Quite a week for United Irelanders
Leo. Colum. Wallace. Duncan.
Members of Ireland’s latest boy band?
Not quite, but this quartet have been singing mellifluously from the same hymn sheet this past week.
Political leaders, Varadkar and Eastwood, trilling a new-found enthusiasm for Irish unity.
But the stand-out performance – the lead solo – came courtesy of DUP founding member, Wallace Thompson. A former adviser to Nigel Dodds, his intervention was nothing short of spectacular.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the veteran Orangeman and evangelical Protestant (who cheerily contends that the Pope is the ‘anti-Christ’ while claiming to have ‘many Roman Catholic friends’) says there is ‘an inevitability in my mind’ that ‘we are moving towards some form of new Ireland.’
The problem for unionists, he argues, is that ‘we’re in denial; constant denial.’
He doesn’t want ‘absorption’ into a united Ireland but is willing to positively engage with constitutional change and remains, seemingly, pragmatic about what form that might take.
His remarks are both a powerful riposte to unionism’s Canute-like tendency – drawing inward against the elemental forces now ranged against it – and proof positive that there are, in quiet corners, thinking people who want to lead their community to an honourable settlement.
But Wallace’s wasn’t the only voice wading into the unity debate last week.
Speaking to RTÉ last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that ‘we are on the path to unification,’ adding that he expects this to take place ‘in my lifetime.’
Previously, Varadkar has blown hot and cold on the whole issue, but as Taoiseach his words are given an immediate significance.
Then we had SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood. Recycling the same language, he also predicted that we are ‘on the path to unification,’ remarking that Dublin is now ‘moving into the space of planning for it.’ Colum went further than Leo, however, in predicting we would see a unity referendum within seven years.
Oh, and then there’s Duncan.
Duncan Jones, son of the late, great David Bowie and a celebrated film director in his own right.
Retweeting a BBC story about Varadkar’s remarks, he added: ‘I wish that island nothing but peace and contentment. After what they’ve endured over the centuries, they deserve it.’ (His Irish great-grandparents would doubtless approve).
‘On the path.’
‘Moving into the space.’
Language matters in politics and once you accept Irish unity is a dead cert – as a DUP stalwart, the Irish premier and the leader of the SDLP have done in the past few days – even if there are quibbles about the exact course of the journey and the timescale – then the thinking automatically turns a notch, and the debate switches to what preparations are necessary.
It gets very hard to then resile from comments like Varadkar’s and Eastwood’s.
I argued in my book ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About’ that the debate needed to be ‘de-Shinnerised.’ Not a jab at Sinn Fein, but merely a recognition that one party cannot carry the weight of constitutional change alone.
Hopefully, this is now happening, with other Irish political parties taking ownership of the issue.
As for Wallace Thompson, well, by his own admission, he is not alone in drawing the conclusions he has. Granted, there is little point being a jobbing unionist politician if you don’t speak-up for the status quo, but neither is there much point in pointlessly dying on a hill for a lost cause.
I suspect we will hear similar thoughts from other unionists as the debate progresses.