Monday, 24 September 2012

The Fringes of Unionism

This week's Gaelscéal has an interesting article about current DSD and former DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland, at the moment the subject of a — purely symbolic — censure motion in the Assembly over his failure to condemn misbehaviour by the Loyal Orders outside a Catholic church. The Blether Region has translated a few passages into English:

"It is recognised that McCausland is a capable person. He is an Oxford graduate. He is connected with the fringes of Unionism. He is strongly against Irish. Last year he said on the BBC that '20 people use the Irish language'. He is a creationist who was once a science teacher. He spent 10 years as Northern Secretary of the Lord's Day Observance Society.

He is a British Israelite. He believes that the people of Britain are a lost tribe of Israel. Indeed, he has been on his religious and political wanderings himself. He attends the Congregational Church every Sunday morning. In the evening, he plays the organ at an Independent Methodist Church.

His political life began in the UUUP (United Ulster Unionist Party), which split from Vanguard in the 80s. The UUUP fell apart. A lack of energy, rather than disagreement, was the cause. He stood as an Independent Unionist on a couple of occasions.

For a time he was in the Ulster Independence Committee, which advocated independence for the North. Then he joined the UUP but later left and registered with the DUP in 2001.

It is widely held that he is a Minister to prevent him gathering dissident Unionists around him. He is respected in the DUP, but does not have the loyalty of party members."

Of course, Gaelscéal is entirely correct in acknowledging that Nelson McCausland is a clever cookie, as well as a fearless — one is tempted to say "brass-necked" — defender of his faith-based beliefs, whether on creationism or Ulster Scots (the latter arguably even more tendentious than the former). However, Mr. McCausland is much more circumspect when it comes to British Israelism, a notion that many evangelical Christians would find seriously heretical and that could lose him votes. Nevertheless, Gaelscéal joins the Guardian, Wikipedia, and the BBC blogs of Mark Devenport and William Crawley in identifying Mr. McCausland as a current or former British Israelite.

BI is also a notion that, while not in itself racist, forms obvious parallels with racist doctrine, in furtherance of which it could easily be utilised. The British-Israel World Federation, for example, states that the British are "God's Servant People as defined in the Bible, irrespective of world Jewry, among whom we find only a residue of today's Israel folk." — i.e., for the BIWF, Jews are, by and large, mere pretenders to the special status rightfully held by the British family of nations.

Speaking of his association with leading Unionist politicians, the late Loyalist leader David Ervine once boasted that he "could tell you the colour of their wallpaper". Of course, Unionists' links with paramilitaries were never nearly as strong as those of their Republican counterparts, who were, in many cases, the self-same individuals. Unionists, after all, had the security forces to defend them and were sworn to uphold the constitution. Nevertheless, it is a matter of historical record that such contacts took place, usually at times of heightened tension or threat.

The highly charged milieu in which Mr. McCausland once moved also had its extremists. The Ulster Independence Movement (UIM) included David Kerr — a former National Front politician and, as far as the Blether Region can make out, one-time member of Ireland's Heritage LOL 1303, a private lodge formed by William McGrath, the British Israelite leader of paramilitary group TARA. Sammy McClure, a McGrath-type figure, is memorably portrayed in the film of Eoin McNamee's novel Resurrection Man strutting around in an SS uniform; McNamee's later novel The Ultras features McGrath as a character. Other UIM members included pastors Kenny McClinton and Clifford Peeples, both jailed for terrorist offences, and Willie Frazer, later of FAIR, who was refused the right to hold a personal protection weapon because of alleged links to Loyalists. Mr. Frazer's murdered father was rumoured to have been in the UVF, while the young Willie was a childhood friend of Billy Wright, later born-again leader of the LVF, and linked with British Israelism on the Internet.

It could be argued that, while the leaders of the UUP and DUP joined forces with paramilitaries (and each other) at times of crisis, the latter sorts' knowledge of Mr. McCausland's wallpaper may have been rather more long-term, obtaining over a number of years and, perhaps, more than one visit to B&Q.

If, as Gaelscéal plausibly claims, Mr. McCausland owes his place on the Executive to being at the very farthest extreme of Unionist acceptability, then he clearly has a fine line to tread.

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