I wonder how it feels to be a unionist these days. There was a time when, at the mention of a united Ireland, unionists (and a considerable swathe of ‘nationalists’) recoiled in horror or dissolved in laughter. There were even ‘nationalist’ politicians in the south who called on Sinn Féin and others to get real, focus on the bread-and-batter issues, scrap irrelevant talk of a united Ireland. But what was once seen as a binary choice – bread and butter versus a united Ireland – has quite suddenly become one and the same thing. And this has happened, compliments of our new friend Mr Brexit.
As I write this I’m listening to Alex Kane and Alison Morris on The Nolan Show, discussing the latest ballistic missile to hit the DUP. This time it comes from Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Lib Dems and former British army officer. He says that if he was living here, he’d be looking seriously at what a united Ireland has to offer. What was once the unthinkable has now become the everyday topic for discussion.
The introduction of abortion and before that gay marriage in the south are sending reverberations well beyond southern society. We didn’t need a piece of cardboard with the statement/threat ‘The North is next’ to tell us that our little NEN is becoming more and more out of step with…well, everybody. You mightn’t approve of all the game-changing matters, but that doesn’t stop them being game-changers. The British were just digesting the thranness of their life-support tube, the DUP, when wham/bang, things happen which make the DUP look even more out of touch. We know they’re out of touch with the rest of the NEN’s population on Brexit – you can’t argue with a 56% – 44% vote– but now they look out of touch on social matters as well. They’re certainly out of touch with the young people who voted in huge numbers for gay marriage and abortion. And you may be sure that, like it or not, young northerners will largely take a similar view. So that’s Brexit and social matters the DUP look very right-wing and antiquated on. Add the changing demographic picture in the north and it’s beginning to look more a case of when a united Ireland will come rather than if.
We may sometimes not like what History delivers, but being on the wrong side of history can be painful. Instead of finding ways to be on its right side, the DUP prefer to mock opponents, pat themselves on the back for having got the role of king-maker at Westminster, and whistle ‘The Sash’ while dusting off their bowler hats for the Twelfth. A wind of change is rattling around the DUP ears and they are so insulated, they hear nothing.