30th Deireadh Fómhair 2009.
Your man says that I shouldn’t use the term small u-unionists.
‘How would you like to be called a small r-republican?’ He asks.
I have been called worse than that I think quietly to myself. I say nothing to him. He has been in a funny mood all day. Male menopause?
The thing is I don’t mean to be offensive when I say small u-unionists. Or when I try to analyse the cause of your man’s funny mood.
I’m sure that there are many small u-unionists who understand what I mean because they know that their unionism is more an accident of birth than an ideological position.
These are the unionists who voted for the Good Friday Agreement and who then gave up the ghost on David Trimble and stayed at home during election time.
One presumes that these small u-unionists wouldn’t have a lot of time for the DUP.
They are not for a united Ireland, although they support Ireland in the rugby. Some may go hill walking in Donegal or west Mayo. A weekend in Dublin with Bruce Springsteen or Barbara Streisand may have been part of their pre-recession enjoyment.
Some may even have a sense of pride around Riverdance. These small-u unionists are mainly middle class. There are other small u-unionists who are working people making ends meet in difficult times; and the working poor who struggle with disadvantage and poverty. Just like their counterparts on the nationalist side.
They all want the peace process to work. They want to rear their families and live happily with their neighbours. And if the price for all that is power sharing and equality then they’ll put up with it. And some may even grow to embrace it.
What then are they to make of Peter Robinson’s grandstanding in the British House of Parliament over the orange parading issue?
Last week these small u-unionists, like the media and most others, would have been of a mind that the policing and justice issue was about to be resolved and powers on these matters were soon to be transferred from England to Ireland.
They couldn’t be blamed for that. Peter Robinson had said that if the financial package for policing and justice was resolved then he would support the transfer. The financial package was agreed some weeks ago. There were and are a number of other issues which need to be sorted out among the Executive parties but it was obvious that the big bit of work had been done and that the outstanding matters could be resolved.
The DUP even tried to take credit for securing the financial package, even though it is obvious that Martin McGuinness led the charge on that front. But that to one side small u-unionists probably were a little buoyed up that local politicians would soon have the legislative ability to bring forward measures to make this a safer society, in particular for vulnerable citizens and others at risk from criminal or anti social elements.
Then the DUP mustered at the British Parliament in London last Tuesday and demanded that the issue of Orange Parades be resolved before Policing and Justice powers could be transferred. At this point maybe the small u in small u-unionism shrank a little more? Who knows.
Suffice to say that this latest DUP position is the stuff of nonsense. Such a pre-condition is unacceptable. There are three and a half thousand loyalist parades during the Orange marching season. The rest of us – including small-u unionists - put up with a lotta lotta marches.
There are about six highly contentious parades. The Loyal Orders should sit down and talk to residents who live in the neighbourhoods involved, as well as with the elected representatives of the citizens who live there. That’s the only way to sort these matters out. The DUP know this.
So the grandstanding at Westminster was not a serious initiative or a sincere effort to resolve these issues.
The process to transfer policing and justice powers was brought further into disrepute on Thursday when a letter to Peter Robinson from Gordon Brown was sent, presumably by mistake, to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
In this letter the British PM committed to issue a gratuity payment of £20 million to former members of the RUC reserve.
This issue had been raised by Brown with Martin McGuinness during negotiations. Martin told him that such a payment was wrong and unacceptable and no part of the process to transfer powers on policing and justice.
This payment forms no part of the financial package for Policing and Justice agreed with the British government between Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson.
Moreover, at a time of economic downturn and huge pressures on working families and the disadvantaged this payment is a waste of taxpayers money.
So there you are. These things are sent to try us.