By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
The heave against Arlene Foster was not just about dissatisfaction with her lack of leadership, though that was a large part of it because personality is always a large part of politics. The defenestration of Foster is a DUP grass roots revolt against the Good Friday Agreement (which the party never supported) power-sharing, the Irish Sea border and social liberalism, such as same-sex marriage, voting against gay ‘conversion therapy’, and imposition of abortion legislation: a pretty comprehensive list of grievances.
If you like it’s the DUP version of a peasants revolt. Councillors and MLAs want rid of the entire Stormont team including advisers like Timothy Johnston and Emma Little-Pengelly. The letters demanding Foster’s resignation are scattergun, spraying accusations in all directions from the hated Protocol to an abandonment of ‘Christian principles’. Essentially the signatories, who are the majority of elected DUP members, want to go backwards. The successful removal of Foster means there will be profound consequences for the party and the north.
First, it’s likely that the malcontents will bring down the executive. They are acting according to Jim Allister’s playbook. His argument basically is how can you oppose all the unwelcome developments in social liberalism and the outworkings of Brexit, yet at the same time operate the mechanisms of the Good Friday Agreement like the North-South Ministerial Council which advance them? In other words, why remove Foster only to replace her with someone who will follow the same path to perdition?
Logic therefore dictates that the new party leader will not nominate a First Minister in order to precipitate an election. Better an election early to bring matters to a head rather than wrestle with the prospect of Acht na Gaeilge which Foster has promised along with other commitments in the New Decade Same Approach con job.
Of course the party rebels are making a familiar but fatal error. They think the party is haemorrhaging votes because it has departed from its traditional roots in evangelical Protestantism and uncompromising hardline unionism. In fact the polling evidence shows the opposite. The party is haemorrhaging votes to the Alliance party because no modern, thinking unionist would vote for a party with nutty ideas dominated by a tiny sect of hot gospellers and bible-bashers who comprise fewer than 0.1 per cent of Protestants here. No modern, thinking, liberal unionist will join the DUP given that they would have to subscribe to a theocratic ethos and the pervasive malign influence of the Orange Order.
The DUP were routed in North Down in 2019 and in Lagan Valley their vote share fell 16% while Alliance’s rose 17.7% because they are too hardline, old fashioned and stupidly supported Brexit and the Irish Sea border. The party is being pulled in two directions, one towards the past with Jim Allister’s plan – a twenty-four carat gold loser – and the other to recover the liberal unionist vote Peter Robinson gained for the party. By the tenor of the insurrectionary letters it looks quite clear which direction the party is headed in.
The reality is the four letters circulating are four different versions of the same suicide note. Pulling down the executive will make it easier for the UK to implement the Protocol and causing an election will guarantee that Michelle O’Neill will become First Minister if there’s ever another executive. If there isn’t, the new Ireland project becomes the only game in town. Talk about unintended consequences.