What a fool I was! I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into Power, writes Seán Hickey in this guest post for irishborderpoll.com.
The reason why Edward Carson’s famous 1921 speech hangs so prominently in the mind of Irish politicos is that, after 100 years of partition, Ulster unionists are as much a pawn in Westminster parlour games as they were in his day.
The oft-misquoted Carson was in this speech expressing his anger at the lack of consideration given to Irish (particularly Ulster) unionists in negotiations around and the passing of the Home Rule Bill. The lightbulb moment was one of defiance against the politicisation of the national and cultural identity of his followers, not a realisation that remaining part of the UK was a mistake.
This week the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and EU chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič met to iron out issues with the Northern Ireland protocol. Issues initially flagged by the DUP and hardline ERG types like David Frost, who negotiated the Protocol, and Steve Baker, who has now turned his back on both to have as gentle a time in the Northern Ireland Office as possible.
Alas the UK government found itself fighting a battle it wasn’t too interested in, against the folk that read through the whole façade. The unmotivated force meets the immovable object.
Demands from those claiming to be spokespeople for unionists have been to install a border in Ireland, which was removed as a possibility nearly five years ago. The UK government danced to the tune during the Truss era, only to now stop nodding its head and start staring blankly back at the very activists that put their faith in the Tories back in 2017.
Whispers around the UK-EU negotiations have hinted at a continuation of the Irish Sea border – a red line for the DUP when they brought down Stormont in 2022. Cleverly and Šefčovič have also reportedly been crossing the t’s on plans for the UK to share computer data on goods travelling to the north from Britain, seemingly to speed up checks at ports.
It doesn’t take a policy analyst to notice that neither of these proposals is catering to the requests of the so-called spokespeople of the PUL community. The DUP and their friends, few as they are, are nervous. They can see the writing on the wall – the British government is about to leave them in the cold, again.
The general public in Britain aren’t surprised. The political sphere are not surprised. The Irish public aren’t surprised. The only people knocked for six arethose who again and again throw all their chips on red, white and blue and trust the Tories to not betray them this time.
The PUL community deserve better than representatives who prop up those who don’t care whether they’re in or out of the union. The Ulster Scots identity lives on whether NI is in the UK or not. A greater say in a united Ireland government is surely a better option for the PUL community than being the afterthought of successive British governments.
Seán Hickey is a journalist based in London. Academically he has worked on research related to media theory and power, post-colonialism and Irish politics. His main research interest is in the dynamics of Irish Unity planning and debates.