Magazine article The Spectator

Despite Mr Blair-Yes

Magazine article The Spectator

Despite Mr Blair-Yes

Article excerpt

There is only one rational explanation for the government's behaviour in Ulster, as Friday's vote on the peace deal approaches: that Mr Blair and his ministers want to sabotage their own agreement. If they had set out to insult the loyal Unionist population, they could not have improved on their performance.

The release of IRA prisoners to address a Sinn Fein conference resulted, predictably, in a stomach-churning paean to murder and terrorism. Then the government offered balm to outraged Unionist feelings by releasing Stone, a Protestant homicidal psychopath. It is impossible to overestimate the outrage this caused in hundreds of thousands of decent homes throughout the Province.

The government has tried to extricate itself from its own mess - by sending over pop singers. This proved only one thing: that Mr Blair and his team have no understanding of loyal Ulster. The Unionist population are a plain people, whose habits and beliefs were formed well before the age of the spin doctor. Often shy, almost always slow of speech, these are men and women who are hard in judgment. They can tell the difference between a pop festival and a vital vote which could determine their entire future; their laws, their freedom, their very way of life. It is absurdly and ignorantly patronising to suggest that their closely and painfully considered verdict could be influenced by the strum of a guitar, or by President Clinton.

Nor should it be influenced adversely. For a generation now, Unionist Ulster has had its back forced against a wall, its values derided, its liberties threatened, its security menaced. All this creates a danger: that by engendering embitterment and despair, insecurity will blind the Unionists to the realities of victory.

As David Trimble has been telling his fellow Ulstermen over the past weeks, the Unionists have won. Their great historic goal, the British connection, is safe; the IRA has failed. The settlement does have obnoxious aspects, especially as regards prisoners and the ambiguities over decommissioning. But when, in Mr Trimble, Unionism is now blessed with one of its greatest ever leaders, and when it has finally achieved most of its fundamental objectives, it would be tragic if the loyalists of Ulster were to allow themselves to be defeated by mountebanks such as Mr Paisley. This agreement is not perfect, but it was more or less the best that could have been achieved in an imperfect world. Ulster should ignore the patronising inanities from Downing Street, gird its loins and roar out a resounding yes. …

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