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25 February 2016

Criticism from Sinn Fein won't change DUP minds on Brexit

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

On Sunday, I was in Omagh at the funeral of Tom Reid, where more than 1,000 people came to pay tribute to this farmer, preacher, Presbyterian elder and County Grand Master of the Orange Order, in which this decent man was always a voice for sanity.

The whole day was very moving, not least because Tom’s family had faithfully honoured such poignant rural traditions as having the coffin carried to the edge of the deceased’s land by a succession of relatives, neighbours and colleagues.

I thought a lot about the stoicism this community has always shown in the face of hatred and violence from those neighbours obsessed with reversing the 17th-century plantation.

The thoughtful SDLP politician, Sean Farren, once recalled asking David Trimble in the 1980s, “What do you want for your people?” The simple but striking answer was: “To be left alone”.

In other words, to have peaceful lives rather than having people trying to shoot, bomb, threaten, intimidate or harangue them into a country they did not want to join.

John Hume used to refer to the Unionist siege mentality as if it was some kind of weird aberration, but as a unionist friend once said to me, “‘We’d get rid of our siege mentality if they’d lift the f****** siege.”

Unionists are never left in peace, for their opponents seize every opportunity to attack their values and allegiances.

It’s business as usual with the Sinn Fein reaction to the DUP supporting Brexit. In any normal world, Sinn Fein would be reeling from a barrage of criticism over their decision to campaign vigorously against leaving the EU.

This is the party that opposed joining the EU in the first place and every treaty since.

It is the party whose energetic MEP Martina Anderson was last year denouncing the “anti-democratic actions of the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission”.

But reversing the plantation takes precedence, so last year Sinn Fein fears that Brexit would harden the division between north and south caused a U-turn.

Yet it was Irish republicans that made partition inevitable and republican violence that embedded it in the Irish psyche, north and south.

Not that Sinn Fein faces up to that: everything is self-justification for its tunnel-visioned obsession with bringing the island back to the Gaelic status quo before the planters arrived.

Martin McGuinness tells us that “over 90% of the businesses in the north are against leaving the EU, and it is a source of disappointment that the DUP position is that we should leave.”

Yet having always been Eurosceptic, the DUP has the virtue of consistency.

After Tom Reid’s funeral, even second person I talked to wanted to discuss Brexit, and in true Presbyterian style, there were a host of different angles and arguments.

They will make up their own minds on the basis of available evidence, and criticism from Sinn Fein will no more change them than have any assaults during this long long siege.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, will be published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards