DUP leader Peter Robinson has unveiled plans for a 'Unionist Academy' to be formally launched in September to "fight back against republican attempts to erode the British identity in Ulster [sic]".
His plans include two linked organisations:
1. A Unionist Academy, to promote "the unionist culture" and the "advantages of the union"; encourage "unionist learning in the community" and provide a forum for unionist strategising and policy-making; it will be a think-tank – as opposed to a bricks and mortar establishment, and will offer a forum where DUP "policies can be formulated" but it will also be an educational vehicle.
2. A British Cultural and Equality Unit to provide legal advice to the public on fighting the removal of British emblems from Northern Ireland society. This body will "specifically monitor and respond to attacks on unionist culture"; "offer support and legal advice"; and "will have a professional group of people with a strong legal input available to be used by anyone in the unionist community".
So, stripping away the jargon, what the DUP is planning for its Unionist Academy is yet another pro-unionist pressure group, to add to the myriad of others. Since there is no such thing as a 'unionist culture' apart from sectarian marching bands, it is probable that it will simply join the chorus of organisations seeking to defend controversial and unwelcome Orange Order marches. The unionists already have a squadron of pro-marching pressure groups, pro-Ulster-Scots groups, and (real) think-tanks. So precisely what Robinson thinks that this new one will do is hard to understand. Still, he may succeed in splitting unionism even more, and wasting its resources on multiple parallel organisations, so his initiative is good from a nationalist point of view.
TUV MEP Jim Allister sees through the DUP proposals, which he calls window dressing aimed at distracting DUP supporters unhappy with the Stormont regime.
The second of Robinson's organisations – the 'British Cultural and Equality Unit' – has the clear intention of using legal channels to challenge, and where possible, block all moves by nationalists and others to promote cultural fairness and parity of cultural identity in the public sphere.
If this 'unit' ever gets off the ground, it will provide a 'non-partisan' vehicle for aspiring unionist solicitors and barristers to launch divisive and reactionary court cases against decisions taken by local and central government bodies. It will try to maintain the overwhelmingly unionist symbolism of the north, despite the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to equality, and the Assembly's commitment to a 'shared future'. In launching this body, Robinson is saying quite clearly that he and the DUP do not support equality of cultural identity, or fairness and sharing of public space. And yet, in his statement, he insisted that the 'fight back' would not destabilise government. He said: "There has been something of a cultural war in Northern Ireland. We intend to fight back. Our unionist way of life will not be put in some drawer in the back of an office".
From this 'unit', we can thus expect such 'progressive' actions as; challenges to every expression of the Irish language in public, challenges to funding for the Irish language or the GAA, campaigns against memorials to the republican dead, challenges against decisions of district councils to remove unionist paraphernalia, challenges against limits to the flying of unionist flags, etc. The courts may well become clogged up with vindictive and petty cases, some of which this 'unit' may win, to their delight, but many of which they will lose.
Community relations will, of course, suffer; the Assembly and Executive will become more polarised; the image of Northern Ireland in the wider world will revert to that of the past; and all of this will be in vain, because, as Robinson himself admitted: "the party … needs to address what I think is a major failing of unionism, which is the fall-away in the unionist vote. At every election there are fewer unionists coming out to vote." So his latest rearguard actions will merely sour relations, and confirm the belief that unionists are incapable of fairness or equality, during the long slow decline of unionist power. As such, they will help to ensure the kind of community polarisation that will ensure that nationalists, once their numbers are sufficient, will vote to abolish unionism's nasty little statelet.