As polls show many voters rejecting tribalism, the two main Unionist parties are likely to be devising a joint strategy
Published: 19 June 2021
It’s easy to laugh at Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party: its followers are almost all Christian and socially conservative so they’re fair game to the Left. The cartoonist Peter Brookes found it amusing to draw Arlene Foster, its leader from 2016 to last month, as an angry bigot with facial stubble, an Orange sash and a bowler hat, although she is humorous and tolerant, has never been a member of the Orange Order and has Catholic and gay friends.
Edwin Poots, who ruthlessly defenestrated Foster, lasted only 21 days so largely escaped the cartoonists, but as a creationist, his brief and chaotic time in the headlines made him a gift for Twitter.
Unionism is in crisis yet again, once more – this time with the Northern Ireland Protocol – betrayed by London in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. To keep Stormont from collapsing, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has without a whimper paid more danegeld to Sinn Fein, a party that the security forces north and south still believe is effectively controlled from Belfast by veteran terrorists of the IRA Army Council.
Unionists already have to share power with a party whose leaders loudly extol murderers who brought grief to the whole province and seek at every turn to destabilise it. Every democrat should fear that Sinn Fein – a party with totalitarian instincts that has reversed its policies in a very few years to being pro-EU and pro anything else that appeals to younger voters – may shortly produce a Taoiseach in the Republic dedicated to achieving a united Ireland whatever it costs.
Bleak though that seems, as the political cards have fallen, this is actually a time of great opportunity for Unionism. The chaos and imminent implosion of the fractured DUP is bringing many supporters to their senses, as is the British Government’s failure to stand up against the wreckers on behalf of the majority of people in Northern Ireland who actually want the province to work.
The new leader of the DUP will almost certainly be Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – who lost to Poots in May’s leadership election by one vote – who had two cousins murdered by the IRA, served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and has been an MP since 1997. He has no illusions about the Sinn Fein underbelly, understands Westminster and frequently attends conferences and makes media appearances in the Republic of Ireland.
Moreover, Sir Jeffrey is a friend of Captain Doug Beattie, MC, who spent 28 years in the British Army, and is the liberal, articulate leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who in just a few weeks has united his party behind an anti-sectarian message of working for all the people.
So for the first time, as polls consistently show many voters increasingly rejecting tribalism, the two main Unionist parties are likely to be devising and articulating a joint strategy that enables their representatives to stand up for normal politics while having no illusions about what they’re now up against.
The last laugh might be at the expense of republican and unionist bigots.