I was born in 1953 into a Protestant and Unionist family in Ballymoney.

In 1968, Northern Ireland was suddenly plunged into civil unrest and violence. At that point I became a follower of Rev. Ian Paisley, both politically and spiritually. My support for him never wavered.

I joined the DUP when it was created in 1971 and worked for the party from 1977-79.

After a career in the Civil Service, I returned to a political role in 2007 when I was appointed as a special advisor at Stormont.

I later worked for several backbench DUP MLAs. Although now largely retired, I remain active in my church and in several evangelical Protestant organisations.

Coming from this staunch background, some people have been greatly surprised at my more recent pronouncements on what I regard, rightly or wrongly, as the inevitability of the emergence of a new Ireland at some stage in the future.

There are those who fear that, in my old age, I am beginning to dote. Others suspect a late-life desire for attention.

Neither of these assertions is accurate!

I have always been fascinated by the history and politics of our Province, and of Ireland as a whole. I love my country.

And as I have been reflecting, I have been questioning and challenging some of my long-held positions.

The Union and the Empire that my forefathers fought for in 1912-21 was solidly Protestant. Indeed, Protestantism was the cement that held it all together.

Today, that Empire has vanished, and the UK is no longer a Protestant but a secular nation.

The Home Rule Ireland – so opposed by our forefathers – was dominated by Roman Catholicism to such an extent that it was feared, quite rightly, that Home Rule would be Rome Rule.

Again, that has changed. The modern Irish Republic is a largely secular state.

After Northern Ireland was founded in 1921, successive Unionist governments faced serious challenges, and made many mistakes, as they sought to govern.

David Trimble summed it up well in his Nobel lecture in December, 1998, when he said: “Ulster Unionists, fearful of being isolated on the island, built a solid house, but it was a cold house for Catholics.

“And Northern Nationalists, although they had a roof over their heads, seemed to us as if they meant to burn the house down.”

We are now thankfully in a more peaceful society than we were, say, 50 years ago when, in May, 1974, we were not only enduring the ongoing horrors of the IRA’s campaign of terror, but experiencing dramatic political upheaval in the form of the UWC strike, and the collapse of Sunningdale.

Some might therefore query the wisdom of raising the constitutional issue at this time.

But all is not well, and we face many challenges, going forward.

Demographics are shifting. I know we must guard against simplistic sectarian headcounts, but the Unionist position is steadily weakening, and will, I think, continue to do so.

The major spanner in the works is Brexit.

I voted to leave the EU, and feel greatly let down by the resultant mess.

English Nationalists, led by Boris Johnson, were quite prepared to break faith with Northern Ireland to “get Brexit done”.

We have been repeatedly betrayed by British governments down the years, but, to me, this was the worst betrayal ever.

Despite the over-hyped Windsor Framework, and the similarly over-hyped ‘Safeguarding the Union’ command paper, the Union has been broken, both economically and constitutionally, by the nefarious Protocol.

Like Humpty Dumpty, we have fallen – or more accurately, been pushed – off the wall, and I have yet to hear one practicable suggestion as to how the pieces could be put together again.

And just as in the nursery rhyme, I fear they can’t.

As has so often been the case, Unionism is in denial as to how to deal with these realities.

We deploy the comfort blanket of “Unionist unity”, but while it might have been of some use in days gone by, it’s of little value now.

Some lament the failure of Unionists to get out and vote.

That’s a legitimate complaint, but it also has the feeling of being too little, too late.

Doing what we always do, and shouting “No surrender”, will also get us nowhere.

We keep going down cul de sacs with very little – if any – idea of how to get out.

Contrary to some reports, I am not calling for imminent constitutional change. Far from it.

But realities must be faced, and a full and comprehensive debate, encompassing all the complexities, needs to take place.

For Protestants and Unionists to engage in such a debate would be a sign of strength and of maturity, rather than weakness. Let’s not leave it until it’s too late.

This debate must be a two-way process. There is a massive responsibility on Nationalists and Republicans across the island to engage meaningfully and sincerely with the Protestants of Ulster.

So far, with a few noble exceptions, they have failed to do so.

Some dismiss us, some patronise us, and some seem genuinely unable to understand us.

I wonder if Nationalists are any more psychologically prepared than Unionists for what might lie ahead?

A totally new start will challenge us all and will require much innovative thinking.

In conclusion, I know that none of us is blameless. As we look back, we must acknowledge that we have hurt each other in many ways over many centuries.

We are all the products and outworkings of history.

I long to see genuine reconciliation and, as an evangelical Protestant, I will reach out in love to my neighbour as best I can. It’s the only way.

What happens in the future is in the hands of a sovereign God, but it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure a secure and peaceful future for my grandchildren.

That is why I have raised my voice.

Wallace Thompson is a founder member of the DUP and a former DUP special advisor. He lives in east Belfast and is active in his church and in several evangelical Protestant organisations.