election fight | 

Irish speaking Dublin Catholic is DUP's secret weapon as election looms

Unlikely ally hopes to secure votes for unionists
Ciarán Ó Coigligh, the Dublin-based Catholic Gaeilgeoir who joined the DUP

Ciarán Ó Coigligh, the Dublin-based Catholic Gaeilgeoir who joined the DUP

By Steven Moore

This is the Irish speaking Dublin Catholic who's also the DUP's secret election weapon.

Dr Ciarán O Coigligh may come from a working-class nationalist family but he's a paid-up member of the DUP who's highly thought of by the party top brass.

He's been pictured regularly with senior figures including Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster when she was leader and Diane Dodds, and he's set to canvass for MLAs like Jim Wells once again in this year's election.

The DUP is facing an election fight unlike any other in recent years with the stark reality facing them that Sinn Féin could be sitting top of the Stormont pile come May.

But the right-of-centre unionist party is looking to the Dubliner with former left-wing republican leanings to boost them at the polls.

Of course, they'll be looking to win votes back from the TUV and the UUP, but they reckon there could be an untapped resource of Catholic voters who could be persuaded into tipping the balance of power.

Ciarán Ó Coigligh with his good friend Jim Wellls MLA at the Count in Newry

Ciarán Ó Coigligh with his good friend Jim Wellls MLA at the Count in Newry

The DUP's anti-abortion stance has seen its membership among Catholics increase as some ultra-conservative pro-lifers feel the party is the only one which represents their controversial views when it comes to that emotive issue.

"I'll certainly be doing all in my power to help the DUP next election," says Ciarán. "I have canvassed for DUP members all over Northern Ireland and it has always been a privilege.

"I'll be honoured to do so for any DUP candidate who asks for my support and I'll not refuse any that ask - but I'll also offer my support from my own initiative.

"I first canvassed for Jim Wells and found him to be a very brave politician because he was fighting the cause of protecting the unborn.

"I took him into traditionally nationalist areas of South Down which he had never been to before to look for votes. I'm a Gaelic speaker and I spoke in Gaelic and explained why I was supporting Jim Wells of the DUP.

Ciarán Ó Coigligh with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, at the 12th Parade in Newcastle.

Ciarán Ó Coigligh with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, at the 12th Parade in Newcastle.

"Jim was very warmly received on the doorsteps of Catholics and nationalists, and the thing Catholics asked most was why had he not called before now? They appreciated his stance on protecting the unborn child.

"I keep him going because he increased his vote by about three per cent - they've my votes!

"After canvassing for them and meeting so many of them and being so well received, I thought why not join the party? For all their faults they are the only party that has truly pro-life and Christian principles."

Since that epiphany, Ciarán has travelled north to conferences and other events and admits his loyalty to the party has been a topic of heated debate within his own family circle.

"Standing for God Save the Queen in the La Mon Hotel after a party conference was a particular moment of significance," says Ciarán.

"Many of my family and friends would not share my views, it's fair to say, on a range of issues. I'm from an Irish speaking background and it's also fair to say there have been a few animated discussions with close relatives - but in the main people respect my right to have my own views."

Ciarán is a published poet and novelist, and a retired academic with NUI Galway, UCD and St Patrick's Drumcondra DCU.

He taught Irish language and literature at all these institutions and earlier this year he gained a Master of Philosophy in theology.

Despite his Irish speaking background, he's on record as saying he fully supports the DUP's opposition to an Irish language act which he claims is not only unnecessary but also divisive.

He's also an ultra-conservative and pro-life campaigner which has made him stand out in the usually liberal world of academia.

It's among this incendiary topic where his seemingly unlikely support for the pro-union, pro-royal family and red-white-and-blue DUP makes some kind of sense.

And he claims he's not alone. In fact, he claims there is sizeable support from within the Catholic population to potentially tip an election - as well as proving pivotal in preventing a united Ireland in any border poll.

Ciaran O'Coigligh photographed with former DUP leader to Arlene Foster at Democratic Unionist Party Conference

Ciaran O'Coigligh photographed with former DUP leader to Arlene Foster at Democratic Unionist Party Conference

"It is not an enormous transfer of votes that would be needed to sway a border poll in the favour of the union," says Ciarán.

"Many actively committed church-going Catholics are now realising that the Republic of Ireland is a cold house for them, and a united Ireland may not be the best thing in their interests - economically or culturally. An election can be won and lost on a very small handful of votes, so the DUP is right to canvass for every vote going."

He says there are already Catholics preparing to stand in elections for the DUP and he expects that to increase.

Saying he has become disillusioned with politics in the Republic, he added: "For the last 30-40 years I have been involved on an international platform protecting the unborn life and promoting a pro-life Christian culture but during the same period the Republic of Ireland has been in reverse with three referendums which go against all of that.

"It was one particular EU election which struck me because there wasn't a single candidate standing in the Republic who I could vote for.

"The DUP were the only party I could support and of course I couldn't vote for them, but you had between 33-40 per cent of the Irish population who voted against abortion but there's no party down here to represent their views."

In 2018, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said he had received a letter from a Catholic priest in which the cleric said he would be "urging his parishioners" to vote for the DUP.

Arlene Foster, when she was the DUP leader, also said she had been contacted by "nationalists and republicans" who claimed they "will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party that supports the unborn".

However, some political pundits believe the 'untapped resource' of Catholic support for the DUP has been exaggerated.

Ciarán says he always respected Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP founder and firebrand preacher who was a staunch opponent of abortion.

"I always respected him and never had any hostility towards Mr Paisley," he says.

And he says he has always been warmly received when he travels north to canvass for the party - a party he laments he will never be able to vote for.

He says: "I canvassed in South Antrim and at 2pm one day I met a loyalist who had a Long Kesh tattoo who told me his story and he shook my hand and said he supported us and three hours later I was invited into the home of a republican who was well known in the Gaelic sporting sphere who told me we were doing the right thing.

"That day greatly encouraged me.

"The only place in Northern Ireland where I received a negative response was in Coleraine where some drunk people took exception to my presence."

steven.moore@sundayworld.com


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