Annex Or Answers?

Brian Horner looks at the challenges posed to the DUP.

Since the DUP endorsed Brexit it has been something of slippery slope for them, despite them telling us otherwise.

The DUP have successfully ensured that the limelight is fully on them in Britain. They done this by locking down a supply and demand deal with the Conservative Party, a deal they have said will bring untold fortune to Northern Ireland.

The British Government have committed an extra £1bn to NI, over a two-year period, and have also said that they will give the Executive a bigger say on £500m is allocated; all in exchange for he DUPs 10 MPs voting with the government on a “case by case” basis.

The deal between the DUP and Conservatives is one that opposition parties don’t support on the basis that Ms May would rather pay to stay in power than help a fledging NHS and schools:

While our schools are crumbling and our NHS is in crisis, Theresa May chooses to throw cash at 10 MPs in an attempt to keep her place in Number 10 – Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Leader.

The former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Nick Macpherson ttweeted: “DUP will be back for more ... again and again. They have previous in such matters.”

The Labour first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, called the agreement outrageous, describing it as a “straight bung to keep a weak prime minister and a faltering government in office”.

The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, expressed anger that the money was being paid outside the Barnett formula, which is designed to distribute funds fairly between devolved nations:

In concluding this grubby, shameless deal the Tories have shown that they will stop at nothing to hold on to power – even sacrificing the very basic principles of devolution.

This £1bn is currently with the Treasury and Parliament haven’t voted on its allocation, so this raises the question for many: When will this money be timetabled for allocation and will it be released during PM Mays tenure? A question the DUP cannot answer, but they continually echo deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP, when he says that outrage at the deal was “hypocrisy of the highest order”, saying the deal would deliver for all the people of the Northern Ireland – and the United Kingdom.

The argument continues that the Conservative government has found a way of making sure the payment to the DUP isn’t ‘Barnettable’ – as described by Gina Miller.

Even before the extra cash given to Northern Ireland, the province was already benefiting from £11,000 public spending per head of population, compared to just £8,800 for England – how is this fair? A question I posed to the DUP via email, but haven’t received a reply.

The questions for the DUP don’t end with their supply and demand deal, the most prevalent at home at present is their views on abortion and the pressure the vote in the Republic of Ireland when the public voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983 amended the Constitution of Ireland by inserting a subsection recognising the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn.

Abortion in Northern Ireland is being blocked by Theresa May’s deal with the DUP, Sinn Féin’s leader, Michelle O’Neill, claims, blaming the party’s confidence deal with the Conservatives for holding back women’s rights.

After meeting the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, Ms O’Neill said she was convinced the government was unwilling to move on the issue because of the deal with the Democratic Unionists, whose MPs support May’s minority government.

Ms O’Neill's comments come as the supreme court narrowly dismissed a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s tough abortion laws, saying there was no jurisdiction to consider the latest case because there was no actual or potential victim of an unlawful act involved in it.

A majority of judges, however, added that Northern Ireland’s abortion law was incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights.

Many argue that he DUP are increasingly at odds with society on issues such as abortion and their opposition to same sex marriage. These arguments are not coming from opponents, but editors of newspapers such as The Newsletters Editor, Ben Lowry.

Mr Lowry argues that the DUP is out of step with the electorate for two reasons:

1 – DUP vote is more varied than it ever was (debateable)

2 - Society is becoming more liberal than the DUP can keep up with

DUP have also had its elected members, Jim Wells, refer to woman who get abortions as Nazis on the BBC Nolan Show. Sammy Wilson commenting in the HoC that outrageous claim that, without abortion laws, these children would have been: “Discarded and put in a bin before they were ever born” – PR disasters, a continuing theme for the DUP when it comes to societal issues, it seems.

Theresa May has praised "the Irish people" for the success of the Repeal the Eighth campaign, yet the Prime Minister is currently in a difficult situation as she strategically needs to maintain the DUP's support.

Any speculation that the Republic's victory would lead to a reconsideration of values by Northern Ireland was dispelled in another speech by Arlene Foster after the constitutional amendment, in which she condemned campaigners taking to the streets in celebration. Foster declared:

The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. Abortion is an extremely sensitive issue, and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration.

A change from Ms Fosters view in when in the UUP when she stated that Ireland’s stance on abortion as “downright insulting” to women, calling the country’s constitution “an archaic crutch to the Roman Catholic church.” No more “Home Rule is Rome Rule”

Sinn Fein’s leaders held up a sign at Dublin Castle reading ‘The North Is Next’, while in London, female ministers put pressure on Theresa May to demonstrate her feminist credentials by backing reform.

Westminster could legislate in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but this would undermine the Good Friday Agreement as much as the Brexit most of us voted to avoid in NI.

The party now finds itself in familiar hypocritical territory: threatening to self-implode if it doesn't get the same Brexit treatment as the rest of Britain, while simultaneously relishing its divergence on basic rights like same sex marriage and abortion.

The DUP have also another elephant in the room; working class Loyalism and their failure to work in their favour, despite promising them the moon and the stars during the last election.

It has been argued that the DUP have used jingoism to retain their position of power, but used the working class to ensure that their (slim) lead is retained, but this is now being challenged more and more on social media and within working groups.

Currently there is a vein of Loyalism who want to move break the stereotype that exists when working class loyalism is referred to. At present he Mitchell Peace Institute a Queens University are facilitating discussions that are allowing Republicanism and Loyalism discuss what the working a working class voice needs and how representation can be facilitated regarding social issues; at the core of some thinking is that he DUP need to earn their vote from Loyalism, not just assume that it will be given. Loyalism is asking the mature question: “What’s in it for our community?”

Then we come to Brexit. The DUP have issued all sorts of warnings over Brexit, but have failed to give any assurances on the ongoing issue.

Most recently Arlene Foster has reiterated her red-line that:

No Prime Minister could ever agree to any arrangement which would threaten the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

Michel Barnier responded:

it would not be feasible to extend the European Commission's backstop plan - under which Northern Ireland would remain part of the EU customs union after Brexit - to include the whole of the United Kingdom.

Without labouring the point, DUP have only one position on Brexit; They don’t want a hard border, but are unsure on how to express their position, without alienating themselves with the British public. Again. They have jumped inboard the May Ship and have total disregard for NI and the impact a Brexit will have on its people and ultimately, the Union.

We then come to the situation of Irish reunification. The DUP leader has said she will leave the country if there is a united Ireland. In other words, she wouldn’t accept democracy via a border poll, which her predecessor Peter Robinson is in favour of (despite wanting to change he goalposts of the GFA to a “majority of one”), much to the dismay of many unionists.

The DUP have helped keep the deepening conversation of Irish reunification alive by pushing their closed agenda in Britain and in turn exposing their fault lines and what they oppose and why. One journalist on Twitter questioned why the treasury wont publish the exact money given to NI and wouldn’t this money be better divided between “the entire UK”

DUP must take heed of census figures in 2011 showing a narrowing gap between the two main religions in NI, putting the Protestant population at 48%, just 3% ahead of the Catholic one (45%).

Figures from 2016 show that among those of working age, 44% are now Catholic and 40% Protestant.

The difference is even more marked among schoolchildren, with 51% Catholic and 37% Protestant.

Only among the over-60s is there a majority of Protestants, with 57% compared to Catholics on 35%.

Ironically, three years from now we will end up on the centenary of the NI state, where we actually have a state that has a Catholic majority; Will the SoS call for a border poll in 2021 if the majority want it?

Overall, societal questions exist for the DUP to answer on Brexit, working class Loyalism, the supply and demand timetable and issues such as same sex marriage and abortion issues and a border poll; These questions aren’t going away, and as society moves on, will the DUP continue to annex itself from us or give us answers?

  Brian Horner has a background in the education sector and is now retired in the Portstewart area.

Follow Brian Horner on Twitter @OtherBench

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

2 comments to ''Annex Or Answers?"

  1. Interesting article. Does anyone have any more info on the Mitchell Inst. talks between Loyalists&Republicans? That does sound promising.

    The Duppers may hold power but even their own are getting sick of them, and if Foster really said she would leave if a UI was declared after a democratic vote I'll personally hold the door open for her, so it doesn't smack her arse on the way out.

  2. Robinson's was nominated to make that call on a border poll referendum because the DUP leadership were sitting in the front row giving him full party approval.
    Foster congratulates her ‘fellow county men’, the Fermanagh GAA team, Paisley Jr claims priests are writing to him and claiming they are telling their congregations to support the DUP on any potential changes to the abortion laws in NI but doesn’t provide any proof (and in fact there is no guarantee that Unionists would vote in line with the DUP on this issue as the Free Presbyterian Church represents less than 1% of the population here)....these events are no coincidence and are all carefully timed.
    But why, why now?
    The answer is simple – Theresa May's expression of having grave doubts on whether Unionism would win that poll under present circumstances. The DUP were advised by May and the Tory's to take a different approach, a more conciliatory approach to Nationalists and get Stormont up and running again before it is too late.
    Brexit is very likely going to put an end to what is referred to as the UK......The recent Scottish Nationalist walk out of Westminster only accentuated this.
    The DUP and Unionism in general is in a very dangerous position at the moment, what with the demographic shift in population, the unicorn claim of Catholics supporting the Union in such numbers similar to that of Cameron's ‘70,000 rebels’ fighting Assad (which never existed) and the only way to minimise this treat of the UK breaking up is to make themselves more appealing to nationalists and hopefully restore Stormont.
    It's quite transparent and Robinson's offer of ‘generational border polls’, if any depth of analysis is applied, his offer unravels when we view his crude attempt to redefine what first past the post means by adopting all those aspects of the Brexit vote that were left out in the simple Yes or No vote which his party fully endorsed and all in favour of retaining and ensuring Unionism's link to the UK....he's moving the goal posts!
    What he was announcing to the DUP party faithful was simply, if we don’t give on the major current issues and get Stormont up and running there won’t be a Stormont or even a United Kingdom. It's time to bite the bullet.
    The transparency is startling but incredibly Nationalist's representatives seem to have responded in favour.....once bitten, twice shy doesn’t seem to apply here....


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