Is the PUL ready to engage in a debate about Irish Unity?

This article by Eoin Ó Murchu was first published in the 16 September 2023 issue of the Irish Communist Party’s weekly publication, Unity.

IS Wallace Thompson’s comment that a New Ireland is now inevitable and that Unionists should get in on the discussion a portent of things to come or just an individual aberration?

Thompson is no insignificant individual, but a founder member and longtime activist of the DUP and a close confidant of former leader Ian Paisley. 

He was closely involved in advising Paisley during the negotiations at St Andrews in 2006 which saw the emergence of the Paisley-McGuinness leadership of the Northern Ireland Executive.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Thompson said that Unionists must recognise that the “emperor has no clothes,” that some form of a New Ireland is now inevitable and that Unionists can’t close their eyes and pretend there’s no problem.

Thompson said that he was wary of honeyed words, and was concerned that in a New Ireland, of whatever kind might emerge, that the Unionist identity and culture be fully acknowledged, respected and defended.

But the most significant part of his comment was his awareness that Unionists cannot stop the move to a New Ireland merely by refusing to participate, and that non-participation will in fact ensure that Unionists have no role in shaping the new Ireland and will just have to put up with whatever is presented by others.

It is crystal clear now that the British Government cannot be looked to to guarantee Unionist interests, and that if Unionists don’t speak up for themselves no one else will.

Britain has more important interests in developing its relationships with Ireland as a whole, and internationally with both the EU and the USA, and Unionism will not be allowed to upset that.

This was made clear by the Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, in the British House of Commons when he pointedly told Unionists that they have to make the best of whatever options are there. 

The Unionist parties’ preferred option is not one that Britain is making available. 

The Irish Sea Border will stay, though in a more workable form under the Windsor Protocol; but stay it will.

It seems that it is this long list of abandonments by the British Government that have persuaded Wallace Thompson that Unionism has to find another way forward.

Certainly, there will be no doing back to the days of second class citizenship for nationalists. 

But where is the future of the PUL community to be found?

As time goes by, and the demographic change takes more and more effect, the bargaining power of Unionists gets weaker. 

Now is the time to engage in debate when such engagement is still necessary.

And what should the PUL look for?

Ending discrimination against Catholics must not be replaced by lowering the status of the PUL.

And if we want to see what that could mean, then Claire Mitchell, a Queens socialist from the Protestant democratic tradition has made it clear in an article in the Irish News.

In her tradition dissent and the acceptability of disagreeing with received opinion is central.  And this, she argues, is combined with an emphasis on practical democracy.

Nationalists may well argue that this ‘democracy’ was confined to its own community only, but there is a strong democratic tradition in Protestant culture as evidenced by the way that in many churches it is the congregations that choose the ministers.

Mitchell also boasts proudly not just of the tradition of political democracy, developed by the United Irishmen in 1798 – overwhelmingly a Protestant experience – but also the strong role played by Protestants against the slave trade, for the Chartists and for Tenants’ Rights.

There is much, she argues, to be proud of, and much that Protestants can bring to the table to enrich the debate and to help develop a truly vibrant equal Irish democracy.

Sinn Féin does make some efforts in this direction, but these efforts are mainly directed to the royalist fringes of the PUL.

There is no effort to reach out to understand Brexit as a demand for the empowerment of the people of Ireland, as SF remains under the delusion that the attraction of the EU will swing enough Protestant voters over to ensure Unity.

The Unity that Mitchell talks about is a democratic one, and, as the Irish Communist Party insists, is not one that is compatible with subordination to the diktats of the unelected European Commission.

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