In the turbulent events of last week, it took the steady, measured tones of Lady Hermon is the House of Commons to remind the nation that the DUP do not speak for all in Northern Ireland.
In these pages, in recent months, a call for a debate among ‘wider unionism’ has been heard as to direct engagement with Sinn
Fein and others on the issue of a border poll.
Equally, do the wider economic implications and risks to trade and employment inherent in the DUP’s stance on Brexit not need to be examined?
In 1920, when unionism was conservativism, 80% of the industrial output of Ireland came from Belfast and its hinterland, by far the richest part of the island.
As the great historian and Provost of Trinity College, FSL Lyons pointed out, ‘the border’ was in fact a disaster for greater Irish ‘Protestantism’ as a commercial entity.
This is now sadly becoming apparent in the relative collapse of the once-dynamic Northern economy when compared to that of the Republic.
These uncomfortable facts now need to be faced. A fraction of the north’s at independence, the Republic’s industrial output is now ten times greater.
Exports from the Republic are £77.85bn while from Northern Ireland a humbling (and still declining) £5.25bn.
In the hysterical debate around Brexit, much was made on the lamp-posts of Counties Down and Antrim of the amount ‘sent to Brussels’.
In answering the question: who speaks for Ulster? Lady Hermon harks back to a style of unionism that might be uncomfortable with the fact that the present UK subvention to the Province, of around £11bn per annum, is of the same sort of magnitude as the net total UK contribution to the EU!
Protestantism in Northern Ireland will be a very strange beast indeed if it cannot increasingly be concerned with its future wealth and prosperity.
Might ‘taking the fight’ to Dublin – a ‘tax light’ country on some measures now approaching Swiss levels of wealth not be a good place to start?
Simply asking nationalist parties how they would propose to match the present generous levels of support from the UK exchequer would at least convey a more serious appraisal of the uncomfortable fiscal realities facing the Province.
It might play equally well, one could imagine, to a large strand of moderate ‘cross-political’ opinion – now that would be unionism.
David Kernohan, Brussels