Basket case DUP should have learned from Sinn Féin

Posted By: June 12, 2021

Patrick Murphy. Irish News. Saturday, June 12, 2021.

WHEN your starting point in politics is “Not an inch”, you must either acquire the skill to depart from it unnoticed, or stick to it and inevitably fail.

After occasional flirting with the idea of conceding an inch, the DUP has returned to its unbending roots which is why, dear reader, the party is now what is known as a basket case.

Welcome to the world of lost opportunity.

The DUP’s origins lie in Ian Paisley’s anti-Catholic behavior in the 1960s.

Largely viewed as a fundamentalist religious crank, he claimed exclusive ownership of a bible-based religious purity, which made access to heaven difficult for other Protestants and condemned Catholics to hell.

It might reasonably be argued that his subsequent application of puritanism to politics significantly contributed to the conditions which sparked the sectarian violence.

Even before he founded the DUP in 1971, he had ousted two Ulster Unionist prime ministers, claiming they were soft at smiting their Catholic enemies.

Paisley’s arrogant mix of self-righteous religion and self-seeking politics allowed no compromise.

Not an inch, he said, until one day he conceded a mile and chuckled his way to power with Sinn Féin.

But within a year as First Minister, the unyielding monster he had created devoured him, generating the arguments which are fragmenting the party today.

Peter Robinson quelled those arguments. However, Arlene Foster’s attempts to drag the DUP away from its past, coupled with her UUP background, rendered her guilty of the social liberalism with which the road to hell is carefully paved. She too had to go.

So the DUP has reverted to religious fundamentalism. Now just half a party, its leader lacks Paisley’s guile, his rabble-rousing rhetoric (thankfully), and his gullible following.

It has turned full circle, becoming what it should have remained in the 1960s: a fundamentalist sect, tilting at the windmills of a changing world.

So what could the DUP have done differently? The answer is simple. It could have learned from Sinn Féin.

A year before the DUP was founded, Provisional SF began life as a breakaway faction from the republican movement’s left-wing policies.

Opposed to ending abstentionism from the Dáil, their republican purity prevented them from recognizing the courts and the legitimacy of both Irish states.

Fifty years later, having abandoned the 1916 principle of the Irish nation, they now administer the northern state, including its courts, on behalf of the British government and, with abstentionism long gone, they are poised to enter government in Dublin.

In 2005, Gerry Adams described the EU as “the polar opposite of the democratic and anti-imperial outlook of Irish republicanism, as well as democrats and progressive people all over Europe”.

Today SF is the EU’s most ardent supporter, having reversed their anti-EU policy without debate, discussion or even public announcement. Change works best when you pretend it has not happened.

Although SF claims to be the party of 50 years ago, it is far from where it intended to be. Interestingly, the more it changed, the more popular it became. The more the DUP remained entrenched, the more its popularity fell.

The explanation for the two parties’ contrasting fortunes is long and complex. In brief, they are not directly comparable in terms of origins, adherence to religious beliefs, internal organization and discipline, public relations, and their contrasting relationships with a rapidly changing world.

Some may criticize SF for abandoning their principles and praise the DUP for sticking to theirs. But in politics, power is everything. Intransigence may make you feel better, but in the long run, it curtails your options.

That explains why Paul Givan is the most politically feeble First Minister in this state’s long and troubled history.

Perhaps the symbolic inch which his party failed to concede can now be placed in a glass case and donated to the Ulster Museum.

There it can be displayed for future generations – just beside the space reserved for DUP itself.