Dr John Coulter has been a journalist working in Ireland since 1978. He began his career as a trainee reporter writing a weekly column on the Boys’ Brigade for his local weekly newspaper, the Ballymena Guardian. He worked as a freelance journalist with BBC Northern Ireland before joining the staff of the News Letter in the early 1980s, later becoming the paper’s Education and Religious Affairs Correspondent. In the late 1980s, he moved into weekly newspaper management as a deputy editor in Larne and an editor in Carrickfergus. He then moved into PR as Director of Public Relations for the Sandown Group of private nursing homes, followed by a period as Director of Operations for Christian Communication Network Television. Since 1993, he has been involved in journalist training and has written a series of columns for national newspaper and online outlets. For 14 years, he penned the weekly Coulter’s Fearless Flying Column in the Irish Daily Star. He has co-written books on the media and politics. His sole publication, The Green Sash, is a non-violent ideology for modern republicanism and is available on Amazon Kindle. His doctorate from Ulster University is in journalism ethics. He is a conservative evangelical Christian and the son of a retired Presbyterian minister. His father, Robert, was an Ulster Unionist Assembly member for 13 years. You can follow Dr Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Bottoms up for Unionist Unity! Controversial Radical Unionist and conservative evangelical Christian commentator, Dr John Coulter, is not recommending a massive drinking binge to bring all elements of the pro-Union community together in his latest Ballymena Accent column. Rather he is suggesting the formation of a grassroots New Vanguard Movement to build Unionist unity from the bottom up.
Unionist infighting – that is a term which always caused me to squirm throughout my career in journalism, making me wonder if the concept of Unionist Unity is politically achievable, or whether it has become as big a myth as a 32-county democratic socialist united Ireland.
Unionists have had to bond together in the past when faced with a political crisis. For many years since the formation of the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905, the Unionist family had the Loyal Orders – especially the Orange – as the cement to bind Unionism together.
In 1974, in spite of there being political fragmentation with numerous Unionist parties, the United Ulster Unionist Council, commonly known as the Unionist Coalition or Treble UC, brought together the Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Vanguard Unionist Party, and United Ulster Unionist Party in an election pact which saw Unionist candidates scoop up 11 of the 12 Westminster seats in the February General Election with only Gerry Fitt’s West Belfast bolthole out of reach.
In 1985, following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Ulster Clubs Movement was launched to galvanise Unionists behind the Ulster Says No campaign.
While Unionists faced different threats in 1905, 1974 and 1985, there was one clear factor – indeed, the crucial lynchpin – in Unionist opposition, the role of ordinary, but organised, grassroots Unionist opposition. While the political leaderships of Unionism may have been making the key Press statements, it was the Unionist grassroots which called the directional shots.
In 1905, it was the Loyal Orders; in 1974, it was the then legal Ulster Defence Association; and in 1985, it was the Ulster Clubs movement (based on the Unionist Clubs which organised grassroots opposition to Home Rule).
However, the failure of the Ulster Clubs Movement in 1985/86 to overturn the Anglo-Irish Agreement compared to how the Unionist grassroots forced the end of the power-sharing Sunningdale Executive in 1974 reveals the root cause of the current lack of Unionist clout or cohesion in Northern Ireland. In essence, the Unionist grassroots have lost control of Unionism to the Unionist political leaderships.
The success of the original Vanguard Unionist Movement of the 1970s was that it was a grassroots pressure group to mobilise ordinary Unionists to rally to the defence of the Union, but equally significantly, it was a movement of the people which the leadership could not afford to ignore.
Vanguard’s greatest mistake was to copy the UUP and DUP and become a political party, thereby further fragmenting the Unionist vote. Once one of its key founders, Bill Craig, went to the Ulster Unionists and then lost the safe UUP Westminster seat of East Belfast to a youthful Peter Robinson, there was no coming back for Vanguard.
Any New Vanguard Movement must never make that same mistake of eventually becoming yet another Unionist political party.
And it must never adopt a Neville Chamberlain-style ethos of ‘peace in our time’, as a core sentiment of Unionism is ‘fear of the enemy’. For Unionism to remain as a significant force, it must educate its voters to ‘fear something’.
The post peace process era has made Unionism too comfortable. Unionism needs to be moved out of its political comfort zone; basically, it must learn to fear the potential long-term consequences of Brexit – that Northern Ireland leaving the European Union with the rest of the United Kingdom could eventually lead to a united Ireland.
Given the massive rallies against the anglo-Irish Agreement at Belfast City Hall in 1985 and 1986, how come the Belfast Accord lasted so long before it was eventually replaced with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement?
The core theory of the Ulster Clubs in the 1980s was to fuse the power of the Loyal Orders with the Unionist grassroots. Orange and non-Orange alike would mobilise behind the banner of the Ulster Clubs. Indeed, one of its key spokesmen in the late 1980s also a leading member of the Portadown Orange District.
But the Ulster Clubs strategy contained one politically fatal flaw – it could not find a cohesive role for the loyalist paramilitaries, and it could not control the actions of those paramilitaries during the notorious Day of Action in 1986, which ended in loyalist street violence.
Before the Day of Action, the Unionist middle class was prepared to support the Ulster Says No and Ulster Still Says No campaigns; it even supported tentatively the Unionist campaign of civil disobedience against the Agreement.
But once the street violence erupts, that Unionist middle class support largely evaporated, leaving the Ulster Clubs a largely muted force within Unionism.
The New Vanguard Movement must firstly get the Unionist grassroots to re-engage with the political process. Practically, this means getting the pro-Union community not simply registered to vote, but to actually turn out in very significant numbers on polling days.
The New Vanguard Movement should be organised into chapters or branches based in Loyal Order halls, church halls, and band halls. These three once influential core elements of the pro-Union community generally feel their political parties have deserted them – they are the Loyal Orders, the Protestant denominations, and the marching band fraternity.
One of the strengths of the original Ulster Unionist Party was the public meetings which it organised in Orange halls, which enabled the grassroots to hold public discussions on the political topics of the day.
Such meetings became an accurate pulse on the heart and soul of Unionism, and enabled the Unionist leadership to make policy judgement calls based on the feedback from these debates and discussions.
The New Vanguard Movement can become a political vehicle to allow Unionism to begin talking to and about itself again. And once the grassroots has become both motivated and mobilised, the Unionist leadership of the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP will have to listen.
In practical terms, the various chapters or branches of the New Vanguard Movement would function in the same way as the Conservative Policy Committees operated in constituencies in the early 1990s.
Conservative headquarters would select a topic for discussion, which the Tory grassroots would debate under the CPC banner and send their constituency opinions back to head office.
In the New Vanguard Movement, a central co-ordinating committee would compile the discussion conclusions of its various branches, formulate a policy on the pulse of the Unionist grassroots and firmly convey those views to the political leadership of Unionism.
By adopting this strategy, Right-wing Unionism will once again be in the ascendancy and the scourge of liberalism will be eradicated once and for all from the pro-Union thinking.
If you can’t beat them, form an alternative to outwit them! In his latest Ballymena Accent column, Radical Unionist and conservative evangelical Christian commentator DR JOHN COULTER poses the controversial view that a new Liberal Unionist party could be the solution to outwitting the Alliance Party.
How can the trendy Liberal Left bandwagon which is Alliance under Naomi Long’s leadership be stopped from eating even further into Unionism?
As we get closer to Brexit in March 2019, and with no prospect of even a solution to the Stormont impasse, the traditional and social media seem jam-packed with spokespeople and politicians playing the so-called ‘middle ground’, ‘centrist’, ‘moderate’ and ‘liberal centre ground’ tickets.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the so-called middle ground in Northern Irish politics does not exist. It is merely the Alliance Party putting ideological meat on its previously decades-long (no pun intended!) of fluffy bunny politics.
The Ulster Unionists have certainly fallen into the pitfall of trying to develop a liberal agenda – in practice, that merely saw the party slip even further behind the DUP in the polls.
Even hard core UUP activists now fear if there was another Stormont poll, it would see the party slide into the unthinkable – returned to Parliament Buildings with only single figure MLAs.
There are even suggestions the once rock-solid Right-wing DUP is even considering dabbling with liberalism in a post-Paisleyite era.
So how can this Alliance bandwagon be stopped before it finally wrecks the UUP and a substantial section of the traditional mainstream Irish Presbyterian Church?
Ever since high-profile former MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister quit the slowly dwindling Ulster Unionists to form the doomed NI21 experiment, a number of questions have remained unanswered.
Primarily, can the already heavily fragmented Unionist family sustain yet another Unionist Party? Secondly, will any new future Liberal Unionist party actually survive, or will it join another liberal Unionist movement – the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) – in the dustbin of pro-Union history?
For the purposes of this specific column, I will refer to the new movement as the New Party. My conclusions are based on private conversations with liberal politicians and activists, whom I have known for a number of years.
Ironically, it was a relative of mine who first introduced Basil McCrea to the Unionist politics of the UUP.
I have never hidden my own desire for the ideal way forward for the pro-Union community. It is for a single Unionist Party to represent the entire Unionist family, with the various factions represented within that party by a series of pressure groups.
This would operate in the same manner that pressure groups have existed successfully within both the Conservative and Labour parties in Great Britain.
Bearing this in mind, it might seem a little strange for an overtly Radical Right-wing Unionist like myself suggesting there was a role for a separate liberal movement, the New Party, especially given the disastrous end of NI21.
Firstly, we need to recognize that there has always been a liberal Unionist strain among Northern Protestants. You need only look at the membership of the current Alliance Party to see the number of Protestants in their ranks and elected members – and especially the party’s infiltration of the Irish Presbyterian Church.
Even during the Home Rule crisis of more than a century ago, there was a strong liberal Unionist hotbed of support in Co Antrim, the supposed heart of the modern Unionist Ulster/DUP/TUV Bible Belt.
In the eventual creation of a single Unionist Party, the Alliance Party will have to be permanently eradicated from the electoral map. The current UUP – and even a more socially Left-leaning DUP – are not in a position to accomplish this feat.
In fact, the unthinkable is actually the bitter medicine of present politics – Alliance is slowly, but surely taking over – and expanding – the centre ground once occupied by the UUP. That is, whatever centre ground once held by the UUP which has not been snatched by the DUP under both Paisley senior and Robinson, and even to a certain degree by Arlene Foster since 2003.
The UUP and DUP should not underestimate the threat posed by Alliance. Ulster and Democratic Unionists should equally never dismiss the determination of Protestants associated with Alliance to maintain the Alliance position.
I went to school at Ballymena Academy and served in the Boys’ Brigade with John Alderdice, now Lord Alderdice, a former Alliance boss. During my time as a weekly newspaper editor in Carrickfergus, I reported regularly on the political activities of Stewart Dickson, now an East Antrim Alliance MLA.
I was left in no doubt about one clear conclusion – the determination of Protestants like John and Stewart to make liberal politics and their party work for the benefit of the electorate.
Now Naomi Long has taken up that political cudgel and fashioned Alliance into a clear Liberal Party, not just a trendy wine and cheese supper club for moderates.
So the threat posed by the Alliance Party to whatever is left of the UUP as well as progressive elements within the DUP will not be combated by sending the election-battered UUP into battle again against Alliance. A new Unionist champion is needed to wipe the polling floor with Alliance – now step forward the New Party.
We need a batch of Garden Centre Prods who have the personality, experience and profile to build a pluralist liberal movement which can fulfil this important primary goal of wrecking Alliance once and for all.
Like all parties, Alliance has had its good and bad times. One of the lowest points in its history – in fact, its last low point – came in the 1999 European poll when it ran its new leader, Sean Neeson from East Antrim, and scored only 2.1%
Since then, Alliance has never looked back. It chalked up two Stormont Ministries, its first Westminster MP and opinion polls predict it will eclipse the UUP in any future Stormont election, with Alliance holding on to its eight seats, and the UUP returning five MLAs at best.
If the party can survive the Union flag dispute, as well as any future loyalist flag or Protestant bonfire disputes, Alliance could be around as a major Liberal third force in Northern politics for generations to come behind both Sinn Fein and the DUP
Many Alliance elected representatives get and hold their seats because of transfers from Unionist voters.
The key question Alliance was able to successfully address – in a future election, will the anti-Alliance sentiment so apparent after the fateful Belfast City Hall flag decision a few years ago manifest itself in a polling booth boycott of Alliance?
The answer is simple – it didn’t. In spite of Unionist-bashing, Alliance not only survived, it thrived.
Indeed, If pro-Union voters continue to transfer to Alliance tactically to keep nationalists and republicans out, then the Union flag controversy has evaporated. For Alliance to struggle in the future, it won’t be because of a Unionist electoral boycott, but because its voter base has been split by a rival Liberal party.
So enter the New Party stage left! Just as Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice party dented the DUP, the New Party can severely dent Alliance.
The New Party will not last long-term, but it could last long enough to fatally injure the Alliance Party and see it either permanently removed from the Northern Ireland electoral stage, or reduced to fringe status, like the Progressive Unionist Party or Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Such a tactic has worked before in Unionism in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the first Tory Party experiment came to Northern Ireland under the then guidance of North Down’s Dr Laurence Kennedy.
He was the brain child behind the development and recognition of a series of constituency associations across Northern Ireland. In the run-up to the 1992 Westminster General Election, there was the real possibility that the intervention of Tory candidates could take enough votes off the UUP to see previously safe Ulster Unionist seats swing to the DUP.
To avoid the potential loss of Commons seats in 1992, a number of UUP activists infiltrated their local Tory associations with the simple purpose of influencing the outcome of the Westminster candidate selection process.
An example of this infiltration process was in East Antrim, where sitting UUP MP Roy Beggs senior was facing a strong challenge from DUP runner Nigel Dodds (now the North Belfast MP).
The East Antrim Conservative Association was then viewed as one of the most Right-wing of the new Tory associations. It was abundantly clear if a Right-wing Tory candidate split the traditional UUP vote, either Dodds or Alliance’s Sean Neeson could snatch the seat as Beggs senior had originally done in 1983 when the Commons seat was created.
In 1983, Beggs senior had defeated the DUP’s Jim Allister (now TUV leader and North Antrim MLA) by only 367 votes, making it one of the most marginal seats in the entire UK.
A UUP member in East Antrim managed to get on the Tory selection panel for the 1992 election and pushed the association to select a more liberal Conservative candidate rather than an overt Right-winger. The aim was to pitch the Tory Party in a head-to-head with Alliance for the centre vote.
The end result was that the Tory candidate polled almost 3,500 votes. Dodds pipped Neeson by around 400 votes, but more significantly Beggs senior held the seat with a majority of almost 7,500. Ironically, the East Antrim Westminster seat was lost some years later to the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.
If the DUP and UUP leaderships want to put Alliance in its box, the tactic is not to attack it directly with fluffy bunny liberal statements in the media. The best way to upset the Alliance apple cart is to pitch a new liberal alternative to that section of the electorate, hence the important of the New Party in this exercise.
The real aim of the New Party should be to ensure that Alliance does not become the real third or fourth force in Ulster politics behind the DUP and Sinn Fein. Those two parties look like holding their positions within their respective communities for the next few years.
This could leave a three-way battle for third place in the Stormont Executive between what is left of the UUP, the SDLP and Alliance. Set aside how a Unionist Unity ticket could guarantee the UUP’s survival in the short term. The New Party, ironically, could spell its long-term existence.
Rather than the badly-wounded UUP going back into the polling front line against Alliance, the pro-Union community should encourage the New Party to take up the electoral cudgels of giving Alliance a massive battering at the polls.
As an amended version of the old maxim states – if you want to beat them, undermine them with an alternative. Remember in mainland Britain how the old Social Democratic Party (SDP) sliced the then Liberal Party?
Any takers for the post of Chairman of the new Northern Ireland Liberal Party?
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Don’t give to the freewill offering and we’ll starve them out! Controversial political commentator, Dr John Coulter, uses a quote from a row in a Presbyterian Church 40 years ago to put the currently unthinkable case that a Hard Brexit could force the Irish Republic back into the United Kingdom. This is the path he outlines in his latest Ballymena Accent column.
Four decades ago, during a row in a rural Presbyterian church, a worshipper at that church trying to force out the clergyman uttered this advice to his henchmen – don’t give to the freewill offering and we’ll starve them out!
This was a crude reference to withholding funding to the church collection, known as the freewill offering, and by doing so it would seriously affect the stipend – or salary – which that church could give to its minister. With a substantially reduced salary, that cleric would have to leave the church!
With the clock ticking rapidly towards Brexit in March 2019, and still no agreement on a Hard, Soft, or Pliable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the key question remains – what financially is the Republic really afraid off?
Those who maintain Brexit, and even some kind of Soft Border, will pave the way towards a united Ireland are merely sabre-rattling. The bitter reality is that the South cannot afford the North. Even in basic health terms, and even without a functioning Stormont Executive, Northern Ireland still enjoys the luxury of free prescriptions. In the Republic, if you need to make a medical or dental appointment, you need to splash out a basic 50 euros.
And let’s not forget when the once-vibrant Celtic Tiger economy collapsed a few years ago, it was UK funding as part of an EU multi-million euro rescue bailout which saved the Republic’s economy.
Are all the republicans in Northern Ireland who are enjoying the privileges of ‘benefit street’ seriously wanting to abandon these for a 32-county democratic socialist republic where social security benefits will evaporate?
The Hard Brexit Border is feared by republicans and Southern politicians alike because such a scenario will in the long-term force the Republic to abandon its ‘republic status’ and re-negotiate a new Anglo-Irish Treaty which will see the South rejoin a closer formal relationship with the UK.
A Hard Brexit, if worked properly by Northern Ireland Unionists and hardline Brexiteers in the Tory Party, will not see an end to the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but a long-term extension of that Union.
Whether by the DUP dealing at Westminster, or by a reconvened Stormont Executive, Brexiteers must look to the increasingly powerful Commonwealth Parliamentary Association if they are serious about inward investment and bringing much-needed jobs to Ulster in a post Brexit Ireland.
While Northern Ireland voted ‘remain’ in the EU referendum, it should not be forgotten that there is a strong history of Euro scepticism across the geographical island of Ireland, north and south.
Be it the Stormont Executive or a Westminster group of DUP MPs and Tory Euro skeptics under Rees Mogg, such a clique must get its act in gear and begin negotiations with Commonwealth nations and beyond to fill the jobs black hole which has devastated both my home town of Ballymena and the wider Northern Ireland.
Several months ago, hundreds of people braved the cold weather to protest at the Rally for a Future, thereby sending a clear message to the then Stormont Executive that the time for fancy rhetoric is over and jobs have to be delivered for Ballymena.
The Executive (if it can be returned) or Westminster can no longer sit idly by and allow Ballymena to systematically become an economic wasteland and a jobs wilderness.
In practical terms, either the Executive or Westminster needs to urgently get its act in gear and look to our partner parliaments in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and beyond to bring much-needed new employment, not just to Ballymena, but right across Ulster.
If Sinn Fein and the DUP, which dominate the Stormont Executive, can get devolution back in place, both parties need to set aside their petty party differences and start working for the people. The speakers and public at the Rally for a Future all those months ago sent a loud demand to the Executive – Ballymena wants to work, and Ballymena needs work!
The CPA was formed in 1911 as the Empire Parliamentary Association with Ireland as a founder member when the island was united under the Union.
It now represents more than 50 national and regional parliaments throughout the globe. The Executive or Westminster needs to speak to many of these parliaments to see if firms can be encouraged to locate in Ulster, thereby creating the much-needed employment.
The Executive or Westminster needs to think far beyond the United Kingdom’s partner states within the European Union. The bitter economic reality we must face is that many of our EU partner states can provide products at a cheaper rate than us in Northern Ireland.
We need to develop our links with rapidly developing economies in nations, such as India, China, Brazil and even Russia.
However, on the dark side of this argument, if under Arlene Foster’s watch the DUP lost the First Minister’s post to Sinn Fein, it could spark further fragmentation within the unionist community as the various unionist movements vent their anger against the DUP.
And there’s no way Sinn Fein will want anything to do with the CPA. So what should Arlene’s answer be in this situation? Unionists must begin thinking outside the box – this means persuading the Republic to engage with the CPA.
The South has witnessed the Celtic Tiger slowly but surely crawling back onto its feet; when the UK leaves the EU, it will leave the Republic isolated on the fringes of Europe politically and geographically – even if under a second referendum, Scotland votes to leave the UK, but remain in the EU.
At the same time, Arlene can use her Westminster team headed up by Nigel Dodds MP to get hard Left Labour Jeremy Corbyn to persuade Sinn Fein to ditch its traditional policy of abstentionism at Westminster and take it Commons seats, thereby sucking Sinn Fein even further into the democratic process and British establishment.
Even if Sinn Fein becomes a minority government partner in the next Dail coalition in Dublin, the voters of Southern Ireland will never forgive the republican movement if it puts historic principles before putting people first.
Sinn Fein did this almost a century ago when it rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty, split republicanism and sparked the very bloody and brutal Irish Civil War which saw republican butcher republican.
Dr John Coulter has been a journalist working in Ireland for 40 years. Follow him on Twitter. @JohnAHCoulter
Would the real Hard Right of Unionism please stand up?
Contentious political commentator, Dr John Coulter, uses his inaugural Ballymena Accent column to challenge Unionism’s Radical Right to get its act in gear.
The Protestants-only Orange Order officially welcoming a gay Catholic nationalist Taoiseach to its East Belfast museum; the leader of the DUP attending Muslim, LGBT and GAA events as part of a political ‘love in’ with minority groups – what has happened to the so-called Hard Right of Unionism?
Ironically, liberal Unionism poses the single biggest threat to the actual Union itself than anything which Sinn Fein could achieve.
Liberal Presbyterians within the Alliance and Ulster Unionist parties have ripped up the maxim – ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’
The constant secularist-style propaganda being pumped out by their so-called liberal unionists from both camps is doing more to undermine the Union than the IRA and INLA bombing and shooting campaigns.
Why has the leader of the party whose founders once pelted a Taoiseach with snowballs decided to ‘go liberal’? Is it a publicity stunt to combat the rival Ulster Unionists’ ‘radical moderate’ agenda?
I very much doubt it given the consistent electoral drubbing which the DUP has inflicted on the UUP since the 2003 Stormont poll. Unionism is having to chase these minority groups in Northern Ireland because it has been lured away from its traditional voters bases – the Loyal Orders, the marching band fraternity and the Christian Churches.
Unionism seems incapable of guiding itself along the political parallel lines which the IRA’s ruling Army Council has pushed Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has been able to eat substantially into the electorally lucrative Catholic middle class (the natural voter base of the SDLP) while at the same time, firmly holding on to its traditional republican heartlands.
The days of the traditional Hard Right in Unionism are long gone into the annals of history. Could we see a return to the days of 1974 when the UDA muscle caused the collapse of the Sunningdale power sharing institutions? Not a chance.
Could we see again the days when the Bill Craig-led Ulster Vanguard movement marshalled thousands of loyalists in Nuremberg-style rallies? No chance.
Will we ever see the hundreds of thousands of Unionists who jammed the streets around the Belfast City Hall in the mid-Eighties to protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement? That’ll be another ‘no’.
Will we ever see a DUP dominated by the party’s Free Presbyterian fundamentalist wing? Not if the leader is courting both the Islamic and LGBT communities.
Will we ever see a rebirth of the Right-wing pressure group, the Ulster Monday Club, which dominated the UUP during the leadership of the late James Molyneaux? Not if the liberal clique in the UUP topple Orangeman Robin Swann’s traditional Ulster Unionist leadership.
The annual Drumcree debacle is proof positive that nationalists and republicans have been able to outwit Unionism in terms of street marching.
The Hard Right needs to get back to basics both in terms of mobilising Unionist opinion and picking its battles. The days of ‘Smash Sinn Fein’ when the Troubles were raging in the 1980s will not work.
Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice party is essentially a one-man band and does not have the party machinery to mount an effective challenge to the DUP.
The New Hard Right of Unionism must copy the initial structure of Vanguard, but must not fall into the pitfall of launching itself as a separate political party.
Unionism’s New Hard Right must organise from the bottom up by becoming a grassroots pressure group aimed at getting Unionism’s core traditional support to register as voters. Social conservatism around opposing both same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion reform will be the battle cries of the New Hard Right, particularly in the Christian Churches.
The mainstream Irish Presbyterian Church is having to soak up a lot of flak, especially from liberals in its own ranks following the recent General Assembly vote to ban same-sex couples from becoming communicant members, and refusing to baptise the children of same-sex couples, as well as cut its formal ties with the increasingly theologically wet Church of Scotland.
Under the banner of ‘Defend The Faith’ – almost Cromwellian style – the New Hard Right must mobilise all the Christian churches, denominations and independent fellowships to the cause of opposing both same-sex marriage and liberal abortion reform.
The battle grounds will not become the streets and roads, but the pews and the pulpits.
While secularists point to the drop in numbers attending the main denominations in Northern Ireland, they are not taking account of the thousands of people who worship regularly at Sunday services and mid-week Bible studies of many of the smaller Christian denominations, such as the Brethren, Baptists, Elim Pentecostalists, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, the Vineyard Church, as well as independent churches such as Green Pastures in Ballymena and Whitewell Tabernacle in north Belfast. Taken together, these worship groups represent a voting bloc of tens of thousands – but are they organised electorally?
The Loyal Orders have a major role to play in the workings of the New Hard Right. For generations, the Orange Order was the communicative cement which held Unionism together, whereby the rich businessman could sit in the same lodge room as the window cleaner and refer to each other as ‘brother’.
Using the Loyal Orders as their initial vehicles, the New Hard Right must use annual divine services, Twelfth parades, Royal Black parades, Apprentice Boys marches, and band parades to ensure that all those who participate and watch are registered to vote.
Just as the Southern Baptists Churches in the Deep South of America mobilised the Afro-American vote during the 1960s civil rights era, so too, the Loyal Orders and Christian Churches can mobilise its pro-Union base.
The New Hard Right can join party political branches and use its membership to either vote in candidates who oppose same sex marriage and liberal abortion reform, or de-select existing elected representatives who are pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage.
While legacy issues and the Irish language can be seen as important battles, the social conservative agenda is the one route which the New Hard Right can win.
There has been much talk of the need for a new Christian Party because of the liberal drifts in some Christian denominations. In reality, the secular society has not yet got such a grip on the body politic that a Christian Party is now needed.
Nor should the New Hard Right of Unionism be seen as a ‘Prods-only’ movement along the lines of the old Protestant Reformation Party. There are many socially conservative Catholics who would spiritually oppose same-sex marriage and liberal abortion in Northern Ireland.
Yes, the New Hard Right’s day has come to flex its political muscle. Pro-choice activists in the republic brandishing ‘The North is Next’ banners may well be the taunts which mobilise the New Hard Right into top gear.
There is a place for the New Hard Right in Northern Ireland, let alone Unionism. As with other nations in Europe, such as France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Austria – if a New Hard Right is not organised, the Far Right will fill the gap.
This throws up the frightening possibility that groups such as Britain First, Generation Identity, and other more sinister groups on the Extreme Right will plug the void.
Dr John Coulter has been a journalist working in Ireland for 40 years. Follow him on Twitter. @JohnAHCoulter