I WAS going to start this column with “Jim Allister is not a happy man." But then I remembered that Jim is rarely anything other than unhappy. Many things lead him to this suspicious view of life; currently it’s Casement Park that has raised Jim’s well-exercised hackles.
On Twitter/X, Jim declared regarding Casement Park expense: "If Dept want to commit more public money than already agreed, then, surely, that would require Executive approval. SF playing games here.’
Jim may have a point about expense. The development of Casement Park was originally costed at £77 million; when last seen it was heading for the horizon yelling ‘£140 million!’ That’s quite a change and there are many taxpayers, I’d guess, who don’t like the GAA treating the public purse as if it were a magic money tree (yes, yes, a hopelessly confused metaphor, Virginia, now zip it).
The problem for Jim is that his objection will not be seen by nationalists in financial terms, but just another occasion where Jim does his sweaty best to attack something because it might bring benefits to an audience of nationalists.
Mr Allister’s intervention is in harmony with his past form. He disliked the GFA. He was and is the most hardline of hardliners in his opposition to the Protocol and to the Windsor Framework, claiming these would create division between NEI and the rest of the UK – in fact it’d be “a dagger” into the heart of the union. Jim has a choke-lead around the neck of the DUP and he gives it a hefty yank when he figures they may be straying from the path.
It seems a century ago now, but Jim was himself once a card-carrying DUPer, quitting the party in 1987 over an electoral pact between the DUP and other parties. He came back to the fold and was a DUP MEP for a time, but then broke away once more when the DUP went into government with Sinn Féin. More recently, he played an important role in pressuring the DUP to quit the Executive. Like the lady in Oklahoma!, with Jim it’s all or nuthin’.
And he’s not a barrister for nothing either. Jim is media-savvy, very good at producing a coherent argument at a moment’s notice. He may be politically to the right of the DUP, but he doesn’t go in for the curry-my-yoghurt approach of Gregory Campbell or Sammy Wilson’s yelps about the Irish language being a leprechaun language. if Jim calls names, they’re usually the cherry on top of an impressively assembled argument.
And yet Jim’s voice evokes considerable eye-rolling, even among unionists. This is, I think, a little unfair. The Protocol, as Jim argues, does create a kind of border between NEI and the UK. Unfortunately, nationalists respond to his border complaints by pointing out that there shouldn’t have been a border in Ireland in the first place; and besides, the Good Friday Agreement has assured unionists there’ll be no change in the constitutional position of NEI except a border poll says there should be. Because Jim has always been so aggressively opposed to anything with the faintest whiff of cooperation let alone reconciliation, nationalists find Jim’s thinking predictable.
But maybe the main feature that hampers Jim from attracting hordes of followers is that he looks so unhappy so much of the time. Would this man be good company, one wonders, if both of you went off for a beer together? Jim’s expression says “Never! Never!” This is a serious disadvantage for a politician, and may well explain why, despite his obvious intelligence and eloquence, people find it hard to warm to this man who looks as though he may, ten seconds earlier, have swallowed a wasp.