Arlene wasn’t DUP enough for Unionism – by Michael Lagan

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Loyalism is in utter turmoil, and it’s in a strange place, where the very government they look to for leadership have all but abandoned them to their own devices, and their own politicians in the North have sold them out into a situation where they gained a deal they knew their base would never agree to, leaving them completely rudderless.     The DUP may be shrewd negotiators, shrewd operators as it were, but they have been consistently blind-sided by their own government even while they held all the cards and all the power in the so-called ‘Mother of all parliaments’.  It takes a special kind of egotistical mindset to inhabit such a powerful position while insulting the very party one is propping up.  Sending someone like Boris Johnson to “the naughty step” by Arlene Foster would be seen by anyone else with so much a smidgen of political thinking, as the best way to damage your standing within the very party you are trying to keep in government.   When BoJo got the chance, he deleted the DUP from their position of power with such haste that it literally happened overnight.  It was no surprise that after the insults and jibes levelled at BoJo, there were no tears shed from him or indeed the majority of the Conservative Party when Boris ended up commanding a huge majority.  Even Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ERG abandoned the DUP, after following their line on Brexit.  The same Jacob Rees-Mogg who was forced to defend a City firm he co-founded after it set up an investment fund in Ireland and warned of the dangers of a hard Brexit, the same hard Brexit he actually campaigned for in Westminster.  The firm, to be subject to Irish and EU rules and regulations, was registered in March 2018 and detailed Brexit under the “risks” section of its investment prospectus.  This was the ilk the DUP were associating themselves with.  People who were quite literally all but demanding the hardest Brexit possible but were undermining their own position by moving assets out of the financial Centre of the UK into the very place they wanted to get out of, the EU, namely Dublin.  With people like that having influence in Brexit deals and negotiations, is it any wonder Brexit turned out to be an absolute disaster?   With Unionism and Loyalism now deprived of that almighty power over everything Brexit, Arlene and the DUP generally were all but forced into accepting the NI Protocol, even though they voted against it in Westminster.  I want to quote Edward Carson here, but I just can’t bring myself to do so, as the mess the DUP have embroiled themselves in is such that they are surrounded on all sides, like a trapped animal snarling and snapping at anyone who comes near in an attempt to get free.  For the DUP, that ‘trap’ is distinct political failure after distinct political failure.  The new arrangements represent that profound political failure and weakness for the DUP and Arlene Foster, something Unionism and Loyalism haven’t really experienced in the past but are noticing now.  Having held the balance of power at Westminster for the two crucial years during which the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated, the DUP could conceivably and realistically, using its ‘King Maker’ status, have used its influence to push for as soft a Brexit as possible.  They didn’t.   Fast forward to today and we see the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster’s leadership in question.  Quite possibly the last straw for DUP Councillors and MLAs was when Mrs. Foster abstained on the ban on ‘Conversion Therapy’ while the other DUP MLAs voted against it.  A sign that she was willing to go against the grain of the very party she leads.  The bigger story here however is that the DUP is fighting for survival as a party which may have forced the decision to oust Arlene Foster.  As a party it has had some disastrous elections lately, losing seats to not only Alliance but also Sinn Fein and the SDLP.  While still the biggest Unionist party, it is no longer the Unionist powerhouse it once was.  However, in reality, a change of leadership will change very little.  LGBTQ rights have already been secured, Conversion Therapy has been all but banned and abortion legislation will be forced through Westminster if Stormont doesn’t agree to it and all within Arlene Fosters tenure as First Minister of the NI Executive.     The DUP are going to be forced to pick between religion and politics, separating religion from state politics.  What we have not seen is an Irish Language Act, which is included in the New Decade New Approach.  However, Arlene Foster claimed the DUP would implement the NDNA deal in all its parts.  Too much for some hardliners within the DUP to stomach perhaps?   The DUP is in danger of becoming irrelevant, ironically because they have become slightly too modern for Unionism, too ‘peace loving’.  The DUP as an entity has its roots deeply embedded in anti-Catholic and anti-Irish rhetoric and history.  When the late Ian Paisley took office with Martin McGuinness, the two got on famously with Ian Paisley showing a softer underbelly while still being able to do Unionism.  Gone were the days when there wasn’t a taig about the place.  The two were regularly seen laughing and joking with Martin becoming good friends with Ian’s wife Eileen.  She would later be quoted as saying her husband and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness  “wouldn’t have got into this mess in the first place” such was her respect for Martin McGuinness who let’s remember…was once one of the highest-ranking members of the IRA.  Eileen later went on to say, regarding the breakdown in government, that if today’s politicians “had followed the example that the late Martin McGuinness and my husband set for them, this would not have happened”.   The DUP have a history of ousting leaders who do not take a hard line with those damned Shinners or Nationalists in general.  Getting too close to those who were once your enemy is a cardinal sin in their eyes, which means the DUP are a problem for peace in the North.  It’s one of the reasons this North Eastern region is slowly falling into political disrepair, and that blame can only be levelled at the DUP.  They didn’t enter the Executive from the outset with a willing heart, but went back as a means of survival.     The DUP do not want equality in the North, they want a Unionist state for a Unionist people and to hell with everyone else not of their religious or political mindset.  Many parties, including Sinn Fein have held out the hand of friendship to the DUP only to have it slapped back numerous times, and unless the DUP are prepared to work with their partners and forget their past there can be no real Executive in the North, an Executive the DUP cannot afford to lose out on.  In this we see a conundrum for the DUP as a party.  They either start to work with Sinn Fein, something that will see them haemorrhage votes from hard-line Unionism, or they dig in with the old DUP line which is historically “Never Never Never” which will draw condemnation from all other parties in the Executive, including the UUP I suspect.  The joys of a post conflict peace, eh?   No matter who becomes leader of the DUP, little will change but the personality.  They’ll still be the same old DUP, will still want to be in the Executive but will refuse to get along with their Nationalist counterparts, will still throw out the same old rhetoric of “our Union is in peril”, will still meet Loyalist terrorists when whistled for, while shouting at Sinn Fein about their past.   P.S – After talking with people from Larne and Ballymena who attended their respective NI Protocol protests, and two men from Newtownabbey who are in ‘the know’, I am satisfied that the Storey funeral has played absolutely no part in these protests.  The inclusion of the Storey funeral in the protests narrative was to take the heat off the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster.  It was designed to push the blame onto a party and a people who political Unionism should show more respect for at this stage, the very people they share power with.  The Executive would work if the DUP would let it work, but because Unionism has spent so much time attempting to stop rights being afforded to people who deserve them, then telling themselves and their supporters that Catholics and Nationalists are a literal enemy, they have run themselves into a brick wall because they haven’t been looking where they were going.  The tide has turned on the DUP and Unionism, and now they can’t run fast enough to beat it.
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