Wallace Thompson, a long-time associate of the late Ian Paisley and a former special advisor to Nigel Dodds when he was Stormont’s finance minister, spoke out in October 2019 after the prime minister abandoned his pledge to never accept an Irish Sea border.
Writing at the time, Mr Thompson said that he believed Mr Johnson would keep his word but then quoted Northern Ireland’s founding father, Lord Carson, about how he felt used as a pawn by London and then abandoned.
Mr Thompson added: “What a fool I was. History should have alerted me to this pattern of betrayal ... Will we never learn? It’s almost enough to make me question the value of the Union.”
Those comments were made in the moment but when asked this week by the News Letter if his views had changed now that the Irish Sea border is in place, he said: “I’m probably still in pretty much the same place in my mind as when that was written.”
“I still believe in the Union but the protocol has created a feeling of crisis for unionism once again and I feel we must learn from what has happened to us in the past. As unionists we’ve been betrayed over and over again and we’re always on the back foot.
“There’s a pattern that’s repeated – there’s the betrayal, there’s the fightback, there are the attempts to undo the damage that rarely ever succeed.”
He said that in Northern Ireland’s centennial year “we’ve been treated shabbily by the British establishment, and my mood is probably one of reflection more than celebration”.
Brexit has reinvigorated nationalism and caused greater examination of the possibility of Irish unity. Mr Thompson said that “economically, there are big benefits from the Union. The NHS is a most valuable asset and even the handling of the vaccine has been much better here. But one hundred years on, so much has changed”.
He said that the Protestants who had fought at the Somme were fighting “for an Empire which is gone, for a nation which was essentially Protestant in its essence which is gone, and against absorption into an Irish Catholic state which is gone. Much of what our forefathers were fighting for and against has gone”.
He said that as a Protestant his evangelical faith – and the ability to express it freely – was his paramount concern and “I don’t think I fear it being curtailed or restricted in a united Ireland any more than within the UK”, but he had very real concerns about the repression of his Orange heritage and identity in a united Ireland.
Mr Thompson cautioned against anyone assuming that his thinking represents a major shift in unionist thinking, and he stressed that he would still definitely back the Union if there was a snap border poll.
“But it’s about future generations, and we need both sides to be able to listen to each other, and to seek to genuinely understand each other’s perspectives, concerns and expectations. In this centenary year there needs to be a meaningful, open and honest debate”.
He expressed concern that “too many nationalist politicians and commentators seem either unable or unwilling to understand the Ulster Protestant mindset. It’s often portrayed by them as triumphalist and sectarian, whereas it is based on genuinely held and totally legitimate principles.
“Over the years when it has reacted angrily, it has done so out of a sense of fear that it was being threatened with destruction.”
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