Northern Ireland news

Interview with a unicorn – the Dublin-based Catholic Gaeilgeoir who joined the DUP

What prompts an Irish-speaking, Dublin-based Catholic to join the DUP? Political correspondent John Manley talks to 'unicorn' Ciarán Ó Coigligh

Dublin-based DUP member Ciarán Ó Coigligh

DOCTOR Ciarán Ó Coigligh was born in Dublin and comes from a Catholic, working-class background. Throughout much of his life the accomplished Gaeilgeoir and academic had left-wing, republican sympathies but in recent years he's switched his political affiliations and is now a card-carrying member of the DUP.

He joined the party "some years ago" and has travelled north on four occasions to attend party conferences, meeting Arlene Foster "very often". He describes the DUP leader as an "outstanding politician and stateswoman".

Educated at both University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College, he has worked in the Modern Irish departments of NUI Galway and UCD. He was a lecturer in Irish language, literature and civilisation at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, where in 1999 he became a member of Dublin City University's Academic Council.

Married with grown-up children, the Dublin-based 66-year-old characterises himself as a unionist, seeing "no reason to encourage people in Northern Ireland to attach themselves to what is a divided state".

He believes the Republic is in the midst of a "culture war" where the advance of secularism threatens the "destruction of Western, Christian civilisation".

Mr Ó Coigligh is still a practising Catholic and a regular Mass-goer, though he is unhappy with the recent direction of the Church under Pope Francis, preferring the more conservative approach of his predecessor Benedict XVI.

He describes as "distressing" the appearance of Fr James Martin at last year's World Meeting of Families in Dublin, where the Jesuit priest encouraged Catholics to “welcome LGBT persons and their families” into parish life.

Mr Ó Coigligh believes the "one per cent" of the population that have gay tendencies can overcome their urges by "resisting temptation and withdrawing from that lifestyle".

Ciarán Ó Coigligh describes Arlene Foster as an 'outstanding politician and stateswoman'. Picture by Mark Marlow

He declines to be drawn on the recent controversy surrounding the DUP's selection of openly gay election candidate Alison Bennington, believing it is "wholly inappropriate" to discuss someone's sexuality, "especially that of a fellow party member". He is, however, pleased that the DUP has committed itself to continuing to support a biblical interpretation of marriage.

His affiliation with the DUP is primarily based on the party's anti-abortion stance, though he confesses he's always had an admiration for Rev Ian Paisley.

In the past he would have voted for any party that was "broadly nationalist" and singles out previous support for Labour. However, he admits spoiling his vote in more recent elections after being presented with a ballot paper consisting solely of "pro-death" candidates.

Mr Ó Coigligh welcomes Peadar Tóibín's decision to establish a party that "opposes abortion on demand" but says he remains to be convinced that Aontú does not recognise the need for terminations in certain circumstances.

He is a regular contributor to the letters pages of Belfast-based papers, including The Irish News.

In his latest correspondence, he argues against the need for an Irish language act in the north, even though Gaeilge is "the language of our home".

He points to a "raft of organisations" in the south promoting the language yet believes it is "almost dead".

His main argument against an acht na Gaeilge, however, is the manner in which the indigenous language is viewed by the unionist community.

"An Irish language act would be ineffectual in terms of promoting the language but my fundamental objection is that the Protestant-loyalist community feel very threatened by an Irish language act and anything that is regarded as threat to part of the community should not be promoted or imposed," he says.

During recent election campaigns, Mr Ó Coigligh says he has canvassed on behalf of the DUP in a number of "staunchly nationalist areas", where he says he was welcomed on many doorsteps.

He also claims to have the support of a senior GAA figure and has encountered a number of Catholic priests who support and vote for the DUP – "they're quite common", he claims.

In the past, claims of committed Catholics pledging allegiance to the DUP were dismissed as 'unicorns' but while still very rare, Ciarán Ó Coigligh is proof positive that such people do exist.

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