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Merge Ahead?

Dr John Coulter maintains that if the Ulster Unionists get another electoral hammering in May from the Paisleyites, they should merge with the DUP to form a single, movement simply called The Unionist Party.

Dr John Coulter • 10 January 2005

Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists share a common historical landmark this year - the centenary of their foundation.

For Sinn Fein, marking 28th November 1905, could see the party return to its glory days of the 1918 General Election when it won 73 seats across the island, making it the most powerful movement in post World War One Ireland.

For the UUP, it will want to ensure the founding of its ruling body, the Ulster Unionist Council, on 3rd March 1905, becomes a springboard to combat the Paisleyite electoral bandwagon, otherwise the planned summer celebrations could turn into a wake.

History has already had the 100 years' war. What the UUP will want to avoid after the May elections is the slur of being the 100-year party.

The Unionist electorate has not been kind to the UUP since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. A gentle downward slide in the number of UUP seats has now become an almost uncontrollable downhill tumble.

May's council elections could again see the Ulster Unionists falling prey to a seemingly rampant Paisleyite electoral machine. Not only has the DUP stolen the Ulster Unionists' clothes and policies, but it is clear Paisleyism is set to take as many UUP seats in local government and Westminster as possible.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde's assertion the Provisionals were responsible for the multi-million pound Northern Bank heist has given the Paisleyites all the ammunition they require to 'park' the peace process until after the May local government elections.

With the Westminster General Election expected the same month, the UUP could find itself celebrating its founding on the same Commons standing as the late North Down MP, Sir James Kilfedder, who was leader - and sole MP - for the now defunct Ulster Popular Unionist Party.

The UUP faces the very real electoral nightmare that following the next General Election, it could be left with only one seat, compared to the DUP's 10.

Just as the SDLP is also facing the prospect of having to merge with Fianna Fail after May to survive, so too, the time has come for the Ulster Unionists to structurally merge with the DUP to form a single, clearly Right-of-centre political movement simply known as The Unionist Party.

Such a single party should also be capable of swallowing up the working class loyalist votes presently held by the Progressive Unionists (the movement closest to the thinking of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando) as well as the Ulster Political Research Group (the organisation which gives political advice to the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters).

To work - and succeed practically and electorally - The Unionist Party must be more structurally cohesive than the loose working arrangement in 1974 amongst the anti-Sunningdale parties known as the United Ulster Unionist Council, or Unionist Coalition.

The Unionist Party is not an electoral pact, or a coalition or council - it is a single party, just as Sinn Fein has become the single biggest party for republicans in the North.

However, the present worry for Ulster Unionists is far more serious - are there those within their ranks who are deliberately planning the party's demise so it can eventually merge with a post-Paisley DUP to form this single, radical Right-wing Unionist Party?

The present group of plotters - believed to include disillusioned Trimbleistas as well as committed dissidents who remained after the departure of the Jeffrey Donaldson media circus - see the need for a further electoral hammering before they can effectively dump Trimble as leader.

Although Trimble survived numerous coup attempts whilst Jeffrey's clique was highly active in the party, Donaldson's departure a year ago left the pro-Agreement leadership with a significant majority of delegates in the 800-member UUC.

Many pro-Agreement Ulster Unionists are worried the party could go the same way as the late Brian Faulkner's pro-Assembly unionist grouping, which eventually became the now defunct Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

Now that the DUP has captured a massive chunk of the traditional Ulster Unionist middle class vote, life-long UUP activists see the only chance of long-term survival as a merger with the Paisley party.

But they realise this will never happen under the Trimble leadership, or with Paisley in charge of the DUP. There are suggestions this group of UUP plotters is deliberately ensuring the party selects low-profile candidates for the forthcoming Westminster final showdown with the DUP for the handful of remaining Ulster Unionist seats.

What the Trimble leadership is privately worried about - how many more low-profile candidates will be selected for Westminster and council battles?

Leading lights Daphne Trimble - wife of the party leader - and former Junior Minister Assemblyman Dermot Nesbitt failed to win nominations in Lagan Valley and Strangford respectively, thereby ensuring both seats will remain in DUP control.

The plotters will also be quietly urging the party to put all its electoral efforts into East Belfast to help another former minister Reg Empey's campaign to beat DUP deputy boss Peter Robinson.

Empey is seen as Trimble's clear successor if the party crashes and burns in May's expected council and General elections. They equally believe a post-Paisley DUP led by Nigel Dodds could naturally merge with an Empey-led UUP rump of a few dozen councillors dotted across the North and only two MPs.

The merger of the DUP and the Ulster Unionists would see Dodds as The Unionist Party's leader, with Empey as its deputy leader. For such a theory to become a practical reality, the retirement or death of Dr Ian Paisley would need to be accompanied by the present religious fundamentalist faction losing control of the DUP.

Whilst Dodds winning a future leadership battle in the DUP would give a clear signal for a merger with the UUP, could a merger even take place if Robinson or the DUP's rising star - MEP Jim Allister - succeeded Dr Paisley?

To keep its mind off the unfolding merger plot, the UUP has unveiled the events from 4th to 6th March to mark its centenary.

These include a banquet at Belfast City Hall's Great Hall, a service of thanksgiving in Belfast Cathedral, as well as the centenary AGM on Saturday 5th March - the closest date to the actual formation.

The party has also commissioned a history to be penned by former Belfast Lord Mayor and Assembly member, the historian Dr Ian Adamson. Two major summertime events are being planned by North Down Assemblyman Alan McFarland and Lord Maginnis, the former Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP.

What the UUP must avoid at all costs is that the banquet does not become a Last Supper for a party about to be electorally crucified, and the thanksgiving service a Requiem Mass for a movement soon to be politically dead.

A merger with the UUP could enable the Paisley party to rid itself of the Free Presbyterian fundamentalist clique, whilst at the same time, it would enable the Ulster Unionists to dump the Orange Order baggage which has bedeviled the Ulster Unionist Council since the Drumcree parades saga grew nasty in the late 1990s.



 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



10 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

SF - Securocrat Fantasists
Anthony McIntyre

Pegged
Mick Hall

Merge Ahead?
Dr John Coulter

DPP Cover-up RUC/PSNI Malpractice Yet Again
32 CSM Press Release

RSF Are The Sole Inheritors of the Sinn Fein Mantle
Des Dalton, RSF

Óglaigh na hÉireann New Year Statement 2005

The Caged Men
Ruairi O'Driscoll

Changing Fortunes
Anthony McIntyre


7 January 2005

Northern Bank - Open All Day Monday
Anthony McIntyre

2005: New Year's Statement from the 32 County Sovereignty Movement
Francis Mackey

In the Underworld with the Trigger Men
Sean Mc Aughey

Racism as a Prelude to War Crimes
Ghali Hassan

Palestinian Elections: Charting the Future of Palestine
Haithem El-Zabri

 

 

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