Thursday, May 05, 2005

Goodbye and good riddance to the Ulster Unionist Party

Damian Corless:

Faced with the probable annihilation of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in today's UK General Election, David Trimble warned voters against being duped into supporting the "sectarian carve-up" of the North by hardline rivals. Coming from the leader of the party that engineered the sectarian carve-up of the North in the first place, Trimble's plea seems likely to succeed only in uniting the North's tribes behind a wry smile.

For ardent republicans, the UUP's relatively recent plantation of the high moral centre-ground signifies no more than a shower of scoundrels in search of a last refuge. For the loyal sons of Ulster marching towards the DUP laager, Trimble's caution against a "sectarian carve-up" translates as just another yellow-belly call to submit to the further "appeasement" of traitors and terrorists.

Even for those of us trying to play the fair-minded neutral, it's hard to whip up sympathy for a UUP that might soon be receiving the last rites, because the Ulster Unionists have done little to cultivate the sympathies of neutrals. An innate mean-spiritedness has made the party hard to warm to, even after its move towards a softer stance in recent years.

Accepting his Nobel Prize, Trimble conceded that Unionist rule had made NI "a cold house for Catholics". The words hit a sweet, magnanimous note. For a nanosecond. Then he went and spoiled it all by getting in the gratuitous dig that the Catholic ingrates were always shaping "to burn the house down".

It was a reversion to type not unknown from the leader of a party that, from the start, set itself firmly against democracy and inclusivity. The UUP grew out of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) which pledged to oppose the rule of law wherever that law went against the interests of Unionism. When the democratic process threatened to impose Home Rule, the UUC mobilised the paramilitary UVF to overturn the democratic process.

When force secured partition, the UUP emerged to ensure that democracy in the North was smothered at birth. Or, as PM James Craig told Stormont: "I am an Orangeman first and a politician and member of this parliament afterwards. All I boast is that we are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state."

The first act of the UUP was to abolish the PR system intended to safeguard minority voices north and south. With the electoral boundaries gerrymandered in parallel, many nationalist council majorities were wiped out. The UUP then fixed Stormont elections, ensuring that there were so many seats uncontested by nationalists in the 1933 General Election that the UUP won before a vote was cast.

The UUP's mean-spirited nature has come out in various ill-begotten attempts at humour over the years. That said, there was an undeniable wit to John Taylor's barbed response when asked if he feared a disaster at the Trawsfynydd nuclear plant in Wales. "There is a risk," he said, "and that could be disastrous for everyone in the Isle Of Man and Ulster".

Former party leader James Molyneaux could plead no such saving grace when he objected to the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the not very witty repartee of: "Why shouldn't the Pakistan Government look for an Anglo-Pakistan Agreement to look after the Pakis in Bradford?, If Ulster does say no to the UUP, will anyone miss them?

Things must be bad for the UUP when even the Irish Independent is turning on them.


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