Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Unionism's Last Legs

No, no, no, the Big Man said for years on end, no to the Catholics and no to change. The IRA went to war and the Big Man said no, no, no to those who follow the Anti-Christ that they call the Pope. Today Ian Paisley, the paper-mill diploma reverend, took the oath of office as First Minister of Northern Ireland, the head of the self-governing body that was promised back in the days of Home Rule. It has come at last. Unionism is on its last legs, a slow death.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, wrapped in the Drumcondra housing scandal, was in attendance at Stormont when the oath of office was taken. Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair was there as well, to witness one of the key items of his legacy. They were present when Martin McGuinness took the oath; they sat through the nomination of the ministers during this first sitting of the Stormont Assembly, to witness history being made.

"...on a road which will bring us back to peace and prosperity," Mr. Paisley said, because he sees that time has caught up to him at last. A bastion of sectarianism, a corner of the globe where hatred thrives, is not the stuff of which Celtic Tigers are made. The economy in the Six Counties is in a shambles, with a bloated public sector and no private industry to speak of. The Republic of Ireland passed them by, raced along on corporate investments and economic policies that created wealth. In the long run, that's what people really want. Unionism is grand for a talking point, but it never put a pound in anyone's pocket, and surely it rankles to see the Catholics to the south flouting their new found prosperity. Not unlike a Klansman looking at black folks driving Range Rovers through Atlanta on their way to jobs in banking and investment houses, while Mr. KKK is hard-pressed to buy a loaf of bread.

Gerry Adams spoke, remembering those who lost their lives in the Troubles, fighting for political rights. He talked of a united Ireland, of building a new relationship between Ireland and England. Sinn Fein has backed the police force and the rule of law, now that they have some say in those laws, but they're not about to support the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland.

What caused this earth shaking event, this complete reversal for Ian Paisley? As he himself admitted, he was driven into Stormont by the threat of London's Plan B. Go into government with Sinn Fein, he was told, or the Republic of Ireland will be involved in ruling the north, in conjunction with London. It will never be the same as it was, with direct rule; there will be a role for Dublin if you don't cooperate. And so he did.

Sinn Fein has won, in spite of Paisley's insistence that they were defeated when they accepted the rule of law. He thinks that the Shinners are accepting the United Kingdom as well, but he forgets Irish history. The Easter Rising of 1916 did not bring about the Republic of Ireland. It grew out of an election, to be driven by politicians who got into office and then took to governing as if England was not even there. After listening to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, it looks as if history may be about to repeat.

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