The current nationalist hysteria over the possibility of a CU / DUP pact / understanding / whatever is most interesting; at some level they may have a bit of a point. Owen Paterson may well have been trying to shore up DUP support in order to get them to do a deal on P&J. However, it seems that some sort of electoral pact was discussed and that might be seen as counter to the spirit of the Tories desire to stand in all 18 constituencies. However, if the DUP simply stand aside in FST and South Belfast it would be difficult to blame the CUs if lots of evil, bigot, cave dwelling, uneducated, Neanderthal, culchie Prods (no doubt myself included) vote CU to stop a terrorist cheerleader in chief and sitting non MP taking FST.
Of course we have to remember that the SDLP itself, that bastion of non sectarian politics, stood aside to allow an IRA man, in the middle of committing suicide, a free run in FST (we should give Austin Currie an honourable mention as an SDLP member who opposed this decision). Furthermore the non sectarian SDLP’s name seems absent from the candidate list at the election following Mr. Sands’s untimely demise. Of course more recent history has no lesser a figure than St. John of Foyle; that man utterly opposed to sectarianism, agreeing to joint proposals with the leader of Sinn Fein, whilst the IRA were in the middle of their sectarian murder campaign. If John Hume’s joint approach was righteous and helped peace why is the Tories talking to the DUP wrong?
A more likely reason for the faux anger of both nationalism and republicanism is that they have again been outmanoeuvred. Ever since the TUV appeared and promptly took over a third of the unionist vote at Dromore, Sinn Fein has thought that it had the whip hand over the DUP. When Jim Allister turned the DUP’s European majority to dust, it confirmed to republicans their advantage. Due to the delicious irony of Peter Robinson’s tactically sound but strategically appalling decision to make the largest party have the First minister’s post, SF knew that all they had to do was collapse the agreement and gain the first ministership. If unionists could not stomach that humiliation they would have to walk away and, so SF reasoned, would take the blame.
This strategy has just been completely turned on its head. Whether or not the UUP and DUP manage to come up with a unity system is almost less important than that the fear of this will change SF’s calculations. It also frees the unionist community from the fear of an IRA godfather first minister and gives unionism additional confidence; something I have previously argued there was reason for but had begun to ebb in the last few weeks with Irisgate etc.
I mentioned on slugger that a political party should increase its own options and narrow its opponents (thanks to fair_deal for the illustration). The reality is that the DUP anxiety over the TUV and latterly crisis over Irisgate was the first time in a while that republicans had gained many options. In actual fact republican’s options have been narrowing for years.
When the troubles first started there was a time when Northern Ireland looked on the brink of chaos. However, the republican blitzkrieg failed, floundering on the bravery of the RUC, British army and UDR; the refusal of the overwhelming majority of unionists to support a tit for tat loyalist terrorist response and possibly most centrally on the refusal by the majority of Catholics to support the IRA’s sectarian murder campaign.
Gradually the troubles died down, though they were stoked again by the MP for FST’s suicide. By the late 1980s, however, the republican movement had largely lost the ability to be a threat to the state’s survival: yes they could murder policemen, soldiers, those at Enniskillen war memorial and only just fail to wipe out Tullyhommon and Pettigoe’s Girls and Boys Brigade; but they could not destroy the state. The madder notions revealed in more recent years that they planned a Tet offensive in the Clogher valley are just that: mad notions. Anyone who knows the Colgher valley will know that the proper Vietnam analogy would have been Dien Bien Phu with the IRA cast as the French.
However, after the ceasefires the republican movement started a new blitzkrieg: a political one. The end of the IRA campaign should have been seen by unionists for what it was: the IRA’s admission of defeat. The error was to allow them to pull some sort of victory (at times looking like complete victory) from their defeat. In that of course the UUP were hindered by the British government’s refusal to let the IRA be humiliated and also Molyneaux’s inaction and Trimble’s lamentable series of failures.
Trimble had one line in the sand after another. Each was breached serially. Rather like the French and British in the Second World War Trimble set up his defences only for the shock troops of Sinn Fein to cut the line (with British government help) and leave him to fall back. Unionist confidence was smashed time and again. Similarly to France in 1940 or Russia in 1941 when a numerically inferior force inflicted a humiliating defeat on a once proud army. As an aside in the British case in 1940 an army was defeated which had comprehensively beaten the Germans in 1918 only to stop with the armistice (an American general bitterly objected and suggested that eventually they would have to come back and finish the job: Pershing I think and a very prescient comment in view of the next generation).
People often think of the blitzkrieg as unstoppable, even invincible. However, it has been stopped and defeated on several occasions. The secret as demonstrated by Fermanagh man Claude Auchinleck at the First Battle of El Alamein and most brilliantly by Georgy Zhukov at Kursk was Defence in Depth. This involves having multiple lines of defence which gradually weaken an enemy. In addition they narrow the front over which the attacker pushes forward and leaves his flanks vulnerable.
The DUP seem to have managed this tactic very effectively: They have narrowed SF’s attack to P&J alone and keep hurling up one defence after another. Republican morale has been steadily eroded and they have become progressively more remote from their support base which has become disenchanted by the poor progress and the end of any hope of the 2016 dream of a united Ireland.
The appearance of the TUV and now Irisgate have, however, demonstrated a weakness in the DUP. So hard have republicans pushed the DUP that like at Kursk the defences have come close to being breached. The possibility of an understanding between the DUP and UUP may shore up that defence and allow the DUP to hold the line: something all unionists should welcome. It should be welcomed because no one should be so naïve as to think that if P&J is devolved, after the DUP defended it for so long, it would do anything other than damage unionist confidence: unless the concessions republicans made were truly momentous (such as voluntary coalition). In addition if P&J is devolved the republican attack will switch to other issues and eventually the defence in depth tactic will be overwhelmed.
However, defence in depth is not the only important tactic: it is after all a defence and unionism should seek to move forwards. If the line can be held, then the next step must be to move forwards and fall upon the exposed political flanks of republicanism. These flanks include their utter ineptitude in government; their refusal to divorce themselves from terrorism as evidenced by their objection to arrest of South Armagh tax dodgers, failure to give adequate support to the rule of law in relation to the Quinn and McCartney murders etc.; refusal to consider anything other than a bizarre ideological attack on education.
The aim of the counter attack must be to return Northern Ireland to a sensible system of government: not simple majority rule; rather an equitable and fair system of weighted majorities with government and opposition and the ability to change the parties of government. The UUP and DUP, whilst theoretically signed up to such a long term aim seem reluctant to push this issue and defence in depth should be the prelude to attack. Sooner or later if unionism is to advance towards its longer term goals it must stop defence and begin this attack. If the TUV are to be the shock troops (or Penal Battalion) of this counter attack then so be it.