Protocol woes aside, the last couple of weeks have been good for unionists.

Published: 6 December 2022

The night before she became a non-aligned peer, Arlene Foster launched the Together UK Foundation (https://www.togetherukfoundation.com/) in London, emphasising the importance of making a positive case for a Union.

Cheerfulness abounded because earlier that day the Supreme Court had ruled unanimously that the Scottish parliament had no authority to hold a second referendum without Westminster’s consent, scuppering Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to take everyone’s mind off such glaring deficiencies of her government as education and health by having an independence referendum next October despite the polls showing a majority against.

Cracks in her party were widened by her negative response to the plea of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls to postpone Scottish gender recognition legislation she described as unfair, rushed, vague, contradictory and posing a danger to women by removing safeguards against violent men gaining access to their safe spaces.

Sturgeon’s obstinacy on all fronts is earning her unprecedentedly critical press coverage.

Meanwhile, the equally ruthless and doctrinaire Mary Lou McDonald has also been having a rough time, as once more she faces deeply embarrassing questions about dodgy associates.

Jonathan Dowdall — a donor of £1,000 to her 2011 election campaign and later briefly a Sinn Fein councillor, whose photographs with McDonald decorated accounts of his recent conviction and imprisonment for kidnapping, torturing and waterboarding a man with whom he had a difference of opinion over a motorbike sale — was in the headlines yet again.

The Irish electorate may at times appear relaxed about IRA criminality, but they are alarmed at what’s been going on in the murderous Dublin gangland war between the adherents of the Kinahan mobsters and those of their enemy and Dowdall’s boss, the recently extradited from Spain Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch, a Provo supporter.

Dowdall’s loyalty to Hutch proved paper thin: faced with a murder rap he has turned state witness against his old boss.

In 10 hours of Garda-recorded tapes of a 2016 conversation between them played in the Special Criminal Court, it became clear that Dowdall was a bridge between republicans and gangland and his Sinn Fein vetters had been aware of allegations of criminal behaviour.

He was angry at Mary Lou McDonald’s denunciation of perpetrators of gangland violence as “scumbags” and her failure to attend the funeral of the Monk’s murdered brother, shot in a revenge attack for a hotel shooting Dowdall had helped to organise: “yous were good enough to use, Gerard, for votes; yous were good enough to use for money”.

Uncovered Sinn Féin secrets are the gifts to unionists that keep on giving.

At the weekend, 60% of the Irish public, including 26% of SF voters, said yes in a Sunday Independent poll to the question: ‘Do you believe there is a connection between gangland crime and Provisional republicanism?’

This comes just after an Irish Times/Ipsos poll asked: ‘If there was a referendum asking people whether they want Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom or to unify with the Republic of Ireland, how would you vote in that referendum?’

In Northern Ireland, leaving the UK was the choice of 26%: among the 50% wanting to stay were 21% of those from a Catholic background.

In the Republic, 66% were in favour of Irish unity and 16% against. However, almost half would be less likely to vote yes if there was significant loyalist violence pre-referendum, unity would make them poorer, it required changes to the national anthem or the flag, joining the Commonwealth or a unionist veto on laws they thought violated their vital interests.

I read a fine, constructive letter in the Irish Times with which I completely agreed and then found it was by that wise man, my friend Trevor Ringland, who has tried more than most to bridge the gaps in understanding between the two traditions.

It began: “I would suggest that we should relax about the constitutional question. Most of us in Northern Ireland do not want to marry you in the Republic, just as many of you have qualms about getting ‘exclusive’ with us, but we would all like to be great friends. We can enjoy being separate, yet love being together.”

Amen.

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