I like the Rev John Dunlop. There’s a solidity and gruff charm to him that’s attractive, and he’s not afraid to express his thinking, regardless of others. That said, there have been at least two occasions where I’ve felt he’s batted a bit short of his own high standards.
One was a number of years ago, when we were both on a radio discussion. The topic was the Orange Order, and I expressed my conviction that the Orange Order is a sectarian organisation. John’s response was immediate: “Well, I think that remark says more about you than about it”. As a put-down it was good; as a rational response it was pointless. I gathered that he thought I was talking tripe and that he thought less of me for it. But his answer gave me – or the listeners – no clue as to why my statement was tripe, or how for me to utter it was to diminish myself. In short, I felt he was defending the Orange Order with a verbal sleight of hand that avoided the truth.
The second occasion was yesterday morning on Sunday Sequence. The topic was Scottish independence and John was on with a fellow-Presbyterian from the Iona Institute, with John arguing the case for Scotland staying as it is and the other man arguing in favour of a Yes-vote. Part of John’s argument was that a United Kingdom without Scotland would mean even greater domination of what was left by England, and that England was dominant enough as things stand. In support of this, he cited how at international rugby games, God Save The Queen gets played for the English team. This was wrong, John said. God Save The Queen was the national anthem of all of us in the United Kingdom – it shouldn’t be played as the anthem of one country in that union. The presenter Mark Patterson – William Crawley is off at present – asked him what about Windsor Park: under the argument John had advanced, God Save The Queen shouldn’t be played before Northern Ireland games at Windsor, since Northern Ireland is only a part of the UK – right? John at first affected to be baffled by the question; when it was put to him a second time he got flustered and said he was talking about Twickenham, what was the sense in moving the topic to Windsor Park?
But of course the parallel was exact. If one part of the UK (England) should not appropriate God Save The Queen as its national anthem, then another part of the UK (Northern Ireland) likewise shouldn’t appropriate God Save the Queen as its national anthem. But if John had answered the presenter’s question and responded that he didn’t think God Save The Queen should be played at Windsor Park for Northern Ireland games, there would have been a knee-jerk reaction of “They’re taking away our culture and John Dunlop is helping them!” Rather that face up to the truth and the storm which might have ensued, John stuttered and pretended not to understand what was being asked. Of course he understood. Of course he ducked it.
I suppose none of us is constantly fearless or constantly truthful, so maybe we shouldn’t be too critical of John. But unfortunately, the more striking your reputation for honesty and forthrightness, the more obvious any lapse from those high standards.