‘Does moderate Unionism exist?’ – Asks Colm Dore

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Maybe Mike Nesbitt is playing a smart game of chess. Or maybe he can’t even visualise toppling dominoes. He’s the enigmatic (flip-flopping?) ‘moderate’ who takes a hard-line to “shrink to grow” his party.

Maybe he correctly assesses that there is no large ‘moderate’ Unionist constituency which wants to share power with SF, and which is receptive to sharing NI public life with the nationalist identity.

Nationalists feel, from anecdotal experience, that such a body of moderate Unionists surely exists – but where is it manifested in terms of political parties? Should nationalists address the possibility that‘moderate’ unionism is a myth?

Mike’s colossal rookie blunder is to storm out of the Executive on the wrong pretext.

He could have easily withdrawn on the basis of Stormont’s institutional dysfunction. Mike might even have gotten credit for shaking up the stagnation.

Instead, he swerved headlong into Jim Allister territory, exploiting fears of the Republican bogey-man. This is massively more disruptive to our politics when done by a ‘moderate’ than when done by those more easily dismissed as extremists. When a ‘moderate’ does it, it yanks at the fabric of the Agreement.

It may be a blunder of historic proportions, unleashing forces which have profound consequences. It foolishly recharges Unionism’s existential question: whether to share power with the other side.

Tellingly, Unionist parties justify doing so on the basis that it’s a necessary evil. They say to Jim Allister that it’s just unrealistic to ignore SF’s mandate. Paisley got his party over the line by selling it as the least worst option, the alternative being Direct Rule with growing Dublin influence. As it turned out, he became friends with Martin McGuinness, appearing to have a Damascene conversion to sharing with the Other.

Who else in the DUP can that be said of? Perhaps something of the sort is true of Robinson, if only for rationalised, strategic, purposes. Hence his Autumn 2012 Iveagh House speech, proclaiming expansive unionism. Hence, too, his characteristic snarl at “lemmings” in his party.

Similarly, Sammy Wilson’s charge that Mike’s move is more an attack on the DUP than on SF recalls John Redmond’s remark that the Easter Rising was more an attack on his Irish Parliamentary Party than on the British.

Pious claims that this crisis is a principled stand against violence are untenable. A reasonable word limit precludes exposition of Unionist parties’ hypocrisy on violence. That hypocrisy results from the slanted foundation stone of Northern Ireland: the mind-set that Catholic lives matter less. It follows that loyalist violence matters less.

The most recent manifestation of this is our First Minister’s intervention to lobby a judge for leniency for a UDA suspect. Is it conceivable he would likewise lobby for a republican suspect?

If the DUP can’t withstand the gathering drumbeat of Lundy accusations, on what basis, and by what mechanism, could Unionism later say it trusts the other side?

Why would SF accept being bound by a reconstituted IMC.How could they if the IRA doesn’t exist?

Does Mike care whether stoking anti-GFA Unionism also strengthens the argument of Anti-GFA republicans?
Demonization of SF is gleefully seized upon by Dublin establishment parties who play dirty “senior hurling”, with secondary regard to the impact on the North. They should be careful what they wish for: another term of Dáil opposition might benefit SF.

Interestingly, the Twitter accounts of Anti-Agreement loyalists bristle with approval of Dublin newspapers, some of whom have a “my enemy’s enemy” relationship with Anti-GFA republicans.

At Twaddell, the PUP has shown its willingness to be ruthless in pursuit of an electoral foothold. They have pronounced the current crisis a “fatal blow” to SF fitness for government. Their grassroots aspect sharpens their accusations of DUP venality.

If nationalists consider SF to be unfairly punished, they may boost its support, at the expense of the SDLP. It may be a hardening Sinn Fein, disillusioned with overtures to Unionism.

If the two communal blocs thus solidify, how can that benefit the UUP? (Of course, Mike insists this is all for “country not party”.) The best Mike can hope for is Robinson’s scalp. In the longer term, the UUP cannot out-DUP the DUP.

Dominoes are wobbling, and nobody knows where Mike’s existential blunder will lead. Whatever about the IRA, Sinn Fein, and the imperative of sharing with Irish nationalism,will definitely not go away.

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About Author

Colm Dore born in Belfast studied in University College Dublin. He is currently studying law with a view to pursuing it as a career.


  1. when the uup could not bring itself to share power with the pro british sdlp who will they share power with billy Hutchinson the orange order ? they could not get rid of Hume and Mallon fast enough , so for me there is no such thing as a moderate unionist they are all bigots but let them know their wee orange state is gone never to return !!

    • Please explain what is bigoted about refusing to share power with IRA/SF terrorists. What unionists can’t understand is how nationalist people can vote for IRA/SF, what does that say about their mindset? I suggest it is much worse than bigotry.
      Nevertheless, 25% of the vote should not guarantee SF a place in government (Labour are in opposition with 30%)

      • Tom, there is no such political party as IRA/SF which Nationalists can vote for so your question is illogical.

        The majority of Nationalist people on the Island probably vote for Sinn Fein and the more people like you Tom, continue to try and denigrate them and the Nationalist electorate who vote for them then the stronger they will become.

        Even ordinary Nationalists find the use your term IRA/SF offensive, fortunately however its use nowadays is normally confined to those of a more bigoted mindset.

  2. Let Cllr Jamie Bryson lead, he has all the answers and his mammy can proof read all his rants….oops I mean speeches before he posts them on his blog, I think its time for the British and Irish governments to set up a NI government without Sinn Fein and the DUP, We have the Greens, SDLP and Alliance as well as various independents who could do a better job than the clowns up there.

  3. In Mel Brooks’ comedy film Blazing Saddles the black sheriff escapes being lynched by the bigoted townsfolk by putting his six-gun to his head and threatening to blow his brains out if the bigots don’t back off. The bigots back off. Mike Nesbitt is essentialy using the same tactic as the black sheriff. Are the DUP bigots dumb enough to fall for it__ surely not __ think of such renowned DUP intellectuals as Gregory Campbell and Nigel Dobbs and Sammy Wilson…On second thoughts, maybe you should think of the Three Stooges!

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