It was a question of when, not whether, the TUV, PUP and UKIP would walk away from the combined unionist leaders’ group (established to deal with the North Belfast Orange parade, which the Parades Commission blocked in surrender to republican violence).
So this week they finally did what any observer of their self-serving, short-sighted, confidence-destroying tactics, could have predicted.
It says it all that this unilateral action was taken without any attempt being made to ascertain the facts because of course Jim Allister, Billy Hutchinson and David McNarry didn’t want the facts, they only wanted an excuse to walk so that they could stand on the outside free from any responsibility and able to keep their hands in their pockets rather than get them dirty in the messy job of trying to resolve difficult issues.
Their excuse has been that the main unionist parties negotiated on parades with Sinn Fein and others before the Ardoyne parade issue was resolved. While they were using this fig leaf excuse, Sinn Fein was complaining about a lack of negotiations on parades.
They prefer to be parties of protest rather than parties of progress. Had they sought to find out what has taken place they would have discovered that parades had been raised by HM Government on three occasions in the form of presentations for information.
Sinn Fein were not always present on these occasions and each time it was made clear that the issue was not open for negotiation until the mechanism for reviewing the Ligoniel parade had been agreed — consistent with promises made with the Orange Order.
What are these sulking opportunists going to offer as an alternative to the independent panel, which everyone agreed as a way of getting an alternative assessment to the anti-Orange Order views of the Parades Commission?
Hopefully not the wild suggestions of PUP and TUV supporters at a recent meeting which I and other unionists addressed. They suggested that since republican violence had paid off, we should muster thousands, lead them in forcing their way up the Crumlin Road and for good measure deal with the police living in unionist areas.
As I said then that is not the kind of Northern Ireland I want nor the kind of action I will endorse. Thankfully the vast majority of Orangemen/women share my view on this.
So what advice are they going to give to the genuine Orange brethren who simply want to right the wrong perpetrated against them? Do they have any other strategy or will they simply fall back on their usual whinge that someone has to do something to sort this out? As he and his party did when it came to getting an alternative to the Parades Commission, the flags issue and now the issue of parades, Jim Allister always washes his hands of messy negotiations, denouncing anything which is agreed and leaving those who have genuine grievances without answers or hope.
While the TUV, PUP and UKIP walk away it remains for those of us who want to deal with these issues not to be deterred from giving our best efforts to seek resolutions.
It’s the only way to defeat Sinn Fein, who have manipulated Orange parades as an outlet for their anti-unionist bigotry, and to distract from their failure to achieve anything their party and its terror wing set out to achieve.
• Last week I was asked to open a food bank at Jordan Victory Church in Carrickfergus.
Tons of food had been assembled, donated by the public and workers in the area.
It will help families in need and it was pleasing to see the number of organisations and individuals who were involved in collecting the food, referring families, and distributing goods. Labour politicians, publications such as the Guardian newspaper and the left-leaning Archbishop of Canterbury have railed against food banks claiming that their existence is a shame on our society. I take the opposite view.
They are a sign of the compassion which many caring people in our country have for those who are less well-off and have fallen on hard times during this recession. There are those who believe that all of our economic ills can be solved by state intervention.
Not true. Of course the government can seek to redistribute income, set minimum wage levels, encourage people into work, provide training to make them more employable, deal with monopoly suppliers of electricity etc to ensure the public are not ripped off and provide welfare benefits for those who cannot earn money.
However there will still be people in need, as Jesus said, “for ye have the poor always with you”.
That is why the efforts of the thousands of volunteers, many of them motivated by their faith, who run programmes to help the disadvantaged, are so valuable and act as a cement in keeping our society caring and civilised.
We spend £93bn on welfare benefits in UK, £5.6bn in NI. Those who demand that we spend more also want greater spending on hospitals, schools, roads etc.
Our priority should not be to make people more dependent on the state for their living but to create a healthy economy enabling them to find well-paid employment.
However, for those who despite our state provision find themselves in financial difficulties the support of the food banks should be welcomed as a sign of a society which cares.