If you accept that we increasingly live in a topsy-turvy world where many things are inverted – injustice is rewarded, might is right, good is bad and incompetence is competence – then you will also understand that we mistake words for actions.
Politicians and spin merchants of all creeds use these twisted illusions of the mass media to create advantage. In the virtual world of the world-wide web and 24/7 global news coverage, words and the images they create are king. Actions or ‘walking your talk’ belong to a lost world of honest sweat, manual work and artisan craft.
Take a look at the Democratic Unionist Party. They have over their forty-five year career achieved great success in building a protest movement into a major electoral force in Northern Ireland; however their ‘success’ is actually failure.
Ian Paisley was famous for his many denunciations of Ulster’s enemies calling them ‘traitor’, ‘lundy’ and ‘quisling’. But none of the targets of Paisley’s accusations – O’Neill, Chichester-Clark, Faulkner, Trimble – ended up on as friendly terms with ‘enemies of Ulster’ and former IRA leaders as Ian Paisley did.
The DUP did not destroy their ‘enemy of Ulster’ – the Irish republican movement – as they destroyed fellow unionists. In fact, Sinn Fein prospered under the DUP’s attacks and now closely rival the DUP at the polls.
The IRA did not call a ceasefire in 1994 because of the DUP. The DUP did not defeat the IRA nor did they ‘smash Sinn Fein’. The DUP did not embrace the Good Friday Agreement even though it stabilised the union. Instead having failed in all his stated objectives, the DUP’s founder ended his political career, having wreaked havoc for forty years, with no other option but to partner his sworn enemy and ex-IRA leader, Martin McGuinness, in Stormont. Paisley then went on in retirement to claim to have been sympathetic towards the civil rights movement.
Ironically, simultaneous to the DUP’s rise to prominence was the decline in the unionist vote to a point where unionists now don’t hold a majority in either Belfast City Council or in the holy of holies, Stormont (if it functioned). In local council elections the unionist share of the vote has reduced to 39%.
More unionists turned out to vote fifty years ago in 1969 ( 493,286) than in 2017 (398,921), even though the overall electorate is almost 40% larger today (1,260,988 in 2017 compared to 912,087 in 1969). This means that in real terms under the DUP’s watch around 150,000 potential unionists either don’t vote today or vote for some other non-unionist party.
The only ‘victories’ the DUP can legitimately claim is the development of their own party, the splitting of the unionist vote and the destruction of the Ulster Unionist Party, the ‘fur-coat brigade’ as Paisley called them – Big House Unionism. Now many middle class Protestants stay clear of unionist politics. They were effectively forced out by Paisley making life too hot for them. Many of this class don’t even vote any longer.
In addition many working class unionists refuse to vote for the DUP because of its catalogue of failure and u-turns (see below).
Today the once monolithic Ulster Unionist Party is a mere faction struggling to maintain a presence in local politics.
Overall the DUP’s behaviour in alienating large sections of unionism since the 1970s has reduced the unionist vote by around 150,000 (see above).
Catalogue of failure and bizarre u-turns:
- 1976 – DUP prevented a Vanguard unionist proposal for voluntary coalition with the SDLP
- 1977 – Ian Paisley led an abortive strike to end direct rule*
- 1982 – Paisley failed to stop the legalisation of homosexuality
- 1985 – failed to derail the Anglo-Irish Agreement
- 1986 – DUP Deputy Leader, Peter Robinson, was arrested by Garda in Clontibret protesting poor border security and fined £15,000.
- 1990s – failed to ‘Smash Sinn Fein’
- 1994 – 1998 – failed to prevent the republican movement being included in peace talks
- 1998 – failed to prevent the implementation of the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement placing former IRA leaders in government.
- 2007 – went into partnership government with former IRA leaders and the broader republican movement.
- 2009 – NI’s electricity grid was sold to Eirgrid, the Irish state-owned company which runs the grid south of the border, while Arlene Foster was Stormont’s energy minister.
- 2012 – RHI scheme was introduced by the DUP. The £500 million overspend would lead to the collapse of devolved government in 2017.
- 2014 – DUP Health Minister, Jim Wells, sets up an-Ireland children’s coronary care service based in Dublin.
- 2016 – advocated leaving the EU in the UK referendum against the wishes of a majority in NI. Brexit now threatens the union with Britain
- 2016 – DUP’s actions led to the collapse of the devolved institutions leaving NI without local decision-making during the crucial Brexit negotiations.
- 2018 – DUP reneged on an agreement for a resumption of the agreed institutions with Sinn Fein.
- 2019 – DUP support British proposals for an all Ireland regulatory zone
- (*Note: 1974 – Ian Paisley sometimes claimed credit for the success of the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in bringing down the Sunningdale agreement. But Paisley had nothing to do with the planning and execution of the strike.)
The demise of Big House Unionism should be seen as a positive development, if the DUP had replaced Big House Unionism with something better, more populist and inclusive: quite the contrary occurred.
Big House Unionism was replaced with a party that, instead of playing to the innate strengths and best qualities of the northern Protestant, they personified and magnified their very worst aspects. The DUP took northern unionists on a self-destructive journey where many of their worst nightmares have been realised and many more are just around the corner – the final destruction of both their cherished union and their dominant position in this part of Ireland.
Now Paisley’s deputy throughout those tempestuous years, Peter Robinson, watches from his comfortable retirement, while the party he largely created puts the finishing touches to their destructive journey and he himself advises unionists to plan for a united Ireland.
The DUP chameleon
Seen through the prism of an accepted view of Northern Ireland politics all these strange twists are just a record of the DUP’s bungling incompetence driven by their stupidity and blind bigotry. But change the prism and look further. You will see a pattern emerging of bizarre and contradictory behaviour that causes a reappraisal of who and what the DUP really are.
Are they really defenders of the union with Britain or some strange breed of Ulster nationalists?
The DUP have always argued for Northern Ireland to remain a ‘full and equal part of the UK’, yet during its time in office in Stormont, the DUP have insisted on maintaining a very different political, economic and social culture from Britain with different legislation in regard to a wide range of issues in Northern Ireland, such as education. abortion, equal rights, defamation, age equality and language. This was done on many occasions using a device unique to Northern Ireland known as a ‘Petition of Concern’ which the DUP used more than any other party – although it was originally introduced under the reviled GFA to protect minority interests.
This urge to be different from Britain applied to even smaller policy issues, such as energy. The DUP introduced a markedly different scheme to the rest of the UK in regard to the now infamous Renewable Heat Incentive – a successful scheme in the rest of the UK, but in Northern Ireland its different structure led to substantial misuse of public funds and a political scandal that collapsed the Good Friday institutions.
But why was the structure of RHI so different in NI when it had been tried and tested in other regions of the UK?
We now know from the RHI Inquiry that there was a determination among the DUP Ministers and Special Advisers to be different from the rest of the U.K. in regard to RHI and many other matters. They made no attempt to collaborate with their fellow British colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales who had experience of RHI. In fact we are told there was little communication on many matters with other parts of the United Kingdom by the NI administration.
Strange for a party constantly boasting of their Britishness, isn’t it?
During its time in office at Stormont from 2007 to 2017, the DUP went through three party leaders.
All were regularly mired in scandals of various kinds –
- Ian Paisley Jnr’s land deals – lobbying tactics for tycoon force Paisley to resign as minister.
- Homophobia – Peter Robinson says that homosexuality is an ’abomination’.
- Ian Paisley Snr. – being acrimoniously bundled out of office by the DUP causing him to turn on his party,
- Red Sky – DUP interfere ’inappropriately’ in housing contract & ‘bully’ whistle blower
- NAMA – Peter Robinson accused of benefiting from £1bn property deal
- Racism – Peter Robinson makes racist remarks about Muslims.
- RHI – DUP create a renewable energy scheme with no cost controls
- property deals by the Poots family – family members accused of misusing their public positions
- Ian Paisley Jnr’s suspension from Westminster for lobbying on behalf of genocidal foreign government – without declaring his financial interest.
First Minister Peter Robinson had to temporarily stand aside in 2010 because of a scandal attached to his wife.Then in 2016, when Robinson’s successor, Arlene Foster, refused to stand aside during investigations into the RHI scheme, the institutions collapsed and eighteen months later remain collapsed. Significantly the timing of this collapse has left Northern Ireland without any cohesive local leadership at a most crucial time.
DUP as dissidents
Bizarrely during these ten years it was the perceived ‘enemies of the state’, Sinn Fein, who showed much more attachment to the institutions of government in Northern Ireland than the DUP. On more than one occasion the DUP threatened to collapse the institutions and made their unease in government very plain, speaking of having to hold their noses when dealing with their government partners, Sinn Fein: using terms such as ‘crocodiles’ and ‘rascals’ to describe them. It was the DUP who were the dissidents not the former revolutionaries in Sinn Fein.
Also during this time under the DUP’s stewardship, Northern Ireland suffered many serious setbacks. Household income became the lowest in the UK; male suicide became the highest in the UK, killing more than the violence of the ‘Troubles’; drug abuse, youth unemployment, academic under achievement, fuel poverty, negative equity and hospital waiting lists were all the highest in the UK.
The DUP’s own sacred North Antrim heartland was worst hit with closures of large public and private employers such as Michelin, Gallaghers and the DVLA, all of which the DUP were powerless to prevent.
The slayers of Big House unionism also presided over the marginalisation of the loyalist working class. Working class Protestants boys became a seriously disadvantaged group, with academic under-achievement among working class Protestants becoming a major concern.
This decline was the greatest irony for the so-called champions of unionism, given that the founding fathers of unionist Ulster in 1912 – Big House unionists – placed ‘material well-being’ as the single most important reason for remaining allied to Britain and separate from the rest of Ireland. It was for this that almost half a million ancestors of today’s Protestants signed the Ulster Covenant, threatened the British Crown with armed insurrection and went off to war in France to die in their thousands to prove their loyalty.
Now in late 2018, with the local institutions perhaps permanently closed, the DUP have moved operations to Britain where they have already caused yet more political turmoil: this time by vetoing the UK government’s agreement with the EU and the Irish government over Brexit. This turmoil risks exposing, not just the DUP’s dubious role in the government of the UK to close public scrutiny, but more importantly the status of Northern Ireland within the UK in a way that IRA bombs never did. Irish history shows that Irish MPs at Westminster who cause embarrassment to Her Majesty’s Government are ultimately marginalised.
Who are ‘Ulster’s enemies’?
The DUP have built an alliance with the British Conservative party, a party – like the DUP – whose pro-Union rhetoric is diametrically opposed to their actions on the ground. In reality it was the Tories in government who partnered the DUP in destroying Big House unionism.
- In 1972 the Conservative government of Ted Heath removed the unionist government from office overnight.
- The Tories both in and out of office held secret negotiations with the IRA over several decades while denying it publicly,
- Imposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement behind the backs of local unionists,
- Sold off Northern Ireland’s electricity generation and supply to foreign interests in the 1990s (it’s now owned by the Irish government and Saudi Arabian interests)
- In more recent times the Tory Government allowed the new agreed institutions – that had brought peace to Northern Ireland (under a British Labour government) and stabilised the union – to fail and have made no serious efforts to restore these institutions
- In addition the Tory Government have rejected unionist pleas and refused to introduce Direct Rule, leaving unionists with all routes back to the union closed off.
- The final coup de grace may be the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. It’s hard to imagine that unionists will be pleased at the outcome.
Is it not odd that the DUP would remain so attached to a party like the British Conservative Party after the damage that party has done to unionist interests and at the same time alienated from Labour – a party that in office have done the union no harm?
They say you know people by the friends they keep.
Whatever the pros and cons of leaving the European Union, Brexit – as championed by the DUP – has brought Northern Ireland’s position within the UK and its border with the Republic of Ireland under a spotlight both nationally and internationally that has not been seen since the partition of Ireland in 1922.
The DUP chose to lead the Northern Ireland campaign against remaining. They lost the NI vote by a considerable margin – 56% to 44% – indicating that they did not speak for a majority on issues beyond the union.
Without Northern Ireland, the UK’s departure from the EU would have been much less complicated. The DUP’s recent behaviour risks the question being asked by the British:
‘What is the benefit to us of this troublesome union with Northern Ireland? What does this place contribute to the UK?’
The DUP’s strategy risks an adverse reaction once their hold on the current UK government is removed by another general election. Will the above question then be asked more forcefully by either a future Tory or Labour government?
Protests in London against the DUP 2017
The DUP’s guardianship of the union has left Northern Ireland:-
- with no local autonomy and therefore no ability to formulate an agreed local approach to its greatest challenge – Brexit;
- the symbol of Ulster unionism – Stormont – is closed, perhaps for a very long time;
- unionism is increasingly marginalised within the very statelet it fought to create and dominate, with unionism no longer in the majority in both Belfast City Council and Stormont;
- the agreed institutions under the Good Friday Agreement – long a target of the DUP – which in reality gave unionists a veto on the constitutional future are gone;
- the local economy is at the bottom of the UK’s indices with major employers pulling out of DUP constituencies;
- the loyalist working class is marginalised;
- relations with other parts of the U.K., Ireland and the EU and most importantly with northern Irish Catholics are severely damaged and public confidence in the political class is at an all-time low.
- the DUP’s only allies appear to be in Donald Trump’s administration and in Theresa May’s chaotic government.
Wake up from the dream
This sorry record is much more than a simple issue of gross incompetence on the DUP’s part, though that is bad enough. Unionists must wake up to the fact that the DUP is in fact a ‘fifth column’, set up to destroy unionism from the inside. Of course most DUPers won’t be aware of this. Many fifth columnists throughout history did not see themselves as such.
Delusion is a very effective tool to get human beings to do something against their interests and better judgement. To date, as the record clearly shows, the DUP has a very successful track record in undermining unionism, while cloaking their activities in strong unionist rhetoric, much like a magician’s sleight of hand.
If history is to tell the truth about this place, it must show that the Democratic Unionist Party have done more to damage the union and the general interests of Northern Ireland than Irish republicanism ever did.
The only success the DUP can point to over the last half century is the development of their own party and the destruction of their unionist rivals. Everything else the DUP set out to achieve has ended in abject failure.
If unionists wish to see Northern Ireland survive as a place where their children can thrive, they must break free of the delusion that the DUP are ‘Ulster’s defenders’. They are nothing of the kind. Unionists must coldly examine what the DUP have achieved over their forty-five year existence, as opposed to their loud public rhetoric. They must allow the record on the ground and in their streets to speak for itself and not be swayed by the DUP’s hypnotic mood music. Once the dream is over it will become apparent that ‘Ulster’s defenders’ have long been its enemies.