Another DUP leader down. It only took party pressure to make her resign. Party pressure that didn’t materialise during RHI even though it was one of the biggest scandals to hit the DUP and the Northern Executive in years. £500 million of taxpayers money went down the tube and Arlene Foster, then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment downright refused to stand aside to allow an investigation into the scheme and her involvement in it, nor did anyone within her own party demand she do so. Yet now, we’re led to believe Arlene Foster was forced to stand down…for being too liberal? The Oxford dictionary describes a liberal as – “willing to understand and respect other people’s behaviour, opinions, etc., especially when they are different from your own; believing people should be able to choose how they behave”.
This is a woman, who was leader of a party, who wanted to withhold rights from our LGBTQ community, who continues to refuse our Irish language community their rights under both the Good Friday Agreement and the New Decade New Approach deal to have the Irish language held to the same status as the English language. Scotland and Wales have their own respective language acts, yet the DUP have only moved to deny Irish language speakers their rights. In 2015 Arlene Foster wrote to the Scottish government asking ministers in Edinburgh to bar same-sex couples from the North from converting their civil partnerships into full marriages. Whoever thought Arlene needed to resign for being too liberal, really needs to take a long hard look at themselves and their own definition of ‘liberal’.
So who does the DUP look to for leadership now? My first thought was obviously… the Loyalist Communities Council. After all, the DUP are at their beck and call at any other time, taking advice on Brexit, import and export and even on policing from a group comprising three Loyalist terrorist organisations. One of which, a couple of days ago, shot one of their own in the chest. Seriously though, (yeah, I was joking on the LCC front) any of the leadership candidates, ranging from Gavin Robinson, to the proverbial lower abdominal male appendage known as Sammy Wilson, will need to win back the trust and indeed votes of the Unionist and Loyalist voters of the North, many of whom have, by this stage, promised their votes to the single personality party, the TUV. Many of the DUP leadership candidates are what have been described as ‘religious fundamentalists’ and Evangelicals which is why the likes of LGBTQ rights and the banning of Conversion Therapy have been so controversial for them, especially when, while the DUP party line was to vote against a ban on Conversion Therapy, Arlene Foster abstained.
So what will it be for the DUP? Religious fundamentalism or actual politics and the delivery of rights and services for the masses? Let’s not forget that the DUP consistently accuse Sinn Fein of not “wanting Northern Ireland to work” when the mood suits, yet more often than not, it is actually the DUP who refuse people and places the rights and services they so blatantly need. Additionally, if the North was ‘working’ it would be a more palatable prospect to many in the South who will be asked to vote on a united Ireland. The answer is yet to be seen, but going by the personalities vying for the role of party leader, I wouldn’t be too hopeful on the ‘delivery of rights for the masses’ front. In fact, with Arlene allegedly being asked to resign from the position of ‘Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party’ for being too liberal, I wouldn’t expect any rights to be delivered for anyone other than Unionists in the near future. We may however, see the LCC elevated to the position of Joint First Minister of the North if Samuel Wilson has his way on anything.
In the end, the DUP needs to start being realistic. They’re in a pickle on pretty much everything and anything from ‘rights’ to ‘Brexit’. The party needs to re-engage with their base and Nationalism, be truthful with them on the reality of the North, the demographics and the fact a united Ireland is a realistic future for them because whether they currently like to admit it or not, that is exactly where Ireland as a whole is heading. The DUP has treated its voting base like imbeciles, as nothing more than numbers for the Conservative Party and themselves to call on when needed and discard when their usefulness has passed.
Now is the time for any new leader of the DUP to start putting the average Unionist voter above Loyalist paramilitaries, pour money and funding into both communities rather than into the pockets of paramilitaries who are still killing and maiming. A new leader must work for their people rather than the Union they hold so dear but which has let them and the Unionist and Loyalist down time and again. The leadership battle will be an interesting one which, while it will be held behind closed doors as it were, will no doubt be played out in the media. Only time will tell who gets the job as First Minister of the Executive.