One of the great obstacles to political, economic progress and reconciliation in Ireland is the Siege Mentality of the DUP leadership and the lack of generosity that accompanies it. The siege mentality comes mainly from the fear of losing their identity in a reunified Ireland. Those fears are played upon by some unionist leaders and those involved in the Orange Order.
The siege mentality has been handed on from generation to generation. It prevents the hard-line unionist leaders from showing any kind of generosity towards their nationalist/republican neighbours on the island of Ireland. So long as the British back their intransigence there is little hope for change. The British Tory government are accomplices.
However, there is hope that many in the broader unionist family are more generous in their attitude and more progressive in their political outlook. They are beginning to think about the possibility and the economic advantages of a reunified Ireland. They are impressed with the generous overtures from President Higgins and from Irish politicians including Sinn Fein guaranteeing them their rights and culture in a New Ireland.
The Brexit experience has changed everything. While it may have strengthened the siege mentality of those leading the DUP, it has encouraged other more progressive unionists –farmers and business people -to rethink their attitude to Irish reunification. Some of these clearly voted to Remain. Some now see the economic advantages of an all-island economy in the EU. That economy had begun to grow since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Cross border trade and travel has developed greatly over the last 20 years. That must continue.
The DUP began as an extreme hard-line unionist party. Under Ian Paisley it replaced the Ulster Unionist party as the main party of Unionism. The Ulster Unionist party from its beginning was linked with the Tory party in Britain. It was handed absolute power in the six counties when they first met as the new government of the six counties (a phrase first used by King George V) in Belfast city Hall in June 1920.
During the fifty years of the old Stormont, the Unionists never had to share power or consider the views of an opposition. They never had to negotiate with anybody for anything. They could do what they liked in government. The British/English aristocracy gave them a carte blanche to do what they wanted so long as they kept this little corner of Ireland safe and secure for the British government. It was strategically important especially during the years of World War II.
Until almost the very end of its period of power in the six counties, the UUP was led by a combination of landed gentry (Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough and James Chichester Clark), aristocracy (Terence O’Neill) and gentrified industrial magnates (James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon and John Miller Andrews – nephew of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie). Only the last Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, was from a middle-class background. During this era, all but 11 of the 149 UUP Stormont MPs were members of the Orange Order, as were all Prime Ministers.
Brookeborough, despite having felt that Craigavon had held on to power for too long, was Prime Minister for one year longer. During this time he was, on more than one occasion, called to meetings of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to explain his actions, most notably following the 1947 Education Act which made the government responsible for the payment of National Insurance contributions of teachers in Catholic-controlled schools. Ian Paisley called for Brookeborough’s resignation in 1953 when he refused to sack Brian Maginness and Clarence Graham, who had given speeches supporting re-admitting Catholics to the UUP. He retired in 1963 and was replaced by Terence O’Neill, who emerged ahead of other candidates, Jack Andrews and Brian Faulkner.
This was the beginning of the end of the Ulster Unionist party. O’Neill tried, in a limited way, to reach out to nationalists in the north and to Sean Lemass in the south. Ian Paisley was having none of it and this reaction appealed to the traditional hardline ‘not an inch’ unionists. The Democratic Unionist party were now waiting in the wings ready to seize power and become the leaders of Unionism in the six counties.
Paisley continued the traditional Orange /unionist policy of attacking Catholic clergy and the Catholic Church as well as republicans and nationalists until he saw the light and entered into the power-sharing Assembly with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness. They became good friends. It looked like a new chapter was opening in Irish history.
Paisley was succeeded as leader of the DUP by the once hard-line Peter Robinson. He worked with Martin McGuinness in the local assembly on a pragmatic basis. Robinson had a number of personal problems and eventually retired. He was succeeded by Arlene Foster who returned to the old unionist ways of denigrating Irish nationalism (“crocodiles”)and refusing to co-operate with Sinn Fein. When a Renewable Heating scheme that she introduced was exposed as a money -making racket for some individuals and costing the tax-payers thousands of pounds she was asked by Sinn Fein to stand aside until an Inquiry was held. She refused and the late Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister was forced to resign. Sadly, he died shortly afterwards.
Attempts to restore the power sharing assembly have so far failed due to unionist intransigence and their support for the Tory government. The DUP, led by Nigel Dodds in Westminster, has taken a hard-line Brexit position even though a majority in the six northern counties voted to Remain in the EU. The DUP has joined with the hard-line Brexiteers in London to oppose the Deal worked out by the British government and the European Union that would prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland.
At a recent Beyond Brexit conference in Belfast, Republicans and Nationalists once again expressed a willingness to work with the DUP for the good of all the people on this island. When will the current DUP leadership learn to live in the present and lead their party out of the darkness of the Siege Mentality into the light of cooperation and towards the new Ireland promised in the Good Friday Agreement? When will we see some generosity towards fellow citizens coming from the DUP?