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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Pact Impact


Dr John Coulter maintains the re-igniting of the devolution versus integration debate within Ulster Unionism has actually signalled the party could finally implode before the May 5 elections, and an electoral pact with Paisleyism is the UUP's only hope for survival in the short term.

Dr John Coulter • 24 January 2005

Look's like the UUP could commemorate its centenary AGM on Saturday 5th March by imploding as a movement, before it de-selects Trimble as its leader.

The first month of the centenary year has seen an explosion of intensive public infighting amongst Ulster Unionism not witnessed since the campaign to get dissident Jeffrey Donaldson booted out of the party in late 2003.

The pro and anti-Agreement wings been locking horns yet again, and the pro and anti DUP electoral pact elements have also been bashing away at each other.

To crown it all, Trimble and North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon have ignited the devolution versus integration debate in the UUP by questioning the continued existence of the Assembly itself.

This is being viewed as 'an Alamo' tactic by the Trimble leadership. If the Brits crash the Assembly, then presumably the unionist family will blame the Paisley camp for not doing a deal with the Shinners, and thereby flock back to the Ulster Unionist ranks in droves!

But what would happen if Lady Hermon's questioning of the cost of the Assembly in the Westminster House of Commons became a practical reality and Stormont was shut once again? Immediately, it would see the financial loss of the £24,000 levy which the MLAs pay into the cash-strapped UUP each year.

On the ground, it would lead eventually to the closure of around two dozen constituency offices which the Assembly members maintain. Such offices are vital lines of communication between a party under severe electoral pressure and its constituents.

Trimble and Lady Hermon shafting of the UUP's Assembly group is akin to a Roman Caesar signing the execution papers of his personal bodyguards, the famous Pretorian Guard.

On numerous occasions since the formation of the Assembly, this group of loyal MLAs has protected Trimble's back - and front - against the dissident onslaught from the highly vocal Donaldson wing.

Trimble always relied on his Stormont team - his political Pretorian Guard - to spearhead his campaign against the dissidents during the dozen or so clashes at the meetings of the Ulster Unionist Council, the party's ruling body.

Lady Hermon's ill-timed Commons comments have already resulted in a no-punches-pulled, head-to-head confrontation between the North Down MP and many of the MLAs at a recent top level meeting of the party.

On paper, it seems Trimble is leading the UUP back to its integrationist and equal citizenship days - a policy it toyed miserably with in the late 1980s to combat the then Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985, and which eventually resulted in the overthrow of the Molyneaux leadership.

Not only is integration a failed UUP policy, scrapping Stormont also means dumping the last bastion of power within the party - the 24-strong MLA group in the Assembly.

Such is now the depth of the directional crisis in the rudderless UUP, the level of depression in the party resembles that of Hitler's Berlin Bunker 60 years ago during the final turbulent days of the Nazi Third Reich.

This was emphasised by a recent memo distributed to elected representatives from the UUP communications unit begging people to end the public inter-party feuding, keep it behind closed doors, as it was "deeply depressing" and sending out "mixed messages".

The Ulster Unionists need to forget all the present speculation about voluntary coalitions and Assembly scrutiny committees and concentrate on saving their party from being firmly thrown in the electoral dustbin of history on 5th May - the expected date of the local and General Election in the North.

The word is the notorious 'men in grey suits' will tell Trimble in no uncertain terms to give the party a firm direction, or be dumped on 5th March. Already rumours of a stalking horse are emerging.

In 1995, when Trimble became party boss on a tide of Drumcree euphoria, he inherited a Westminster team of nine MPs, increasing to 10 in '97 with the new West Tyrone seat. He enters May defending only five seats.

The UUP needs an electoral pact with the DUP to survive, preferably one where all sitting UUP MPs are the agreed unionist runners. This will produce a May result of: DUP 7, UUP 5, SF 5, and SDLP 1.

However, given the rate at which the UUP is imploding politically, all the DUP has to do is sit back, have a chuckle and wait for the electorate to plunge in the final - and fatal - political dagger.

The 'one seat, one unionist' pact policy would see the UUP retain all five of its existing seats, including the potentially vulnerable South Belfast, where veteran MP and former Orange Order Grand Master, Rev Martin Smyth, has announced his retirement.

In 1982, when Rev Smyth took the seat in a by-election caused by the controversial murder of Rev Robert Bradford, the constituency was a unionist stronghold. But over the past quarter century, South Belfast has seen a very strong nationalist electorate emerge.

In 2001, the DUP did not contest South Belfast given Rev Smyth's very staunch anti-Agreement position within the party and also because of the growth in the nationalist vote.

If both the DUP and Ulster Unionists decide to contest South Belfast in May, there is a strong possibility the seat could become a Sinn Fein marginal given the impressive percentage increase in the republican vote in the November 2003 Assembly elections.

The pact would also benefit the DUP in that as well as holding its existing six seats, it would run MLA Arlene Foster in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, which Sinn Fein clinched with a handful of votes in 2001. On a split nationalist vote, the seat - as it did under the UUP's Ken Maginnis - would return to the unionist family fold.

There could also be an interesting outcome in the West Tyrone seat - captured by Sinn Fein from the UUP in 2001 - if both main unionist parties plus the SDLP decided to stand aside in an electoral pact in favour of hospital campaigner and MLA Dr Kieran Deeny. He topped the poll in the constituency in the November 2003 Assembly election.

However, in a non-pact scenario where it's every party for itself, the results will be: DUP 9, UUP 1, SF 7, SDLP1, leaving Trimble as the sole Commons standardbearer in Upper Bann.

Without a pact, the UUP will lose South Belfast (to Sinn Fein), South Antrim, East Antrim and North Down (all to DUP). If Trimble has not already been toppled by a March coup, such catastrophic losses in the Commons would leave the Upper Bann MP will little option but to 'fall on his sword' politically and resign the UUP leadership.

It should also be noted that in a non-pact scenario, as happened in 2001, Fermanagh/South Tyrone would most likely be retained by Sinn Fein.

Like the SDLP's merger plan with Fianna Fail if Eddie McGrady should lose South Down to Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists must practically use their centenary celebrations to prepare for a merger with the DUP to form a single electoral movement known as The Unionist Party.

But there is no room for Ian Paisley Senior, his deputy Peter Robinson, or Trimble himself in the new-look, single Unionist Party.

Mind you, the UUP could still look to the fantasy route for survival - why not ask the high profile MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk (late of the UKIP) to become leader, with publicist guru Max Clifford as Director of Communications.

After all, it's been done before when the party asked controversial former Tory MP Enoch Powell to contest the South Down seat. Big Paisley against Kilroy-Silk, now that would be a telly debate worth watching!






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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.
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Index: Current Articles

25 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Danger of Securocrats
Mick Hall

Criminality Accepted as the Norm
Davy Adams

The Rapture
Brian Mór

Bertie Talking Bollix
Anthony McIntyre

Pact Impact
Dr John Coulter

Holocaust Revisited
Anthony McIntyre

22 January 2005

The End of the Road
Mick Hall

Reiss Pressed on Mark Thatcher Cautioned on Damage of Another Double Standard
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Follow up on Saor Eire
Liam O Ruairc

Strong Resistance Felt at Bush's Second Inauguration
Christian Roselund, Patsy Crocker

An Old Friend from the Blanket
Anthony McIntyre



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