It’s autumn and the bogeyman is back

Early on one of the two bright mornings last week that was our ‘summer,’ I found myself in a clothes shop. A mannequin was dressed in a mustard sweater with a brown tweed jacket. Oh no! Then I noticed tweeds and sweaters were all over the place. Orange, deep red and green banners hung from the ceiling announcing the “new season’s fashions”.

Early on one of the two bright mornings last week that was our ‘summer,’ I found myself in a clothes shop. A mannequin was dressed in a mustard sweater with a brown tweed jacket. Oh no! Then I noticed tweeds and sweaters were all over the place. Orange, deep red and green banners hung from the ceiling announcing the “new season’s fashions”.

‘Summer’ had just arrived but for retailers it was autumn. We’ll soon be hearing how few sleeps there are until Santa comes.

I was only there to get away from the stupid debate about the IRA. Have they gone away or haven’t they? Suddenly, the IRA debate seemed preferable to time travelling in a clothes shop past the arrival of summer into autumn.

Do you remember when parents used to threaten their naughty children with the, “bogeyman”? It’s not politically correct now but it used to be commonplace. The threat was useful even if it wasn’t sensible.

What happened? Did the bogeyman turn his life around somewhere along the line and become a reformed character? Did that render him useless as a threat? Maybe he became a force for, “a peaceful, political agenda,” to paraphrase George Hamilton on the IRA. If something like that happened, maybe parents need a new bogeyman?

As it is with parents, so it is with unionists. They need an IRA bogeyman. They always did. “The ceasefire is the greatest threat to the union in fifty years,” said Unionist Leader James Mollyneaux when the first ceasefire was announced in 1994.

Unionists prefer to feel besieged. It’s deeply ingrained in their psyche. Back in the late 1960s when the civil rights campaign got under way, unionists were determined to see it as an IRA threat. The IRA were clearly at their lowest ebb since partition. They had all but gone away but unionists were desperate to resurrect them.

So long as unionist people feel they’re contending with a threat, real or imagined, their politicians are empowered to pose as defenders. Even when the threat has only been invented, a tussle goes on amongst politicians to pose as the most determined enemy of the bogeyman and the strongest defenders of the fearful ‘children’.

That’s what’s happening now. By pulling his only minister out of the Executive, on the pretext of the murder of Kevin McGuigan, Mike Nesbitt sees it as his chance to make life harder for Peter Robinson. It’s pathetic but it’s hard to feel sympathy for Peter Robinson and his DUP. That’s what they did to David Trimble and to the long line of relatively moderate unionist leaders before him. It was their game since Terence O’Neill met Sean Lemass in 1965. It’s a case of what goes around, comes around Peter. Still, it’s fascinating to watch Robinson being turned into David Trimble.

But just as parents inventing a threat from the bogeyman was never wise, so politicians encouraging unionist people to feel threatened isn’t wise. It’s stupid.

The DUP have been wrong-footed by Nesbitt’s ploy. In the longer term Sinn Féin’s chances of becoming the largest single party in the north have been enhanced. If that happens and Martin McGuinness becomes First Minister as a result, it’ll be too late for unionists to grasp the folly of depending on bogeymen.