JAMES Molyneaux, who was an Ulster Unionist MP when the Ulster Unionist Party still believed it was unassailable, in 1977 wrote a letter to then Secretary of State Roy Mason. It was on the matter of seat belts. Westminster was proposing to introduce compulsory wearing of said safety measure. Only it was introducing this on a phased basis and the drivers of the North of Ireland were scheduled to be safer a few months earlier than the drivers of the Home Counties.

Mr Molyneaux was incensed! Outraged! Fuming! He wrote to Mr Mason in “the strongest possible terms”, stating that the move would “only increase criticism and distrust of the direct rule system”.

Mr Mason, a man not to be spoken down to, wrote back to Mr Molyneaux, and rather brutally pointed to the raft of differences in laws between the northern Irish statelet and Britain, stating “you and your colleagues… fully recognise the need… to retain various provisions in Northern Irish law dealing with acts of terrorism which currently have no equivalent in the UK and are considered by some to be at least controversial.” Mr Mason went on to point out that seat belt wearing here was lower than in the other jurisdictions and that the numbers of fatal road traffic casualties higher. 350 people died on the roads that year. Such realities and suffering meant little to the Ulster Unionist MP who was afraid the safe Lisburn driver might be less British than the dead Cambridge non-seatbelt wearer. Of course, living with an Emergency Powers Act that sacrificed all semblance of human rights was a perfectly accommodating situation, and felt perfectly British in tone and content.

Fast forward to 2023. Seven years into the catastrophe of Brexit and the very same nihilist, senseless bull remains at the centre of unionist thinking. Locally accountable government can be sacrificed easily and without care so that a minority of the minority of unionism can feel warm and fuzzy that they remain as British as a suburb in Milton Keynes.

Never mind that the suburb in Milton Keynes has never heard of the Protocol, and could not care less if loyal Ulster marched every day until Doomsday up and down a street in Broughshane. Never mind that the Protocol does nothing whatsoever to dilute or enhance a single person’s nationality, identity or constitutional preference. Never mind that the Protocol only exists as a seat belt to mitigate against the worst excesses of a Brexit which could decimate the economy of this region and this island. Never mind that the entire public services infrastructure is creaking. Never mind that the health service has broken and people are dying as a result. Never mind sense, fact and truth.

Just as in 1977 public safety, public interest and public duty are irrelevant. All that appears to matter to political unionism right now is a mythical, insecure perception that someone living here might feel less British, even though they are not.  

The cowardice of Jeffrey Donaldson, much like his mentor Jim Molyneaux, means that he will not step up and lead. He will not work in the public interest or even unionism’s interests. He will hide behind his warm fuzzy British sofa of made-up outrage.

Meanwhile, the shameful pile-up outside, with all of its casualties, will go unmentioned by him or his shameless colleagues.