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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Revolutionary Unionism

Dr John Coulter argues Northern Protestantism needs a new direction and Unionism needs to be ideologically reborn if it is to both realistically and politically survive for another generation. He outlines the impact of the new concept of Revolutionary Unionism and how it could become the only hope for a fragmented Protestant people.

Dr John Coulter • 5 December 2004

Fragmentation and feuding have caused Northern unionism to suffer a political cardiac arrest. Urgent shock treatment is required to re-start unionism's heart. What is realistically required is certainly not another political party, pressure group or leader claiming to defend the Union with Great Britain.

What unionism needs is a new ideological direction; one which will unite rather than divide all shades of unionist, Protestant, Orange and loyalist thinking in the North. The last generation has witnessed unionism indulge in the luxury of internecine fragmentation to the point that some groups are reduced to ‘fringe’ status, such is their insignificance. What unionism needs is a political revolution. It needs a new sense of destiny in a technological world which is rapidly seeing the evolution of a European super state.

Television brought the ethos of the global village to Ireland; the world wide web has brought us the concept of the international living room. Unionism needs a forward-thinking ideology which will project its people to the forefront of the new Europe. If unionism does not experience this revolution, but clings to past ideologies, in less than a generation it will become nothing more than an ageing fan club for the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and a memorial to the opening day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Other ideological forms of unionism have failed, or are failing, the Northern Protestant people. Traditional unionism as espoused by Lord Edward Carson and the 1912 Ulster Volunteer Force relies purely on Protestant numerical superiority. Fragmentation and voter apathy will be its epitaph.

Notwithstanding its recent gains in the Assembly elections of November 2003, fundamentalist unionism is essentially built around the persona of Democratic Unionist Party leader and Free Presbyterian Moderator Dr Ian Paisley. This one-man ideology will implode with the death of Dr Paisley as the DUP's rival Free Presbyterian and working class loyalist wings battle for control of the party.

The unionist labour ideology, as represented by the Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Political Research Group (the parties closest to the political thinking of the loyalist terror groups the UVF and Ulster Freedom Fighters), slit its own throat in terms of influence as rival loyalist paramilitaries immersed themselves in bloody street feuds and turf wars over drugs.

Liberal and ecumenical unionism has been equally dealt a fatal blow by the emphatic announcement from the Vatican that Roman Catholicism is the only one and true Christian Faith.

The New Unionism of Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble is in danger of suffering the same fate as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O'Neill who equally tried to harmonise relations with the Republic and bring republicanism in from the icy political cold.

Again, November 2003’s election results showed New Unionism has yet to convince Northern Protestants of the merits of the Good Friday Agreement given that the Paisley camp overran the UUP to become the majority voice for the unionist family.

Given these political ‘flops’ and seemingly insurmountable hurdles, where could Northern unionism look to find its rebirth? Irish politics is full of ironies. Revolutionary Unionism is based on the concept that Northern Protestants should no longer see themselves as being ‘hemmed in’ to the six geographical counties of Northern Ireland.

Ironically, it was Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams who urged Northern Unionists to seriously consider the option that it would be better for them to be twenty per cent in a united Ireland than two per cent in a United Kingdom. Naturally, the idea has been rejected by many unionists simply because it was expressed by the leader of the Provisional IRA's political wing.

But what if Northern Protestants called the Sinn Fein bluff? Given the rise of the Sinn Fein vote in the Republic, the republican movement could soon hold the balance of power - even with only a handful of seats in the Dail - giving it a political clout that it has not enjoyed since the General Election of 1918 when Ireland was still under British rule.

The real reason the republican movement has suggested an all-Ireland dimension to Northern unionists is because Sinn Fein actually fears the thought of Northern Protestants having a major say in the running of a 32-county state.

In an all-Ireland scenario, the SDLP would disappear in a merger with Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein will always hold the mantel of ‘fringe status’ - which it currently holds in Southern politics – for as long as the Provisionals exist.

This would leave Northern unionists effectively as the major power broker in Irish politics. The problem is, many Northern unionists see any talk of a relationship with the South as treasonable.

In late 1998, when the veteran politician Conor Cruise O'Brien suggested in his biography that unionists should consider their future in a united Ireland, he eventually had to resign from the staunchly anti-Agreement United Kingdom Unionist Party which is led by former North Down MP Robert McCartney.

However politically unpalatable an all-Ireland concept may be to Northern Protestants, it will become a hard political reality in less than a generation. This is not because Northern nationalists will outbreed or outvote their Protestant counterparts, but because of the increasing power of Europeanisation. Within a decade, the pound and the punt could be eclipsed by the euro.

The Southern Irish economy is experiencing an economic boom, but it will only be a matter of time before the Celtic tiger is hunted by the eurocrats of a united Germany.

In a rapidly expanding European Union, there is the real danger the political identities of both Northern and Southern Ireland will be drowned in a vast bureaucratic sea as Germany bids for European domination for the third time in less than a century.

A united Germany has twice tried unsuccessfully to achieve such domination using military methods under Kaiser William in 1914 and Adolf Hitler in 1939; now the financial eurocrats are trying the economic route.

As more former Soviet republics are integrated into this ever-expanding European Union, the island of Ireland will find itself not only geographically, but also economically and politically on the fringes of the United States of Europe. As with the United States of America, national state borders will merely become meaningless lines on a map.

If Northern Protestants think they have lived through a nightmare generation at the hands of ‘physical force’ Irish republicanism, wait until they get a taste of the economic fiasco which awaits them in a united Europe.

Taking a negative approach means unionists jumping on the nearest boat to Scotland or calling for the repartition of Northern Ireland and cramming Northern Protestants into a two-county Ulster based in Antrim and Down. Revolutionary Unionism takes the view - why should Northern Protestants confine their political influence to six counties; why not have a say in the running of all thirty-two?

This would not be the first time that Northern Protestants have exerted such an influence on the island of Ireland. The success of the Glorious Revolution and the Williamite Settlement in the late 17th century saw the birth of the Protestant Ascendancy throughout Ireland.

That ascendancy could have been copper-fastened politically a century later in 1798 had the Presbyterian-inspired United Irishmen's rebellion succeeded. Its failure was partly due to the military incompetence of the Catholic forces within the United Irishmen's movement as well as English establishment support for the fledging Orange Order to split the ranks of the United Irishmen.

In this respect, the exclusively Protestant Orange Order was used by the English to sow mistrust between the Presbyterians and the Catholics, thereby weakening the political cohesion of the United Irishmen's movement.

Historians, too, can speculate as to the outcome of a military confrontation in pre-partition Ireland in 1914 between Lord Edward Carson’s Ulster Volunteers and Michael Collins’ Irish Volunteers had the Home Rule crisis not been temporarily put on hold by the outbreak of World War One.

Given the tactical superiority of the Northern Protestant forces at that time, it would be logical to assume that any partition of the island as a result of civil war would have created a much larger geographical Northern Ireland. Likewise, we can equally speculate on a similar military outcome had the pro-Treaty Collins not been murdered by republicans before he had the chance to invade the fledgling Northern state.

If Northern Protestants need further evidence of their effectiveness in an all-Ireland scenario, they need only look to the legends of the Ulster warrior Cuchulainn and his friends King Conor and Conall Cearnach in the period 100 AD to 200 AD. Time and again, the trio fought off the raids by the Southern leader, Queen Maeve of Connacht, who had to resort to using Black Magic to eventually kill Cuchulainn.

Revolutionary Unionism is based on the need for the countries comprising the British Isles to unite and give themselves a voice against a European Union's political and financial domination. It is not the first time such a concept has been mooted.

In 1980, Sir John Biggs-Davison, the former Conservative front-bench spokesman on Northern Ireland, suggested a loose linkage of the United Kingdom, the Republic, Isle of Man and Channel Islands to form the Islands of North Atlantic (IONA).

In reality, the only political grouping which could have any effective and meaningful voice against a European super state is the British Commonwealth of nations. Revolutionary Unionism’s all-Ireland scenario would see the Republic rejoining the British Commonwealth with the Monarchy as head of state. The countries which formed the geographical British Isles would be ruled by a Council of the Isles.

From a Southern point of view, being in the British Commonwealth would mean that Southern Ireland would not become politically marginalised as the Euro cash well runs dry. For Northern Protestants, they would be part of a structure that was both British and had the Monarch as head of state.

No doubt, sceptics will laugh at Revolutionary Unionism's concept of the ‘32-County Ulster’ scenario. But then, less than a decade ago, many sceptics laughed at the thought of a legislative assembly at Stormont containing Sinn Fein and Unionist ministers.

Like any new ideology, Revolutionary Unionism will not become an overnight sensation. One flaw is the choice of Monarch to lead the revitalised British Commonwealth. The British Monarchy has had its own fair share of personal troubles. Whilst Elizabeth the Second has been an effective Queen, there can be no doubting that Charles will be a weak King. The only hope lies in his son, Prince William, who is displaying remarkable maturity and realism. A British Commonwealth led by King William has the potential to become a powerful voice in European politics.

What the Republic needs is to become a member of a political power block capable of protecting the Celtic tiger. What Northern Protestants need is a unionist ideology capable of healing their own self-inflicted wounds and securing their identity in the Europe of the new millennium.

Revolutionary Unionism is not about Northern Ireland joining the Republic. Revolutionary Unionism is primarily about giving Northern Protestants a new identity free of fragmentation and feuding; it is about creating the scenario in which the Republic can rejoin an all-Ireland as part of the British Commonwealth of nations. It is about creating the ethos amongst Protestants, north and south, of one party, one faith, one people.

Narrow-minded unionists ill attempt to dismiss the Revolutionary Unionist ideology as a united Ireland under another name. But realistically, who would the ultra hard Right in Unionism ever agree with? Revolutionary Unionism is not about concessions to Dublin or the republican movement.

Nor is it an attempt to repackage the concept of civic unionism as outlined by the academic Norman Porter because his all-Ireland dimension would appear to be based on the outright surrender of Northern unionism to Irish imperialism. Revolutionary Unionism is about securing the future of Northern Protestants in the wider European Union – until such times as the island of Ireland is strong and brave enough to leave that Union.

The concepts of Revolutionary Unionism are as important to securing the long-term political well being and economic stability of Southern citizens within that European Union as they are of securing the future identity of Northern Protestants. Trimble's New Unionism has built the foundations for a bright future for Northern Protestants on this island. Unfortunately, Trimble has been unable to electorally convince the majority of unionists of these benefits.

Now it is up to Northern Protestants to construct a building on those foundations. The DUP can achieve this by laying its paramilitary past with Ulster Third Force and Ulster Resistance firmly to rest and concluding a workable and lasting deal with Sinn Fein.

These Northern Protestants have a choice. They can continue on their present path of fragmentation and feuding, in which case the building will become unionism's political mausoleum.

Or, they can follow the path of Revolutionary Unionism and build a new Ireland free of the threat of European financial domination. Maybe the unthinkable has become the obvious solution to uniting unionism in Ireland.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

6 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Fleece Process
Anthony McIntyre

Padraic Paisley
Anthony McIntyre

Revolutionary Unionism
Dr John Coulter

Official Secrets
Mick Hall

Kilmichael Controversay Continues
Liam O Ruairc

Turkish Man Beaten and Racially Abused by PSNI in front of Witnesses

Iraq is Not the Second World War
Fred A Wilcox

Dancing at the Edge of the Abyss
Karen Lyden Cox

2 December 2004

Questions - and Doubts - Remain
Tommy Gorman

Another Crisis for Trimble?
Dr John Coulter

No Gangster More Cruel
Anthony McIntyre

Love Your Enemy More Than Your Friend
Elana Golden

Mick Hall

The Biggest Mistake They Could Have Made
Áine Fox

Danilo Anderson and Condoleeza Rice
Toni Solo



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