I was reversing my car the other day and craning my neck over my right shoulder to check how close I was to the kerb, when I had a terrible thought that I was about to scrape the car in front . So I whipped my head around and gave myself a ferocious crick in my neck.
That’s what happens when you try to look two ways at once, which is why I’ m concerned for the DUP. At their conference last weekend, Nigel Dodd was explaining the political situation to those who hadn’t been keeping up with events.
“Republicanism has failed. Nationalism is struggling to keep the notion of a united Ireland on the political agenda. The IRA has been defeated… people in Sinn Fein try to pretend that their project of a united Ireland is still on track. But they are failures and they know they are failures.”
Got that OK? Pretty well half the population of this arthritic little corner of the island are failures. United Ireland? Total rubbish – it’s been defeated, and sure wasn’t Fr Timothy Bartlett there in the front row at the DUP conference, further proof that Catholics are more than comfortable under the wing of Mother Britain? Not very hygienic, granted. Cosy, though.
But hold. What’s this I hear? Peter Robinson telling us in his speech that unionism is at its weakest when it’s exclusionary, at its strongest when it’s inclusionary. And what’s this again? Peter Robinson at an “All Island” school choir competition last night, listening to a Cork choir singing in Irish. And a Sligo choir and a Dublin choir. Oh, right – and a Belfast choir.
What is this – bad copy/good cop? A party that encourages street demonstrations to denounce the “tearing down of our flag” or a party that really likes house-trained Catholic clergy and can’t wait to bring out the sign-up book for all those Catholics who’ve finally seen the light?
As I cautiously tested my neck this morning, I thought of the DUP. And of Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock, who wrote about a man who flung himself on his horse and road madly off in all directions. There’s nothing more deserving of sympathy than a party that doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.