Why Unionism’s Brexiters need violence

Having messed up over Brexit, the DUP and Mr Trimble are now keen to send in the rioters.  It gives them political cover to attack the Protocol that they previously voted for, without looking even more unhinged than usual. 

Once again, over 100 years later, Larne is at the centre of Unionist threats of violence to subvert a decision taken by the UK government.

Nothing new under the sun:

– 1912, the UK govt published home rule bill for Ireland.  In response, Ulster’s Unionists signed the Ulster Covenant, established a terrorist organisation, the UVF, to resist the UK parliament, and smuggled in 25,000 rifles and between 3 and 5 million rounds of ammunition from Germany to Larne.  In the subsequent settlement after the Anglo-Irish war, the British govt excluded the northern counties and partitioned the country.  

– 1974, the UK govt established a power-sharing executive, under the Sunningdale Agreement.  In response, Ulster’s Unionists – the Ulster Unionist Party, the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party and the Democratic Unionist Party – formed the pro-strike United Ulster Unionist Council; and called a general strike to oppose power sharing.  The strike was managed by the Ulster Workers’ Council and Ulster Army Council, which were formed shortly after the Agreement’s signing. Both of these groups included loyalist paramilitaries such as the UDA and the UVF.  These groups helped to enforce the strike by blocking roads and intimidating workers.  Ballylumford power station provided electricity to Belfast and most territory East of the Bann, and so those parts were without power during the strike.  I remember my Dad and Uncles, chainsaws in the boot to cut through felled trees.  During the strike, loyalist paramilitaries killed 39 civilians, of whom 33 died in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.  The UK government abandoned power sharing.  

Ulster Workers’ Strike, 1974
Joint Loyalist-British Army footpatrol, 1974

– 1985, the UK government signs the Anglo Irish Agreement with Ireland.  In response, Ulster’s Unionists establish 2 new paramilitary forces, the Third Force and Ulster Resistance.  Ulster Resistance was launched at a 3000-strong invitation-only meeting at the Ulster Hall.  The rally was chaired by the Democratic Unionist Party Press Officer Sammy Wilson and addressed by party colleagues Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Ivan Foster. Also on the platform was Alan Wright, the chairman of the Ulster Clubs. Ulster Resistance’s aims were to “take direct action as and when required” to end the Anglo-Irish Agreement.  The group imported, via Israel and apartheid-era South Africa, over 200 automatic assault rifles, 94 automatic pistols, 12+ RPG-7s and circa 150 warheads, 400 – 500 RGD-5 fragmentation grenades and over 30,000 rounds of ammunition.  The daughter of one of the gun runners, Noel Little, is a current DUP politician.

Members of “Ulster Resistance”
The DUP’s “Third Force”, paramilitary group formed to overturn the Anglo-Irish peace deal in the 1980s

– 2020-21, the UK government signs an anti-trade deal, known as “Brexit”, to increase red tape with the EU on the ground of sovereignty.  Logically, once you leave the EU, there has to be a border somewhere with the EU, given that the South of Ireland is part of the EU.  So as not to: (i) breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (‘GFA’); (ii) cripple North-South trade and cross-border communities; and (iii) annoy the pro-GFA Americans and thereby jeopardise a trade deal with them; it was felt that a limited sea border could be put in place between GB and NI.  In response, Ulster’s Unionists <consulted extensively with Loyalist paramilitaries> on their Brexit strategy; and subsequently used rabble-rousing talk (“betrayal”, “anger”) to oppose the Brexit deal they originally voted for.  Now, in the new customs facilities in Larne, Loyalists are <threatening staff>; and Loyalists once again are on the streets, doing what they do best, using violence when they feel let down by British democracy.

Brexiter-Unionist disorder, Belfast, April 2021

David Trimble publicly warns us that, in opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, there is “real potential for those who have engaged in past violence to take action again”; and Loyalists are out setting fire to buses and threatening to march on Nationalist areas at 6pm on Friday 9 April – as if the Remain voting Nationalists somehow are to blame for Unionism’s perceived Brexit difficulties.

 At best, such public “warnings” are irresponsible.  At worst, they’re cynical rabble-rousing.  So-called respectable conservative Unionist politicians are fomenting the disorder that they pretend to be “appalled” by.  In reality, it’s a logical outworking of their cynical rhetoric over the last months, and it’s entirely disingenuous for them to affect “surprise” at the disorder,  to blame it on Loyalist “frustration”.

Does anyone really think that a bunch of layabouts in athleisure would even be aware of the nuances of non-tariff barriers and customs procedures, still less be exercised by them, were it not for a prior, daily drip-feed of rhetoric about “losing their Britishness”?

“For covid reasons”, lol

If you’re interested, the acronyms are as follows:

We are the People

Donegall Pass

Village Team on Tour

Roden Street Defenders

Having messed up over Brexit, the DUP and Mr Trimble are now keen to send in the usual goons.  It gives them political cover to attack the Protocol that they previously voted for, without looking even more unhinged than usual. 

If Trimble really had been “concerned” about a possible resurgence of loyalist violence, perhaps he should have mentioned this in private to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and refrained from public alarmism. Impressionable minds miss nuance. They take their cues from such public utterances. There is a fine line between bona fide warnings and unintended, self-fulfilling prophecies.

In reality, Trimble is loving it.  So is the DUP.  A bit of mayhem is political gold for them. 

De facto, practically every nationalist voted against borders, including a sea border with Great Britain, when they voted Remain in 2016. And unionism painted itself into a hard Brexit corner by needlessly setting itself against any possibility of a customs union deal, which would have avoided a sea border.

This litany of strategic blundering by unionism begs the question: given that the current Brexit difficulties are entirely a joint DUP-Tory party production, whom does Trimble consider that loyalists might “take action” against? Themselves?

For as long as I can remember, 2 things:

1. The Union with Britain has been maintained by violence and by threats of violence.
2. Those who maintain the Union in this way are proud of their commitment to peace and democracy and consider themselves to on higher moral ground than violent Republicanism.

The DUP is now lobbying hard to abolish the deal they just voted for.  They are good at being against stuff. I wait, with some interest, to see what, if any, solution they come up with.  Arlene is from the border, and I can’t see that replacing a sea border with a land border is going to play all that well to smarter Unionists along the border either.

Perhaps it’ll be back to cake-ism, denialism and unspecified technological “solutions”.

Hard-line Unionism has always worried about too much normality.  It thrives in times of crisis.  Real or manufactured, makes no difference.

I recall Jim Molyneaux, long time Unionist leader, reflecting bitterly that the IRA ceasefire in the 1990s was the “most destabilising thing ever to happen”.  Deep down, Jim wanted his enemies to remain violent.  Ongoing violence carried a hidden advantage for (British) Unionism, namely that they never had to engage with political (Irish) Republicanism.

Similarly, the DUP’s fear is that the current Brexit Protocol, which gives porous access to both the GB and EU markets (a place of potentially unique economic privilege in the entire Ireland / Britain / EU Venn diagram), might actually work.  If it did, that means that Unionism would have to accept that *there are economic advantages to being semi-detached from GB*.  And that would never do.  Hence the cynical, desperate and manufactured nature of the current hyped-up “instability”.

It’s that hard core bible “revival” mentality.  The faithful must be stirred up now and again, to guard against any outbreaks of tolerance, and against any insidious normalisation of impure constitutional positions: “Hey, you – LUNDY!”

The <dinosaur-denying>, Trump-loving DUP is “predicting” instability – the instability that they alone are hell-bent on causing.

DUP MPs fly the flag for Trump outside Westminster

Locally, 85% of (Irish) Nationalists / Republicans voted Remain; and 40% of (British) Unionists voted Remain.  The NI branch of the Confederation of British Industry, and the Unionist Ulster Farmers’ Union, neither what you might describe as hotbeds of sedition, all wanted a customs union.

The DUP and their cranky fellow travellers (Jim Allister of the “Traditional Unionist Voice” one-man party, Kate Hoey et al) represent a minority of economically-illiterate malcontents, yet, from the coverage, you’d swear they represented the majority of people in the North.

They do not; and there is no logic to their position.  What do you expect?  Trump is one of their heroes – don’t expect too much depth.  

Viewed from a business / bottom-line perspective, the 4 best positions for the North, in decreasing order of advantage, are as follows:

1. Full joint access to EU & GB markets – open borders to both,
excellent, privileged position
2. Remain in EU – very good position
3. NI Protocol – porous border to both – OK position.
4. Hard economic border with the EU – rubbish position.

The DUP is pressing for 4, naturally.

However, in terms of making the best of a bad job, option 3, the Protocol, still has plenty to commend it. I hate Brexit, and I want to see a United States of Europe – but, like most Nationalists and Republicans, we’re pragmatists, and we’ll happily make the best of a bad job.

Here’s the hidden upside, the upside that the DUP is desperate to deflect English (or any outside) attention away from:

The potential upside of the [Protocol] deal for Northern Ireland is apparent every day as British newspapers carry stories of the difficulties for many small British manufacturers in supplying the EU market. Many of the stories are about how these firms are having to open subsidiaries in France or Germany to continue to supply their customers.

Establishing subsidiaries in a new country is expensive, requiring the registration of a new legal company, complying with foreign regulations, and tax rules. However, if they opened a branch in Northern Ireland, they would face none of these costs and would be able to simultaneously supply all their customers in both Britain and the EU.

The problem is that nobody in Northern Ireland is selling this option.  To persuade a small firm in Colchester, supplying parts to the car industry in Britain and the EU, that the North is the answer, they will need to be convinced that the protocol is a permanent fixture.  The DUP would find such a sales pitch difficul

See <article>.  

That’s a level-headed, pragmatic view.  Yet anyone in Britain or in mainland Europe could be forgiven for thinking that the North of Ireland was “doomed” as a result of Brexit, since that’s the only narrative in town.

And it’s b/s.

In reality, we’ve done rather better out of Brexit than the English.

True to form though, desperate to be as “British” as possible (in DUP land, only the English are British, and only the right kind of right-wing English are “truly British”, and they must always copy them slavishly, even if that involves jumping off an economic cliff together), the DUP are intent on snatching defeat out of the jaws of a limited victory.

The DUP mentality reminds me of a battered spouse who, to the dismay of social workers and police, keeps returning to the abuser to receive further batterings.

Unfortunately for this issue, all the sensible people in the North generally are divided along Irish / British lines.  On the Irish side, Sinn Féin and SDLP, on the sensible Unionist side, Alliance and the hidden moderate Unionist vote; they have no history of cooperation, and no obvious way to come together on this one issue and to prevent the DUP ideologues from setting a self-destructive agenda.

As a result, the loo-la DUP has the freedom of the media / political stage, and, despite being a minority voice, they’re free to set an agenda that completely fails to represent most people living here and which is, by any hard headed measure, utterly inimical to our shared economic future.

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