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17 August 2006 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

DUP refusal to engage - fear or fascism?

Since partition, unionists have denied or refused to recognise the right of Catholics to participate in the functions of government. This was the outworking of the 'Protestant State for a Protestant people' as espoused by James Craig. This writ ran virtually unopposed either by nationalists in the North or by successive governments in Dublin up until the mid-1960s. In this unchallenged situation unionists had nothing to fear, as there was no debate about how the state was run. They had the unfettered control of every aspect of life and even the so-called 'mother of parliaments' exercised a convention of non-interference in the domestic affairs of the North. This all changed in the aftermath of the Civil Rights campaign when the Stormont regime violently responded to simple demands around voting, housing and jobs by unleashing state militias to defend the sectarian status quo. This in turn contributed to the escalation of conflict and descent into a 30-year war.

As realisation sank in that there could be no military victory, the British entered negotiations with republicans and from that engagement emerged the 'Irish peace strategy'. This was grasped, maybe with trepidation by some republicans, but as a necessary development by most. Republican and nationalist leaders throughout the island led from the front by promoting the benefits of the peace process. As it became clear that there would have to be change, it was believed that negative unionist reaction was motivated by a fear of change - fear of the unknown road ahead. Eventually the process resulted in the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed massively by nationalist Ireland but by barely a majority of unionism, then led by the UUP.

Throughout the process UUP leader David Trimble seemed a reluctant proponent of the Agreement. Continuously looking over his shoulder at the opponents of change in his own party, he steadfastly refused to promote it or engage in dialogue with republicans, eventually only meeting Gerry Adams behind closed doors.

The two governments mistakenly believed that by pandering to Trimble's insecurity they would eventually convince unionism of the need for change. Instead it only served to reinforce unionism's belief that by refusing to engage in dialogue it could maintain the status quo. Trimble's prevarication and weak leadership led to an erosion of pro-Agreement unionism, leaving the way open for fundamentalist unionism to take control in the guise of the DUP. While UUP lack of enthusiasm for the Agreement could be excused as a fear of change, DUP refusal to countenance any form of engagement is more akin to fascism.

While genuine fear of change is understandable and needs to be addressed, the refusal to accept that others are entitled to hold and promote diametrically opposite political views is nothing short of fascism. Denying a voice to your political opponents - as the DUP is attempting - is fascism and needs to be confronted by all who claim to be democrats. It's time, particularly for the two governments, to defend the GFA.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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