By Squinter

HANDS up who remembers Billy Hutchinson’s cunning plan promise.

Okay, now hands up who has ever managed to find out exactly what the cunning plan was.

Thought not.

Squinter’s been pondering for a while the apparent inability of unionists to do the things they say they’re going to do – Billy’s stirring response to the fleg insult being a perfect case on point.

There are two ways of describing exactly what happened that led Billy to make said promise, so in the interests of balance Squinter will give you both.

1. A democratic decision was taken to fly the union flag on City Hall on designated days.

2. Our national flag was cruelly torn down as part of the Alliance/Sinn Féin war on British culture.

There. Don’t let it ever be said that Squinter’s one-sided or biased.

Anyway, Billy appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics to reflect on the growing loyalist anger that had led many Protestants to (oh, dear, here we go again)

1. Take to the streets in an impassioned display of patriotic anger.

2. Wreck the place.

As Ulster looked on in wide-eyed and open-mouthed apprehension, our Billy told viewers that steps were being taken to get the flag back up. He wouldn’t elaborate on exactly what those steps were, saying only: “Over the next couple of days we will announce what we’re doing. If the case is as solid as we think it is, we will announce it in the next week or so.”

That was on December 16, 2012. Far from a couple of days passing before Billy let us in on the details of his cunning plan, nearly 600 days have gone by and we haven’t heard a dickybird. And last time Squinter looked the butcher’s apron still wasn’t flying at City Hall. Well, to be strictly accurate, that’s not true. Last time Squinter looked it was flying, but that was only because it was some weird anniversary – the queen’s favourite corgi getting neutered or Prince Charles scoring his first polo hat-trick – and it was taken down at sunset. But you get the point.

‘Mainstream’ unionism you might think would be rather more considered in its response to the fleg atrocity. No way would they say or do anything that they couldn’t deliver on, because Ulster deserves better than that. But what the UUP and DUP got themselves caught up in just three weeks later was the Unionist Forum – “The most representative group in the unionist community to meet in half a century” in the breathless words of First Minister Peter Robinson.

The Unionist Forum’s first task was to, ah, set up a taskforce. Its second task was to set up eight groups, each with a brief to engage with the wider unionist community on issues of concern across the spectrum. The Forum included parties linked to loyalist paramilitaries, but when asked if the Forum would be talking to the paramilitaries directly, Mr Robinson said: “We will talk to anyone who wants to talk to us about how we can move forward…”

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt was excited by the new group. He said there were plans for the Forum to “get out and hit the ground” the very next day.

Sadly, the Forum’s last meeting took place just six months later, in the summer of 2013, the main item on the agenda being the decision of TUV leader Jim Allister to pull out. How many meetings there had been before the last meeting we don’t know, because nobody’s saying.

In February of this year, a News Letter headline read: ‘Unionist Forum “finished” as another party walks away’ (UKIP). A DUP spokesman told the paper: “Due to ongoing discussions on parades, flags and the past, the Forum has not been in a position to complete some its work programmes.” Which was a strange thing to say since the vast bulk of the Forum’s intended work was centred on the issues of parades, flags and the past. East Belfast community worker Jim Wilson, who represented the Red Hand Old Comrades group on the Forum, said the failure of the Forum to do what it said it was going to do was “frustrating”, adding that some people “believe it was a ruse to get them off the flag protests”.

So farewell, then, Unionist Forum and that’s two strikes against you, Ulster – one more and you’re out. The dread triple-whammy duly came at the start of July when the Parades Commission ruled that the Ligoniel lodges wouldn’t be getting home on the Twelfth. “What a shock that was,” said no-one. Furious unionists (are there any other kind this weather?) met to formulate a response to this latest outrage. Peter Robinson called it “The most representative group in the unionist community to meet since we set up the Unionist Forum a wee while ago.” (Or at least he should have.) Signing a Carsonesque pledge to save Ulster (in a non-violent way, natch) on a union jack table (we don’t know if it was ink or blood), Robinson, Nesbitt et al promised a “graduated response” to the Parades Commission’s outrageous decision. They didn’t say what that was going to take the shape of, but clearly any action would not be based on the Hutchinson ‘cunning plan’ template and it would not involved the setting up of a Unionist Forum.

So what was it? Well, nine weeks on we haven’t a clue and at Camp Twaddell they’re still living on hope and Pot Noodles and firing up the Superser in preparation for another long winter after the Twelfth came and went. And already there’s been a split in the camp (the Graduated Response Camp, not the Twaddell one). The ink/blood still hadn’t dried on the pledge when the UDA-lined UPRG had this to say in its party organ, The Loyalist: “…at the moment there is as lot of suspicion over the long-term viability of this plan.” And: “ In short, the current ‘graduated response’ looks limp, ineffective, poorly staged, lacklustre and ultimately incapable of achieving a radical victory.” Ouch!

So where does poor, loyal, lost Ulster go from here? What next for this Dad’s Army of plucky but bungling heroes battling to get that fleg back up and the brethren home? Well, watch this space; the huge space that was supposed to filled by the cunning plan, the Unionist Forum and the graduated response.

Please follow and like us: