By Joe Brolly (for the Irish Independent)
They never promised her a rose garden. The DUP said one of their reasons for collapsing Stormont was that Sinn Féin “blocked a rose bush being planted...”
Since Stormont was set up in 1999, it has been shut for 37pc of the time. It should be a time-share. The problem, as identified by the respected unionist commentator Alex Kane, is that the DUP has “a tendency for delusion and self-destruction”.
In that vein, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last week called on Boris Johnson to “step aside” unless he was “willing to address the NI protocol”. Then on Monday, Jeffrey called on Boris to visit the North in a show of support for the DUP. First, he wants him to resign. Now he wants him to visit?
The British PM is a laughing stock around the world, a pathological liar, doesn’t give a damn about Northern Ireland, and merely used the DUP when it suited him. Leprosy is more popular than Boris. But the DUP wants him to visit.
In Westminster on Tuesday, Ian Paisley Junior, addressing a near empty house, lamented the fact the PM had not even mentioned the North since they collapsed Stormont.
He accused the Tories of betraying them (true), and of not caring about Northern Ireland (true). You may think this would lead the DUP to a rational conclusion, but rational conclusions are not welcome inside the walls of a cult.
I am still getting my head around the fact they believed Boris was going to build a bridge from Scotland to the North. When the bridge proved too expensive (£30bn), he promised them a tunnel instead. Then DUP leader Arlene Foster championed the bridge and triumphantly addressed an Orange parade in Fife in 2018.
By 2021, Boris had persuaded them he would build them a tunnel instead (the Boris Burrow). The Tories must have been pissing themselves. It was a fantasy, but when you don’t have a political strategy, won’t share power, and refuse to acknowledge reality, what else are you left with?
They also believed Boris when he told them there would no checks on goods moving between GB/NI and “if somebody asks you to fill in a form, tell them to ring up the prime minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin”.
Trapped in a delusion, all they can do is continue to attack everybody, except Queen Elizabeth, presumably because Her Majesty is not allowed to express a political opinion. The LGBTQ community, other unionists, Catholics, progressive Protestants, “foreigners” etc.
Arlene Foster, who now works with Nigel Farage on the Fox-style GB News channel, last week added the BBC to their list of enemies, claiming the BBC is “an opponent” of the DUP. At the beginning of the week, the DUP’s Peter Weir described the number of Catholic staff working at Queen’s University as “a cause for concern”.
This is a deliberate tactic by the DUP to suggest the North’s institutions — the PSNI, the judiciary, the civil service — have been infiltrated by Catholics whose aim is to overthrow the state.
Now, they are refusing to confirm that if Sinn Féin win the May election they will take up their seats. In the meantime, they have manufactured rage around the protocol to try to gain traction as their poll numbers slide, even if trying to get rid of the protocol is like trying to get rid of rain.
Spreading fear and hatred used to work for them. Alex Kane wrote recently that their attacks on progressive voices within unionism are “responsible for civic unionists and new younger voices keeping their heads down and their opinions to themselves”. But society here is transforming.
Doug Beattie, the articulate leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is pushing a progressive, power-sharing agenda, with the brilliant slogan ‘A Union of People’. I chatted with him during the week and couldn’t have been more impressed.
Their candidates in the upcoming elections are mostly young and likeable. They are publicly moving away from the sectarian nonsense. Doug tweeted last week that “to smear him [UUP MLA Robbie Butler] with the ‘Ulster Says No’ mantra is unfair and deliberate. We believe in more engagement not less”.
Two years ago, sharing a debate stage with the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, Doug introduced himself to the public in the way he meant to go on.
“I’m an Irishman and I’m no less an Irishman than you. I’m no less British than you are. Gaelic games represent me, the shamrock represents me, Guinness represents me, the Orange Order represents me, God Save the Queen represents me, the monarchy represents me.
“Gregory, the sooner we understand this is a shared place... the better. I’m very proud to be Irish, very proud to be British, very proud to be European. Don’t boil me down to one or the other.”
He is smart and articulate and not in the least bit afraid of the DUP. He is the DUP’s nightmare and unionism’s godsend. His straight-talking and honest dealing has brought him kudos from all sides, and I sense a serious groundswell around him.
On Wednesday, my old friend Alex Maskey, the Sinn Féin speaker of the Assembly and chair of the Assembly Commission, wrote to all Assembly members, confirming that the Commission had agreed to plant a rose bush to mark the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty.
They promised her a rose garden after all.