Irish Republican News · September 17, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The DUP will not overturn its manifesto

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

Writing in Monday’s Irish Times (see above) Gerry Adams asserted that “The DUP represents the anti-agreement minority of the electorate.” Hmm. That’s only if you think the UUP is united in its support for the agreement. It isn’t. Let’s not forget the dozen convocations of backwoodsmen that dissident UUP members like Jeffrey Donaldson called to stymie the agreement’s progress. Remember, Trimble usually managed only a 54% vote at those meetings and that only because each time he was driven further away from his obligations under the agreement.

You could fill this page with figures to show that the DUP represent what the majority of unionists support and that combined with UUP antis they constitute a majority of the electorate. Don’t worry. You don’t even need figures. Yes, it’s true that the combined SF, SDLP and Alliance party votes last November were much larger than the DUP’s share of the vote. What is also true however is that large numbers of UUP votes went to anti-agreement candidates like Donaldson and Arlene Foster who were more stridently anti-agreement than some DUP candidates. When they subsequently defected to the DUP did you hear any of their electorate complaining?

Furthermore, some UUP candidates hedged their bets so carefully that you couldn’t tell whether they were pro or anti-agreement. Does David Burnside support the agreement? They’re still in the UUP so Trimble’s party remains deeply split despite the departure of Donaldson and Co. and several dozen members from various constituency associations. The only reason we don’t hear about it is because Trimble doesn’t have to pretend to work the agreement any more.

It is indeed true that for a short time in 1998-99 the DUP were the minority of the electorate. No longer. Over the years since, the majority of unionists have come to oppose the agreement or to support only those parts of it they like, which is the same as opposing it.

When you add together the DUP vote plus the growing number of anti-agreement UUP voters you get back to the old equation: nationalists support the agreement, unionists oppose it. Are there enough pro-agreement UUP unionists who would vote for nationalist candidates to support the agreement in the event of an election? Do hens have teeth? There are more unionists than nationalists so a majority in the north now oppose the agreement.

Let’s therefore have an end to wishful thinking. The reason most unionists voted DUP or for UUP candidates who equivocated about the agreement was because most unionists wanted to block any resurrection of the institutions. What is being asked of the DUP tomorrow is to promise to do the opposite of what they promised to do if they were elected. They won’t.

Remember the DUP description of Trimble? First he turns purple, then he turns turtle. Does anyone seriously believe that after two-and-a-half days the DUP and SF will have by Saturday struck a deal that overturns last November’s DUP election manifesto and a lifetime of campaigning by Paisley? No, the best that can be hoped for is another joint declaration concocted by officials from Dublin and London which the DUP and SF can subscribe to, but which in practice will not amount to a row of beans.

That outcome brings us to where Adams is completely correct. Unionism cannot be allowed a veto over progress. There are extensive aspects of society here which need to be changed and where change would have no detrimental effect at all on any unionist. Yet unionists have successfully stalled all change for the last decade, for that is what the pantomime Trimble engaged in was really about.

Unionists have managed to parlay changes which might have given equality of status and parity of esteem to nationalists for unionist participation in partnership government.

Yet those changes were never conditional on unionist participation in anything. They are nationalists’ as of right under the terms of the agreement.

So far the British government has taken advice from NIO officials which says that if radical change is introduced here there is no chance that unionists will participate in the agreement’s institutions.

For unionists who don’t want any of the institutions to work as they currently exist anyway, all they have to do is oppose any change in the north and they can have the best of both worlds: avoid any aspect of the agreement and prevent nationalists living on equal terms with unionists in the north. It has worked for them so far.

No reason to suppose it will be any different after Saturday.

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