The News Letter is fascinating in many ways, not least because of the importance that it assumes, and that the wider media grant it, in setting the ideological agenda for unionism. Actually, its interest in more recent years has been more in its symptomatic nature than in the conscious influence it wields. After a long period of staunch support for Trimble appeared to have put the paper on a hiding to nothing, new editor Darwin Templeton set about revitalising the paper by trying to turn it into the DUP’s house journal. In the runup to the Stormont election, when Big Ian was promising a battle a day in the Executive, the News Letter’s coverage reached such a peak of slavish Paisleyolatry that even the North Koreans might have found it a little over the top.
Since then, of course, the Chuckle Brothers have become ensconced at Stormont and there hasn’t been a battle a day, or anything like it, despite Nigel Dodds being more than usually grumpy. As a result, the News Letter has been vacillating between support for Papa Doc and puffing up the attempts by Jim Allister to form a new dissident unionist party. It’s as if Darwin doesn’t know which way to turn.
But that isn’t the most interesting thing in today’s News Letter. The most interesting thing, which gets a huge front page splash, is an address to the Official Unionists by legendary pundit, polymath, newly appointed Saorstát senator and friend of this blog Eoghan Harris. As you might expect, Eoghan was on good form – he’s not quite the polemicist of his Marxist-Leninist days, but he does give you plenty to chew on. Here I’ll just chew on some of the highlights:
What I am going to suggest will I am sure outrage many of you – it’s the Unionist equivalent in 2007 to the consternation I evoked in 1989 when I told the Workers Party that it had to embrace liberal capitalism and the market economy or die. For what I am suggesting is that there no longer is a real foundation for the continued existence of two Unionist Parties and that from a position of relative strength you should approach the DUP about the creation of a new united Unionist Party.
Well, a few people have been mooting this of late, but I like that heavy hint that the OUP will go the way of the Workers Party if it fails to follow Eoghan’s advice. Come to think of it, didn’t the WP do rather well for a few years after Eoghan defected?
Sinn Fein has suffered a major setback in the recent general election in the Republic, but it is far from accepting the long-term legitimacy of partition or the Northern Ireland state. The SDLP shows few signs of reconsidering its strategy of competing for suitably ‘green’ credentials with the Shinners. And while the southern political class has signed up for the acceptance of Northern Ireland’s right to exist, there still remain powerful forces in the Republic’s media and in the collective unconscious of the southern electorate that cleave to a nationalist narrative of the carnage which Northern Ireland endured for 30 years. As for the British political and administrative class, despite the herculean efforts of David Trimble, it remains profoundly uninterested in NI and there are little reserves of support or sympathy for the Unionist cause.
One can see here just how much Eoghan has assimilated the paranoid unionist worldview, where the Provos are as subversive as ever, the SDLP nearly as much, the Dublin media deeply republican – and I love “the collective unconscious of the southern electorate”, which sounds to me like the classic D4 locution “I just can’t understand these people”, and is a little incongruous coming from Eoghan in his current populist Fianna Fáil mode. And of course, those perfidious FCO mandarins who would just love to cut the Nornies loose.
By the way, as Brendan Clifford could tell Eoghan, “Northern Ireland” isn’t a state. And does the pseudo-Zionist reference to the North’s “right to exist” have an actual significance, or is it just a flourish?
Thankfully, and thanks in many ways to the work of both Bertie Ahern and David Trimble, you can look south to the many many people in all the main parties who have no time for Shinner apologetics or for northern nationalist whinging.
A nod to two patrons, and a sly backslap to Eoghan’s good self for shaping the media-political discourse in Dublin in a decent direction. And he is correct that most Leinster House politicos are now profoundly post-nationalist.
There are many tasks which need urgent attention. And one of the major tasks is that of contesting the history of the past 37 years. Progressive democrats in both states have a major job of work to do particularly in not allowing those who lost the war to win the battle to define our recent history. In this matter I must respectfully claim that Unionists have not been good at countering the Shinner narrative which can rely on BBC NI through a mixture of bad elements and a lazy unreflective ‘leftist’ world view that is as unsympathetic to Unionism as it is to Israel and the USA.
Well, now the DUP can seemingly be counted as a progressive force. And this stuff about the BBC is just a rehashing of one of Gail Walker’s less interesting tropes. If Eoghan had seen Nolan’s interview with Big Ian earlier in the year, he might have been surprised. Our resident shock jock didn’t go much deeper than “First Minister, why are you so popular?”
Remember it was DUP spoiling tactics that gave Fermanagh and S Tyrone to Bobby Sands.
This is wrong. Not just in terms of judgement, but factually wrong. That by-election in 1981 was a straight fight between Sands and Harry West. Perhaps Eoghan is telescoping time and conflating 1981 with Michelle Gildernew’s victory twenty years later. Eoghan then, puzzlingly, asks Sir Reggie to show the spirit of Michael Collins. I wish I could have been there, just to see what the unionists made of all this.
But this really defies summary. Go and read the full text, and marvel at the peregrinations of Eoghan’s rhetoric.