Anyone that helps dispel the myths surrounding the settlement in the north is undoubtedly performing a useful service. If they manage to puncture the smug and self satisfied public consensus that prevails in the south then they deserve a double commendation.
So step forward and receive your accolade - Wallace Thompson. Never heard of him? Well never had anyone else before his barnstorming appearance on the Joe Duffy radio phone in show. Listeners were treated some of that good “old time religion” that many had believed was on the wane in the era of peace. But here was Wallace to demonstrate that there was some life in the old tunes yet.
He had been invited onto the show as a spokesperson for the Evangelical Protestant Society. They had stirred some controversy by denouncing the Church of Ireland for selling rosary beads in the shop attached to St Patrick’s Cathedral. Thompson claimed that it was wrong for a Protestant church “to be selling things that are Roman Catholic.” So much for ecumenism! Warming to his theme Thompson went on to castigate listeners for adhering to a corrupt and idolatrous creed that demanded the turning of Protestant partners in mixed marriages. To top his performance off he denounced that People as “the anti-Christ” and said that he would be doing everything in his power to prevent a papal visit to the north.
These opinions and the people that hold them are often dismissed as marginal – bigoted no doubt, but fortunately with little influence. However, when we look at the background of Mr Thompson we actually find that the contrary is true. As a former career civil servant who is currently employed as a special adviser to the DUP minister Nigel Dodds, he is very close to the centre of power in the north. Such posts are among the most prized items of political patronage that Stormont has to offer. For Mr Thompson to occupy such a position he would have to share a broad political perspective with the DUP leadership. What he obviously doesn’t share with them are some diplomatic skills. That people such as Thompson occupy positions at the heart of the Executive is more evidence of its thoroughly reactionary character.
Also cutting against the perceived wisdom were unionists in Limavady. As a means of creating a more neutral environment in council buildings, nationalists made the modest suggestion that some militarist and royalist symbols be removal. In response unionist councillors, one of who had literally wrapped himself in the Union Jack, whipped up a lynch mob which invaded the chamber and forced the abandonment of the council’s monthly meeting. This harassment was endorsed by the local MP – the DUP’s Gregory Campbell.
The ideology surrounding the settlement, propagated by Sinn Fein in particular, holds that things are changing. But the episodes above suggest otherwise. They demonstrate that sectarianism, rather than diminished, is actually being entrenched and legitimised. They also show the severe limitations on any prospect of progressive change. If unionists can get so agitated over things such as rosaries and a Charles and Diana mug, how must more resistant would they be towards anything that pointed towards real equality!