By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
Some people may have expected the DUP to fold and agree before Christmas to resurrect the Stormont administration. Those who held that expectation did so because they believe mistakenly that the DUP is a normal political party.
It’s not. It’s a sect or cargo cult worshipping an imaginary, defunct Britishness. As such it doesn’t take decisions on the same basis as a political party because it’s not subject to the same political pressures.
When the arch-bigot Paisley formed the DUP, it was as the political wing of the religious sect he had invented, his Free Presbyterian Church. For decades most elected members of the DUP and a substantial proportion of its rank and file were Free Presbyterians. It became a remarkable phenomenon. With only about 10,000 Free Presbyterians in the north, less than 0.5% of the population, the political wing of Paisley’s church became the largest party in the north in 2003.
For Paisley and a majority of his church’s political wing, the main function of that political wing was to defend their politico-religious concept of ‘Ulster’. Paisley artfully weaved that concept into his sermons, emphasising the notion of a special place for ‘a people set apart’, the saved. A favourite scriptural reference of his was from Corinthians: ‘Come ye out from them and be ye separate saith the Lord and touch not the unclean thing.’
Matters such as the social and economic welfare of public service workers and the material well-being of the general population came a long way down the priorities. The main aim was the preservation of the union, which for them guarantees the special place of the north for the people to whom the British gave it in 1921 and who therefore have a right to own it. Evidently that is still the case. Attempts by people like Peter Robinson to turn the DUP into a normal political party failed.
Attempts either to lure or bounce the DUP into a ‘reasonable’ political action by offering £2.5 billion and the promise of legislation have failed. There’s an impasse. We’ve been here before. Don’t forget that from 1985 to 2005 the DUP sect wouldn’t even negotiate.
Paisley and his fellow hard liners – including, remember, from 2003 on, one Jeffrey Donaldson – spent 20 years wrecking the UUP for being ‘sell-out unionists’. The DUP didn’t participate in the 1997/8 talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement but sniped at the UUP both inside and outside Stormont.
Now Donaldson is being sniped at by Jim Allister and the TUV with the familiar charge of being, oh the irony, ‘a sell-out unionist’. In many ways Donaldson has only himself to blame. After all, he enlisted Allister’s help in 2021 in his opposition to the protocol and gave his approval to Allister’s denunciations of it. That was in marked contrast to Peter Robinson’s previous deriding of Allister as the unionist equivalent of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who held out for 29 years after the war ended, emerging from the jungle in 1974. Allister’s war still isn’t over. Is Donaldson’s?
However, regardless of the splits in unionism, the DUP’s continuance as a political cult fixated on an irrational view about the north, rather than a political party capable of rational decision-making, has serious consequences for unionism. Boycotting talks and talks about talks for 20 years from 1985-2005 wasn’t crucial when the DUP was the junior partner in unionism. Politics proceeded fitfully without them. It’s a different matter now when the party represents the overwhelming majority of unionists, having seen off Allister’s one-man-band and Beattie’s dwindling, bewildered band.
The splits and splintering can’t disguise that the DUP’s stance is crackers. It’s going to achieve the opposite of what the leaders of the political cult/sect intend.
They want to maintain what they see as the north’s place in the UK as a means of preserving unionist ownership of the north. Yet by refusing to allow the north to work, they are well on the way to achieving the opposite.
The splits and splintering can’t disguise that the DUP’s stance is crackers. It’s going to achieve the opposite of what the leaders of the political cult/sect intend
As the unionist population and its votes decline rapidly it’s elementary that the DUP needs to show lukewarm nationalists that the north can work for them. Insisting on exclusive ownership of the north on only their terms the DUP will continue to boost Sinn Féin’s votes as they have done since 2016.
Insisting that the north belongs to one politico-religious sect which alone can veto movement guarantees the demise of the north.