‘The British Government: Blackmailing The Unionists’ by Donal Lavery

The recent film about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, like all historical films, is littered with historical inaccuracies – anyone with a faint hint of knowledge about the Saint Andrew’s era agreement will know that. But what surprised me about it was the tenacity with which it propagates the narrative that somehow the DUP leader and his followers experienced a classic road to Damascus-type conversion towards power-sharing with the people he vowed to destroy. For let’s  be clear about something, it was the republican campaign which forced the British Government to exert sufficient pressure on the right-wing in the North to accept the expressed wishes of the Irish people regarding the peace accords and institutions; Not the benevolence of the party who’s actions are now actively wrecking them.

To assume Paisley reached this accommodation with the nationalist community on his own would be like regarding F. W. de Klerk and the Afrikaners as part and parcel of the anti-apartheid struggle – when they only conceded its collapse after the ANC campaign and damaging international sanctions. I’m not asking you to take my word for it, because I am not neutral – I want to see “Northern Ireland”, which is here today, to be gone tomorrow. But all you have to do is watch the archive footage of Paisley in his Stephen Nolan interview after becoming Joint First Minister. In that interview, Nolan pressed Paisley on how he could reconcile all his past stances with the practical realities of having to share power with those he was engaged in a war against. The man who once told of Priests and Nuns handing out machine guns at chapel gates.

What struck me about it and I give him full credit for this, was his outright honesty in reply. He didn’t try to disguise the fact that the British Government, which Unionists are never done expressing their loyalty to, actually threatened him openly and his negotiating team. He went on to say that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his Secretary of State were working alongside Sinn Fein and the Irish Government, all of whom had devised a “Plan B” (his term) for Joint Authority over the North between London and Dublin, in the event that he stuck to his proverbial “guns” in trying to wreck the peace agreements.

He warned, like a prophet from an Old Testament text, that it was either total power-sharing or total oblivion – Ulster would be “heading for a sell out and eventual reunification.” Now in saying that, I admired Ian Paisley’s example while he was First Minister, he genuinely did try to reach out and build bridges in the spirit of neighbourliness. He knew that all of the people on this island have a destiny that is tied up with one another’s. Using the example of Lord Craigavon, he spoke of how the former Unionist stalwart had direct and amicable dealings with the IRA under Michael Collins back in his day and how Sir James Craig eventually admitted partition to be temporary. I believe that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness should also have received Nobel Peace Prizes, as they knew the sort of criticism and hostility some people (the TUV and dissident splinter groups) in their own traditions would throw at them for reaching an honourable compromise for the time being – without disregarding the past, they focused on the present.

But I also know that the “Big Man” himself was consciously aware that the republican campaign, particularly against economic assets to Britain (Canary Wharf?), had forced the hand of the British Government to impose a total settlement on the Unionists. If it hadn’t, then why did they not just come to a successful and enduring agreement with the SDLP in the 70’s and 80’s via “parliamentary means”? Even if you take Sunningdale, which was a manifest failure in terms of key reforms (like policing and justice), the British Prime Minister Ted Heath states in his memoirs that it only came about because republicanism was costing Britain too much money and international exposure.

These are difficult things for Unionist people to swallow. I’m not trying to rub their noses in it, and we will never agree on the past; or that the methods of resistance by the oppressed are decided by the oppressors. But they have a lot to learn from Ian Paisley’s example – here was a man who put working class people into politics, rallying them around common cause; here was a man who helped any Catholic or nationalist that turned up at his office; and here was a man who eventually showed the grit and good humour to lead with gentlemanly courtesy with someone he had never before spoken to. In his own words, he once told McGuinness, “Martin, we don’t need all those English people coming over here and telling us how to run the North or how to represent our people’s interests.” And that’s what Unionism lacks at present – someone to rise to the challenge by building on his work and helping to reconcile the two traditions as one society on this island.

I’m not mocking the DUP, because I think there are many very talented and able people within it. Ian Paisley Junior is someone who can reach out and lead by example. I’ve said many times that there are some figures who would make highly effective Ministers in an Irish Government which respects them, instead of being on the fringes of a British Parliament which ignores them. But time and time again they have found that the administration (in London) they vow allegiance to has been all too willing to betray or barter them when expediency demands.

9 Responses to ‘The British Government: Blackmailing The Unionists’ by Donal Lavery

  1. fiosrach May 31, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    I don’t know about the British government ignoring them, Jude. Since this little Gibraltar was set up, the Privy Council in Westminster has been liberally speckled with Orange unionists far beyond their proportionality. But as we sit this wearying distraction of a British election out, it is comforting to know that either we have Acht na Gaeilge or no more Stormont. Win win.

  2. David MacGille-Mhuire May 31, 2017 at 11:31 am #

    From Alba to fiosrach
    Fraternal best wishes to an Ireland soon to be re-united from a Scotland soon to be re-independent.


    • fiosrach May 31, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      Céad fáilte isteach, a Dhaibhidh. Power to the Celtic fringe.

  3. basqueceltic May 31, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

    Really cant come too soon,an Ireland of equals.Slainte/Cheers.

  4. Eolach May 31, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    Are there contacts and alignments being forged by Unionists behind their outwardly British facade ….. Unionism knows their future has already been decided outside ” Britain “.They know that in a few years Scotland will have dissolved the union , England will probably be small and insignificant and unimportant in world affairs and we’ll be just finding our feet in a new Ireland…. I believe that they have already made the overtures….. they maybe a lot of things, but they’re not stupid, ….they’re shrewd enough to have analysed the situation and secured a niche for themselves for the future.

  5. Ernesider May 31, 2017 at 7:28 pm #


    “they’re shrewd enough to have analysed the situation and secured a niche for themselves for the future.”

    Not trying to be smart, but who are “they” ..?? The decision makers with the necessary leadership qualities to bring enough of the hate filled bigots to the light of common sense and reason …??

  6. Stephen Kelly May 31, 2017 at 8:35 pm #

    Ernesider That’s exactly what i was thinking when i read what Eolach wrote. The people of the DUP are serious serious bigots and haters of all things catholic nationalist and republican, it will always warp their judgement.Many different things stick in your memory but the grin on Paul Givan’s face when he announced no to the money for the Liofa bursary scheme two days before Christmas turned my stomach. HO HO HO Happy Christmas little Catholics take that from your masters, what do you think Arlene, Sammy, Dodsie, Gregory, good one eh, think they will take it in the Christmas spirit eh HO HO HO.

  7. giordanobruno May 31, 2017 at 8:40 pm #

    There seems to be quite a few hate filled bigots on both sides if the tone of comments here is anything to go by.

    • Ceannaire June 1, 2017 at 12:10 am #

      Of course there are hate filled bigots on both sides, Gio. That is self evident. It doesn’t absolve one side or the other – and I’m not saying you are suggesting that.

      But what else should we expect? This happens everywhere – but even more so here, in that the area we are talking about was established and based on sectarianism. The area and people were chosen as a result of sectarianism – the greater amount of one religion in the greatest amount of area that was viable. This was its ethos for the majority of its existence.

      That will inevitably create people who are sectarian and bigoted. While that is individually their fault, it is no wonder, considering our history, that will be the result.

      Sad but true.