Wednesday 11 June 2008

Giving the DUP enough rope to hang themselves with

This blog has never had any faith in the DUP's ability or willingness to share power or to co-govern in the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland. In September 2007 this blog said that "the DUP is busy painting itself into a corner – by publicly sniping at suggestions from Sinn Féin, they are limiting their own room for manoeuvre". In October 2007 we asked whether the DUP was capable of governing: "the real ability of the DUP to cooperate, to share power, and to govern in the interests of the whole of Northern Ireland has been tested, and is increasing found wanting. Their flaws are becoming more visible, and are combining to give the impression of a party that does not know how to share power, and may not even be able to keep its own supporters happy". And in January 2008 we noted that the strain was starting to show, and that their "bigotry seems to be as strong as ever, and calls into question the DUP's ability to give as well as to take".

Since the restoration of the institutions over a year ago, Sinn Féin has been remarkably quiet, and apart from the storm-in-a-teacup over the nomination of Peter Robinson as First Minister on 5 June 2008, it has barely reacted to the oft-repeated gloats of the DUP that they 'control Stormont'.

Yet it is clear that the leopard has not changed its spots. Following the nomination of Peter Robinson there were rumours that a deal had been done to ensure the required Sinn Féin support. Indeed, unless something had been promised, it is likely that Sinn Féin might indeed have blocked the nomination. The DUP press room sprang into action, and within two days five separate statements were released that tried to deny that a deal had in fact been made: David Simpson MP, Willie McCrea MP, Ian Paisley Junior MLA, Maurice Morrow MLA, and Peter Weir MLA. Each of the statements repeated aspects of the same message – that the DUP had blocked, and would continue to block, any movement on Sinn Féin policies. In essence, therefore, the message was that the DUP was not 'power-sharing' but simply 'Sinn Féin blocking'. The doubts that this blog had expressed earlier were shown to be valid.

Worse, however, was to come.

On Friday 6 June Iris Robinson MP MLA, wife of the newly nominated First Minister, made a series of blatantly intolerant anti-gay comments on a radio show. This lead to a storm of protest, both from organisations representing gay people, and from political opponents. Needless to say, of course, the Christian right, and especially the fundamentalist wing of the DUP, supported her anti-gay bigotry. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP's junior minister responsible for equality, said Mrs Robinson was entitled to express her views, but that the Executive would seek to ensure that no-one was discriminated against. Even Iris Robinson's husband, First Minister Peter Robinson, was forced to state that "there is a legal obligation to ensure that no-one in our society is discriminated against".

Then, on Monday 9 June Peter Robinson re-shuffled the DUP Ministers in the Executive. Amongst his appointments were Gregory Campbell, a renowned opponent of the GAA, to replace Edwin Poots in the very department that oversees sport, and a renowned environmental sceptic, Sammy Wilson, to the Department of the Environment. Rumours circulated that these appointments were made to reward loyal supporters for their part in ousting Ian Paisley senior and allowing Robinson to take over the DUP. Whether this is true or not, the impression given by these appointments is of a party that either lacks appropriate talent, or that simply does not take its responsibilities seriously.

Which brings this blog to its point: is Sinn Féin's silence on the DUP, and its actions and statements, a clever tactic that allows the DUP to be damned, not by its enemies, but by itself?

It is entirely possible that Sinn Féin, having known the DUP for over 30 years, and knowing the mentality of its members intimately, knew that given enough rope the DUP would eventually hang themselves. In opposition the DUP could snipe and sabotage, whilst keeping their own powder dry. They could, and did, develop a reputation as a canny party, well-disciplined and committed. But exposed to the harsher glare of attention that office brings, the underlying weaknesses of the DUP are becoming clearer.

Power corrupts, they say, and almost as soon as the DUP had attained some power the allegations of corruption started, thanks to Ian Paisley junior's relationship with property developer Seymour Sweeney, and DUP Minister Arlene Foster's defence of Sweeney. While the DUP had managed to brush off complaints about its homophobia in the past, when it became clear that that homophobia stretched as far as the First Minister's wife, liberals recoiled with distaste. And on the very basic requirement of a power-sharing administration – sharing power – the DUP is showing itself to be hopelessly incapable or unwilling, and thus calling into question the very continuation of the experiment.

The myth of the disciplined and all-conquering DUP is taking quite a battering, and for the first time in its history the party is facing a real threat from its right – the TUV. Despite the media belief in a 'modernising wing' within the DUP, the party is still being steered by its religious right wing, even though this is precisely the group most likely to desert it for the TUV. If it's so-called 'modern' wing also starts to desert it – back to the UUP, perhaps – the DUP might implode, and revert to being a small extreme-unionist protest party.

Is Sinn Féin's relative silence aimed at achieving this outcome?


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Anonymous said...

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