Some unionists also believe Irish unity is inevitable

Some unionists also believe Irish unity is inevitable

HAVING written a book titled A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About, I find some people quibble with my casual sense of destiny.

“Nothing is inevitable,” they say. “You can’t assume events will play out in a straight line.”

Perhaps so, but most of us expect the sun to set in the west and Manchester City to appear in the top six at the end of the football season.

Some outcomes, when based on evidence, are a pretty safe bet.

Anyway, the good news is that I’m not alone anymore.

I have a new brother-in-arms who also believes that a ‘New Ireland’ is, well, ‘inevitable.’

Slightly unusually, he’s a founder member of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Not only that, but he worked as a special adviser to Nigel Dodds, the party’s former deputy leader.

He’s also an evangelical Protestant — of a fairly muscular variety — believing that the Pope is the anti-Christ.

Wallace Thompson is an odd bedfellow, you might think.

And yet here we are.

In a recent interview, he described unionism as the ‘unwanted child in the [UK’s] house.’

Although he wants more assurances about the protection of his culture and religion, he fully accepts that southern Ireland is now a ‘different animal.’

Furthermore, he thinks that unionism was probably always ‘doomed’ and that the changing make-up of society – with the recent census showing there are more Catholics than Protestants - is now a game-changer.

“Do you accept that demographic change is such that we have to run to the walls and again shut the gates?” he asked. “Or do we recognise that we can’t keep doing this?”

What it amounts to is a clear-headed assessment that Northern Ireland is now time-limited - and it is simply prudent and realistic to game out future scenarios.

He’s ready to talk about the future – and he’s not alone.

Under the surface, quietly, other unionists are arriving at similar conclusions and forecasting that the Union will come to an end.

Former Alliance party leader, Lord John Alderdice, said something similar earlier this year.

Describing the last assembly result as ‘catastrophic’ for unionists, he claimed Britain now has ‘no emotional attachment’ to Northern Ireland - with joint authority between London and Dublin the ‘inevitable trajectory’ of the current impasse at Stormont.

“It’s all over bar the shouting,” he tweeted in response to Wallace Thompson’s remarks.

Writer Claire Mitchell’s thoughtful book Ghost Limb: Alternative Protestants and the Spirit of 1798 explores the radical Irish Protestant tradition that goes back to figures like Wolfe Tone, Emmett and McCracken.

She makes the point that there are 60 strands of Protestantism in Northern Ireland with far more nuance than we might commonly assume. It’s an important point.

Most people from a Protestant-unionist background will doubtless vote to keep the status quo when the border poll comes in the next few years.

But a significant number are acclimatising themselves to the likelihood – or even inevitability - of change and concluding that Irish unity might not be that bad after all.