Brian John Spencer: Unionism was given no wriggle room by nationalism and so it was pushed towards a more uncompromising stance

A letter from the artist Brian John Spencer:

By Letters
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 2:50 am
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 5:42 am
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood speaks to the media at the election count in Magherafelt  on Friday. He said it was stupid of unionists to rely on Boris Johnson and the Tories, and implied they would be better served with northern nationalists in an all-Ireland.
Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood speaks to the media at the election count in Magherafelt on Friday. He said it was stupid of unionists to rely on Boris Johnson and the Tories, and implied they would be better served with northern nationalists in an all-Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

On the morning the count for the 2022 assembly elections began, the headline on the radio ran that Sammy Wilson of the DUP said no Stormont executive until the “poison of the Protocol” was removed.

Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader responded to Sammy in usual form — how utterly stupid of the DUP and unionists to rely on Boris Johnson and the Tories, because the prime minister is only capable of lying, letting down and betraying unionists.

Eastwood’s implication being that the DUP and unionists would be better served by allying with northern nationalists and an all-Ireland polity.

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Letter to the editor

But of course, who demanded the betrayal of unionism?

Who is it who laughed at unionists with barks of ‘own it’ after Brexit, and demanded the ‘rigorous implementation’ of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the imposition of frankly over-the-top East-West border checks on everyday food, goods and livestock?

It truly causes the mind to fizz to hear someone scold and mock unionism for continually putting its faith in London, when it’s been the intense lobbying and activism of said nationalists and others that forced London to ‘betray’ unionism.

Furthermore, Professor Deirdre Heenan in her election analysis for BBC Radio Ulster said that the failure of the DUP to gain any change or alteration from London on the protocol was forcing people to switch their vote to the more hardline TUV.

Despite the fact that Northern Ireland is supposed to be governed by consensus and balance between the two communities, who is it who refused to alter the protocol or sway from the mantra of ‘rigorous implementation’?

It was Eastwood and Heenan and many others who spoke against any change at the Irish land border.

London listened to this sort of commentary and lobbying, and so it betrayed unionism. This gave the DUP no wriggle room or space whatsoever to claim a ‘win’.

I believe that this helped to create the rise of an even more extreme and uncompromising form of unionism to come to the fore.

More frustrating again, the hardline and uncompromising attitude from nationalism and opponents of Brexit is the same dynamic that arguably forced the removal of Arlene Foster from office.

As anger against the protocol began to boil and bubble within grassroots unionism and loyalism, Dublin’s response was not to soothe worries or make compromises, but their move was to antagonise Foster and the DUP with demands for a hard implementation of the protocol.

The net effect of this was to weaken the DUP and to empower hardline unionism.

While unionists are never going to co-operate with a border poll, the majoritarian and uncompromising attitude of nationalism and Dublin over the protocol has made any sort of all-Ireland co-operation impossible for a long long time to come.

Brian John Spencer, Artist, Co Down

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