Ulster Unionist Party and Dissent

UUP trio following in footsteps of de Valera

The present dilemma facing us all because of the present crisis within the Ulster Unionist Party, requires some reflection both historically and ethically.

There are those within the Ulster Unionist Party who will not accept the democratic decision of the meeting, of the Ulster Unionist Council, on Monday 16th June.

Ironically, these ‘super-unionists’ are actually following in the Gaelic republican tradition of Eamon de Valera.

In the 1920’s he also continued to oppose the democratically reached decision, even though he had undertaken to accept the Treaty, agreed by the Irish delegation to London, providing it was accepted by the Cabinet.

When the Cabinet went on to accept it, he reneged and refused to abide by the Cabinet decision, claiming that it would be accepted if it was endorsed by Dáil Éireann.

When it was endorsed by the Dáil he still refused to accept it.

The next wrangle was that he would accept it if the country accept it in an election.  When the country overwhelmingly accepted the Treaty, Eamon De Valera still “refused to accept the majority vote of the Irish people”, and led the Free State into Civil War.

Jeffrey Donaldson, David Burnside, the Rev. Martin Smyth and Lord Molyneaux, may not like to be cast in the mould of Sinn Fein. But they are, from an historical perspective, following in the footsteps of Eamon De Valera.

This is particularly galling to observe, when those who cry majority rule in one situation refuse to accept it in another.

The ethical question arises in relation to the acceptance of the democratic process.

Why is this apparently sacrosanct principle now being laid aside in relation to the decision of the Ulster Unionist Council?  On the basis of making a principled stand?  You surely cannot make a principled stand on the basis of changing principles to suit your personal needs.

There is surely some confusion here between policy and principle.

Of course, there is the right of dissent.  But the right of dissent, like all other rights, carries with it responsibilities.  The right of dissent cannot negate the responsibility to accept the expressed will of the majority.

Coming as I do from the Presbyterian tradition of dissenters, I am prepared to affirm my right to dissent more than most.

But there is an important caveat in dissent.  That traditional line of dissenters, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, has expressed that caveat in its rule book – the Code. Paragraph 104 (3) reads:- Decisions of the General Assembly are final and binding on the whole Church, but a member of the Assembly who dissents from a decision . . . although he shall not therby free himself from obligation loyally to implement the decision so long as it stands unaltered”.

The choice facing the Ulster Unionist dissidents members is either to remain as they are wedded in the democracy of De Valera – my way or no way at all – or embrace the traditional Presbyterian Democracy, and “loyally implement the decision” of their own Ulster Unionist Council.

Rev. Brian Kennaway.

This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on 8 July 2003