Now here is an odd coincidence.
Two days ago, I blogged “Wanted: One Catholic…No Experience Necessary”. It was a reference to the inevitability that one day Peter Robinson will call a news conference to unveil the DUP;s first Catholic member. It was also a reference that this is the only missing piece of the “Outreach” jigsaw ……replicating the doomed Terence O’Neill.
Of course in the O’Neill era, the Chair of Queens University’s Unionist Association was Louis Boyle but as I understand it he left the Party after failing to get a nomination to contest the “Crossroads Election” in early 1969.
Of course the backwoodsmen have always managed to make the UUP look toxic in Catholic eyes. And the events of this week show that the knuckledraggers in DUP make that Party even more toxic.
So late last night, I received a tweet alerting me to a news story (unsure of the newspaper) that former SDLP MLA for East Antrim has announced that he “might” join the DUP.
I have a lot of time for Danny O’Connor. In 1998 he won a seat in East Antrim. Largely because he was under the radar. Almost immediately loyalists in and around Larne started a campaign of intimidation against Catholics. He lost out in the 2003 Election. Since then boundary changes has brought some “nationalist” wards into the constituency but Sinn Féin has taken the lion’s share.
In 2011, he failed to win his council seat. My records show that he competed as “SDLP” but the newspaper article suggests he had left SDLP and been Independent. Had he re-joined?
Either way, he MIGHT be joining DUP. But as I stated in earlier blog, Catholics who are unionist are not exactly “typical”.
So what is Danny’s story? Well he states he is an Irishman who believes in a United Ireland and that certainly seems at variance with a DUP core policy. He holds an Irish passport……but then so too……I am told……does Willie Hay, the DUP Speaker. But in the spirit of outreach if Danny DOES join DUP, we will be able to recognise him……he will be the one waving the Irish National Flag……..which in the spirit of “Outreach” will be placed on his chair by DUP staff setting up the Conference. He has also served in the Ulster Defence Regiment, like many of his potential DUP colleagues.
All of this of course does beg the question of how he would vote (if he became a DUP Councillor) in a Flag Debate. Or if he actually becomesa MLA will he sign the register in Stormont and declare himself “nationalist”.
So what has he in common with DUP? Well oddly……it seems……..its not about secularism at all. Its actually about Religion. Danny thinks the DUP are closer to his Catholic upbringing on issues such as abortion and equal marriage.
Of course there ARE many conservative Catholics……..and while many mainstream Catholics would be hostile to abortion, most mainstream and liberal Catholics dont think that much of it ……to make it a single defining political issue.
Indeed the Catholic Church in Scotland has been at war with the Labour Party over the issue but there are many Labour MPs and MSPs who consider themselves devout Catholics…….mainstream, liberal and traditional. Likewise attempts in Republic of Ireland to drive a “Catholic” party…….resisted by the Church itself…..happy enough that it has practising members in Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.
It is an odd situation. I just cant see Caleb Foundation types rushing to embrace Danny.
Will DUP find a Catholic? Almost certainly. But if I was a betting man, Id look to Poland.