UNIONIST unity has benefits — but also pitfalls, former First Minister Ian Paisley has warned.
Lord Bannside, who in the past has warned that attempts to recreate a single unionist party could damage unionism, said that a united unionism could sometimes expose ugly personal ambitions.
Writing in his weekly News Letter column, the DUP founder says that for most people the anti-Anglo Irish Agreement rallies of 1985 are the closest in scale to the mass rally of Ulster Day 1912.
“Those rallies, and indeed that period in our history, also gave our generation a taste of what unionist unity means – its potential and its pitfalls,” he said.
“That time of unity required compromises among us. In some unlikely cases it revealed the ugly side of personal ambition and the disease of short-sightedness, while in others it revealed a willingness to put aside their own desires, and with a heart-and-a-half join forces for the greater good.”
He added that “human nature is the same old, same old beast from Eden’s fall until now”.
On Tuesday, Dr Paisley’s successor as First Minister and DUP leader, Peter Robinson, again stressed the importance of unionism coming together.
Mr Robinson, who unlike Dr Paisley has said that he would one day like to again see a single unionist party, said that Carson and Craig were successful “because unionism was united” and added: “Vested interests were put aside in 1912 for the greater good and it is right that we look to that example a century later.”
In his column, Dr Paisley also said that Lord Carson had in the end been “cast aside by his colleagues” but despite that, he was “a man of the masses”.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have said that calls for unionist unity are “dangerous”.
Former rugby international Trevor Ringland, who while he was in the Ulster Unionist Party unsuccessfully stood against Peter Robinson in 2010, expressed fears that forthcoming centenary celebrations could be used to “drag politics backwards”.
“We must always be careful that none of the centenaries which take place over the next 10 years become a pretext for reopening the divisions of the past, at a time when we’re striving to create a shared future in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The solicitor added: “The idea, implied by the joint statement released by Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt that the Covenant celebrations should encourage ‘unionist unity’ and a retreat into single, sectarian political blocs, is very dangerous.”