The DUP: Ulster’s fifth column.
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 of all creeds use these twisted illusions 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.
The DUP did not destroy their ‘enemy of Ulster’ – the Irish republican movement. Sinn Fein 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 only victory the DUP can legitimately claim is the destruction of the Ulster Unionist Party, the ‘fur-coat brigade’ as Paisley called them – Big House Unionism. Now many upper class and even 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. Today the once monolithic Ulster Unionist Party is a mere faction struggling to maintain a presence in local politics.
That could be seen as a positive development. But the DUP did not replace Big House Unionism with something better, more populist and inclusive: quite the contrary.
Cui bono – who benefits?
Ironically, simultaneous to the DUP’s rise to prominence was the decline in the unionist vote to a point where unionists don’t hold a majority in either Belfast City Council or in the holy of holies, Stormont. In local council elections the unionist share of the vote has reduced to 39%.
During the DUP’s rise to prominence we have also seen (from a DUP perspective) numerous setbacks for Ulster unionism:
- The removal of the old unionist regime in 1972.
- Ongoing secret talks between the British government and the Provisional IRA
- The imposition of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 which unionists were unable to derail.
- The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 in the face of DUP opposition
- The DUP’s failure to ‘Smash Sinn Fein’
- The DUP’s failure to destroy the Good Friday Agreement
- Ex-IRA leaders were not only in the government of the former unionist state, but became equal partners with the DUP under the Good Friday Agreement in 2007
- Ian Paisley shared government offices with his arch-enemy and a former IRA Chief of Staff, Martin McGuinness
- Ian Paisley and his successor, Peter Robinson, went on to establish a close friendship with Martin McGuinness.
- Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016 against the DUP’s advice and contrary to the overall UK vote.
- The collapse of the Good Friday institutions in 2017 caused by the DUP’s handling of the RHI scheme
- The collapse of talks to revive the devolved government in 2018.
The DUP chameleon
Seen through the prism of an accepted view of Northern Ireland politics these strange twists were just a record the DUP’s bungling incompetence driven by their stupidity and 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.
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 culture and different legislation in regard to a wide range of issues in Northern Ireland, such as 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. This urge to be different from Britain applied to even small policy issues. 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.
During its time in office at Stormont from 2007 to 2017, the DUP were regularly mired in financial scandal. First Minister Peter Robinson had to temporarily stand aside in 2010.Then in 2016, when Robinson’s successor, Arlene Foster, refused to also stand aside during investigations into the RHI scheme, the institutions collapsed and one year later remain collapsed. Significantly the timing of this collapse has left Northern Ireland without cohesive local leadership and as a result painfully exposed to the impact of Brexit.
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 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 ‘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 North Antrim heartland was worst hit with closures of large public and private employers such as Michelin, Gallaghers and the DVLA. 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.
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.
Now in late 2017, with the local institutions perhaps permanently closed, the DUP have moved operations to Britain where they have 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 rhetoric on the union is diametrically opposed to actions on the ground. In reality it was the Tories in government who partnered the DUP in destroying Big House unionism. In 1972 the government of Ted Heath removed the unionist government in 1972. The Tories both in and out of office held secret negotiations with the IRA over several decades, imposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement behind the backs of local people and in recent times they allowed the new agreed institutions that had brought peace to Northern Ireland to fail. 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. Without Northern Ireland the UK’s departure from the EU would be 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?’
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 for itself; the agreed institutions under the Good Friday Agreement – long a target of the DUP – are gone; the local economy is at the bottom of the UK’s indices; the loyalist working class is marginalised; relations with London, Dublin, Brussels and most importantly with Irish nationalism are severely damaged and public confidence in the political class at an all-time low.
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.
I believe the record shows that the Democratic Unionist Party have done more to damage the union and the general interests of Northern Ireland than Irish republicanism ever did. If unionists wish to see Northern Ireland survive as a place where their children can thrive they must break free of the dream that says 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 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 become its enemies and ‘Ulster’s enemies’ have become its friends.