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Sunday 27 November 2005

DUP ill-equipped to fight 'unholy alliance'

'NEVER in my many years in this House," said Ian Paisley last Wednesday a propos the 'On-the-Runs' (OTRs), "has such a discredited piece of legislation been brought forward."

But this happened on your watch, Ian. What's gone wrong? Didn't you promise the electorate that when you succeeded David Trimble as the Number One guy in unionism, concessions to republicans would come to an end?

Six months after the General Election, the British Government is now by common consent Best Friends with Sinn Fein and on all major issues tramples all over the DUP, occasionally contemptuously throwing them a shiny bauble.

Take the OTRs, for instance. Realists knew that some nasty deal had to be done, but what had been envisaged was that there would be a deadline, that the OTRs would have to turn up in person in court to enter a plea and answer charges, and that as a quid pro quo, those exiled by terrorists on pain of death would be allowed home. Instead, Government endorsed Sinn Fein's preferred option, where returning OTRs could go home when they liked without setting foot in court and exiles were ignored: it was so horrifying and offensive to victims that a DUP MP actually burst into tears in the Commons as he talked about his murdered young cousins.

(True, Gerry Adams is pretending to be annoyed because of provisions to include the security forces, but he has good legal advice that he can get that aspect overturned in a European court and that the outcome will be that offending members of the security forces will have to face the full force of the law.)

So squalid is the OTR deal that it is also bitterly opposed by the Alliance Party, the SDLP, the UUP, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and most of the media. It may fall or be amended in the House of Lords, but the DUP won't be able to claim the credit.

Then there's the police; the British seem set to agree to finance community restorative justice schemes - run by paramilitary mafia - without requiring endorsement and co-operation with the police. This outrages all political parties, but pleases Sinn Fein.

A further big issue is the just-announced shake-up in public administration, which includes a commitment to cut the number of local authorities from 26 to seven - as Sinn Fein wants - rather than to 15 - as every other political party wants.

The nightmare of a green West and an Orange east horrifies anyone who wants the people of Northern Ireland to be less, not more, sectarian. True, some members of the DUP wouldn't mind having their own Bantustan, but the party leadership is smart enough to grasp that Sinn Fein will brilliantly use their new-found power entirely for party advantage.

And what have been the DUP's baubles?

Well, Ian Paisley was made a Privy Councillor, which is an honour he has made much of, even though it is automatically conferred on the leader of the biggest party in Northern Ireland and means nothing in practice.

Tony Blair promised the party three peerages, though they have been much delayed because the independent scrutineers are unhappy about the inclusion of Paisley's wife.

The DUP is claiming credit for the derating of Orange Halls, but under new rules this requires them to hold cross-community events, which in many areas will be completely impossible and will land them in a nightmare of argument and bureaucracy.

The DUP was allowed to nominate the Victims' Commissioner, an RUC widow (who can expect endless hassle from republicans), but her appointment is temporary, unlike that of the Human Rights Commissioner.

To compound the DUP's problems, Peter Hain is making it clear that he is going to be as nasty as possible to them unless they go into government with Sinn Fein on the basis of even 5/10 in January from the International Monitoring Commission.

THIS is causing great tensions in the party, split as it is between those who want power at all costs and those who feel they shouldn't go into government with republicans while they're still only slightly constitutional.

It's no accident that Rhonda Paisley applied for a job as a DUP policy officer, for policy is the territory of the modernisers and compromisers. Since they don't want her father to know quite what's going on, it's no surprise that she was turned down.

And it's a smart move for the Paisley family to have her sue the party on the grounds of sexual discrimination. But these odd events further weaken a party now proving itself unable to defend unionism against the unholy alliance between Tony Blair and Gerry Adams.

I'm sorry for unionists: but they voted for the DUP.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards