I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw footage of the Maundy Money ceremony featuring the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh in stole, cope and mitre. But then I heard him speak and he turned out to be an Englishman (not an Anglo-Irishman – theirs is a very particular accent and he doesn’t have it). Then it made sense.
Yes, it was good to see him, his Cardinal counterpart, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and the President of the Methodist Conference, all standing in a row and reading out their prayers. But don’t get used to such sights.
Across at least 12 denominations (Free Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian, Elim Pentecostal, Plymouth Brethren, Exclusive Brethren, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God, Free Methodist, Baptist, Reformed Presbyterian, Independent Methodist, Congregational) and six other organisations (the Caleb Foundation, the Evangelical Protestant Society, the Independent Orange Order, the Faith Mission, the Christian Workers’ Union, and the Christian Institute), something very different is rapidly supplanting Northern Ireland’s mainstream Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist bodies, and is also well on the way to taking over the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution, and the Apprentice Boys.
But no party really speaks for that constituency; Peter Robinson is not a Free Presbyterian, and they have removed Ian Paisley as their Moderator. Nature abhors a vacuum. How much longer will she tolerate either this state of affairs, or the absence of any voice for Catholics in favour of the Union, or the absence of any pro-Union voice of organised labour as such?
Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by STV for multimember constituencies. The economic views of these three groups are all much the same. So are the social views of at least two of them, and probably of all three. If one of each put up in each constituency, then – with second and third preferences not only from each others’ supporters but in each case from all over the place – there is a very high possibility that all 54 of them would be elected. Certainly, a very considerable number of them would be.
They might disagree about many things, but none of those is of any pressing legislative importance. There is a long history of co-operation at Westminster between Unionists and especially Labour Catholics on economic populism, between Unionists and especially Tory Catholics on rural affairs, and between Unionists and Catholics generally on moral and social issues. And all three of these constituencies are agreed that the Unionist Establishment needs a shock. Let it be given one.