secretary of State in a flap? Hardly!

Are we to believe that the lines of association between these four that link together the Loyal Orders, the Caleb Foundation, the EPS, the new GB umbrella group, the top tiers of the DUP and the various Protestant churches, is somehow all just coincidence? Puhleeaaze!

Just for a moment cast an eye over the political casualties - Gardiner Kane MLA (North Antrim: originally selected ahead of Storey but then set aside owing to personal difficulties); Roger Hutchinson MLA (East Antrim: originally selected ahead of Dawson but again set aside owing to personal difficulties); Mervyn Carrick MLA (Upper Bann: toppled as Parliamentary candidate by Simpson and then replaced as MLA); Denis Watson (Upper Bann: The most senior Orangeman in representative politics after Martin Smyth - the same Martin Smyth Dawson, McConaghie and Storey had targeted previously - left without a seat at the Assembly; defeated by Stephen Moutray, Simpson's closest political ally and Dawson's life long friend.). Long standing activists and newly acquired high profile scalps all went the same way.

In the very near future we may expect these four to focus their attention on further political advances. There are several vacancies that will shortly arise. First there is North Antrim. Either Dawson or Storey could have a tilt at replacing big Ian. More likely, that it shall be left to Jim Allister to wield the knife. This will leave the way clear for either Dawson, or as I believe, Storey to set his sights on Europe. Dawson is said to already have his eye on at least a junior ministry in any new Executive and so is likely to find South Belfast a much more attractive proposition. Let's face it Jimmy Spratt has all but disappeared since the election and Dawson's business background and ability to sound reasonable to the middle classes would make him sure to trounce any hapless UUP candidate and unseat the SDLP. McConaghie is not thought to have any ambition for elected office, but if that were to change, Paul Berry's seat would be a cinch. The financial clout afforded by Simpson's business concerns, his popularity with the grass roots and high standing within the party as the man who bludgeoned Trimble into oblivion mean that he shall continue to exert considerable influence for years to come.

Let us look at it from another direction. From their collective vantage point who do they jointly pull together within the party? Each of them can appeal to the Free Presbyterian faction which includes people like Willie McCrea, Maurice Morrow, the two Dodds', Jim Allister, Gregory Campbell and Edwin Poots. Through the Independent Orange they have a second means of influencing Campbell. Through the new joint Loyal Order initiative they can attract the entire cross section of Loyal Order members. Via Dawson and Simpson's business connections they have pull when it comes to Robin Newton. As Sammy Wilson's Campaign Manager, here too Dawson has a close connection. No other senior party figure can boast a stronger collection of party heavyweights from right across the various sections of the DUP than these four.

It seems clear that the gang of four have created an interlocking power base for themselves that takes in all parts of the unionist community. The question is why? The most likely answer is in order to advance the very conservative fundamentalist brand of unionist politics that will keep the flame of Paisleyism burning whenever he has passed the way of all flesh. (This is further testified to by the fact that McConaghie is known to have recently severed his links with the Elim Churches and thrown his lot in with the Free Presbyterians, just like the other three.)

It may be that these four are preparing for the day when their great leader is no longer present and the force of his personality is gone. In their shoes one might reasonably conclude that now was the time to set about ensuring that no matter who might replace Paisley nominally, they would continue to hold enough levers of power to bend that person to their collective will.

None of these four men has been mentioned as a possible leader of the DUP, although all three of the elected politicians have been tipped to rise quite rapidly over the next few years. However as with the Pope having jurisdiction over the temporal ruler, it really doesn't matter how many leaders come and go, so long as you pull their strings.

The next few years will prove to be interesting to outside observers, but also critical for society. If these four - Simpson, Dawson, Storey and McConaghie continue to expand their sphere of influence quietly in the background they could well emerge as the puppet masters of unionism.

It could be that this is just another conspiracy theory, but surely too many pieces fit too snugly together for it all to just be a matter of chance.

What do you think?



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

6 June 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

We Believe Freddie McGuinness
Anthony McIntyre

Under Scrutiny
John Kennedy

Unionism's New Puppetmasters
Robert Matthews

Dr John Coulter

Two Peace Processes
Mick Hall

'The Beginning of the End has Past …'
Davy Carlin

How Many Grannies?
Dr John Coulter

Even the Dogs Bark in Irish?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Bards for St Brigid's
Paul Dougherty

USA v Iran
John Kennedy

Threat to Iran Based on Duplicity
David Adams

Manifesto of the Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism

Profile: Bernard Henry-Levy
Anthony McIntyre

BHL: Bernard Henri-Levy
Liam O Ruairc

Freedom of Speech index

28 May 2006

Humpty Dumpty
Anthony McIntyre

Eamon Sweeney

Political Status
Geoffrey Cooling

Enough, Enough of Stormont
David Adams

Joined at the Hip
John Kennedy

Loyal to What
Fred A Wilcox

No Rest In Peace
John Kennedy

'Penetrated' Has Become the Sinn Fein Brand Mark
Anthony McIntyre

Code Red
Dr John Coulter

Review of the Field Day Review 1: Debut Issue, 2005
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Salman Rushdie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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