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The SDLP’s claim the DUP are “fanning the flames of violence” in Northern Ireland is a disgrace

5 min read

It is perverse for the SDLP to claim it is “combative language” by unionists that is "fanning the flames" in Northern Ireland when we have condemned, in a vociferous voice, the recent violence that has burst onto the streets.

The attempted character assassination of the DUP last week by Claire Hanna, claiming we are “fanning the flames of violence” will not be tolerated and must be called out by any right-thinking parliamentarian.

Unfortunately, we are used to this hate language from the SDLP, which is hard to disguise, even when it is put forth by young, modern, nationalist, women. But hate language it is, and we must speak the truth to it.

Unionists have regularly found themselves in a place where nationalists, even so-called moderate nationalists, felon set them in a manner that means unionists must be silent in the face of their accusations. Unionism unanimously has condemned, in a vociferous voice, the recent violence that has burst onto the streets. We have good reason to do so; not just because it is wrong but because it takes away from our very legitimate grievances that can and must be addressed via the democratic process.

Name-calling, slander and character assassination won’t solve the problems nationalism has with addressing unionist concerns

It is unfortunate that the argument Hanna chooses to muster against unionists is, on the one hand, claiming she is calling out their “rhetoric”, while on the other deploying the most baseless claims against them. Name-calling, slander and character assassination won’t solve the problems nationalism has with addressing unionist concerns.

The SDLP cannot hide behind this fog and pretend it is a coherent strategy in the current crisis. The ramblings of Hanna barely disguise the fact that the party is bereft of any idea of how to deal with it. Frankly, the founder of the party, the late John Hume, would be appalled by the current raft of bitter and harsh SDLP voices that have little-to-no self-awareness, and are contemptuous of people who have a different point of view.

The thesis presented by Hanna is wrong on all counts. I can only hope it was written in a fit of pique, and will now be reflected upon as misjudged. She argues that unionists can only say “no” and have no alternative to the protocol.

To recap, the rest of the UK has been able, after three years, to exit the EU, whilst Northern Ireland has been lumbered with a protocol. It has made our part of the UK a proxy zone for the EU single market and simultaneously damaged established trading links with Great Britain, thus preventing any real benefit other than mountains of red tape.

There have now been a number of alternative arrangement propositions put forward, including one by the government to extend the grace period for a number of years. What is apparent is that not even one has been read by our detractors.

The protocol itself makes it clear that in the event of communal, economic or social problems the UK can take measures to fix these matters. Unfortunately, at the heart of the SDLP’s argument is a denial that the “half-in-half-out protocol policy” that they are clinging to is damaging the entirety of Northern Ireland, and it is in our collective interest to fix this.

I was heartened by the Labour Party’s unified voice on this in parliament this week, where the front bench and backbenches alike from the opposition collectively identified the protocol and its effect as the obstacle that must be addressed. Making the protocol a political totem that must be defended at all costs, as if it is something nationalists cannot do without, is a mistake. It only serves to highlight that it is in fact the SDLP who are saying “no” to change, when change is a requirement and when they have no alternatives to something they didn’t support from the outset!

Hanna then resorts to a disgraceful claim that unionists’ rhetoric is to blame for the unrest, without a single example or any evidence of their “combative language”. Once again, the complete lack of any self-awareness is breath-taking. Hanna is not unaccustomed to combative language herself. In 2019 she took to Twitter to call me a “gobshite”. Her leader, Colum Eastwood MP, earlier this year responded to an online conversation with an Alliance party MLA by calling my colleague, Sammy Wilson MP a “prick”. Now could you imagine for one moment if any other MP used such abusive terms against another member, especially a woman MP?

Such explicit, negative, abusing and derogatory terms should cause an outcry, perhaps even a standards inquiry. It is perverse for her to therefore claim it is “combative language” by unionists that is fanning the flames in Northern Ireland. Little wonder the SDLP’s pious words are not taken seriously. When the general unionist community see these abusive attacks made on the people whom they send to parliament to represent them, it sends a message back: this is how low the esteem is in which we regard your representatives – so just how much lower do we regard you?

If we are going to have calls for calm, then let’s have honesty and clarity of thinking. The violence must stop, and the government at Westminster has a duty to ensure that the protocol is set to the side and alternative measures that remove the destabilising aspects of that protocol are removed. Frankly, there is no necessity for all of the checks of goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain: everyone knows that.

Now let us collectively get to a position where trade can be normalised, tensions unwound and normal political engagement resume.


Ian Paisley Jr is the DUP MP for North Antrim.

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