Top Orangeman Mervyn Gibson: New DUP leader must be ready to collapse Stormont

One of the country’s most senior Orangemen has said that whoever ends up as DUP leader must be ready to collapse Northern Ireland’s government in an attempt to kill off the protocol.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 7:00 am
The Rev Mervyn Gibson has been grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland since 2016

Rev Mervyn Gibson said that unionists must destroy the controversial Brexit clause “by whatever means necessary” (short of violence), because it has done so much damage to the Province’s ties with Great Britain.

Rev Gibson, a Presbyterian minister and former policeman, told the News Letter he has never been a member of any political party (although he has been on the DUP’s talks team during past negotiations, such as the Haass talks).

He said he was speaking in his role as grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, and told the News Letter: “The DUP’s leadership contest is an internal matter for the party.

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“However, for the sake of Northern Ireland’s future, whoever becomes first minister or leader of unionism must be unambiguously, unequivocally committed to removing the Northern Ireland Protocol by whatever means necessary – as their priority.

“Whoever it is – whether it’s Edwin Poots, Jeffrey Donaldson, whoever – they must be prepared to do whatever means necessary as a priority to get rid of the protocol.”

Asked what exactly he had in mind, he answered: “If it takes bringing down the Assembly.”

He added that by using the phrase “‘by any means necessary’ we are referring to bringing down Stormont – as far as I remember Arlene ruled that out”.

The unease among unionists over the Protocol has been deepening since it kicked in at the start of the year, with the News Letter being at the forefront of cataloguing all the problems it has caused.

This has ranged from retailers refusing to send certain goods – even British soil – to customers in the Province, to masses of baffling bureaucracy confronting haulage firms.

Only around a fortnight ago, chief veterinary officer Robert Huey told MLAs at Stormont that he has fewer than half the number of vets he needs, and that “Northern Ireland, with its 1.8 million people, is doing more import checks for products of animal origin than France” – a nation of some 65 million people.

Much of the commentary and debate at the moment concerns the direction the DUP may take when it comes to issues of gay marriage and abortion – two matters which the party has traditionally opposed.

“I’m not determining which way the party may be going, that’s a matter for itself,” said Rev Gibson.

“The Grand Lodge of Ireland is a reformed Christian organisation. We believe in the moral stances of the Bible and there should be room for conscience in all these matters.”

In an apparent allusion to a recent debate about outlawing “conversion therapy” (with fears expressed about whether such a blanket ban could end up criminalising prayer or the Gospel itself), he added: “In recent debates, religious freedom could have been restricted or limited, and we believe religious freedom should be a priority.

“However, it’s down to a matter of conscience, and we recognise that we live in a different world than we did 20 years ago. And having views doesn’t either make you backward or less progressive.

“It’s simply you’ve different views from everyone else.”

It was also put to Rev Gibson whether he believes a new DUP leader will need to pursue a policy of unionist unity (in the sense that the UUP and DUP would eventually merge).

“I think all leaders of unionism, whether DUP, TUV, UUP or PUP, need to be working towards unionist co-operation, particularly in light of the election to the Assembly, whenever that happens,” he said.

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