Can DUP honor faith of working-class loyalists?

Posted By: June 15, 2017

Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, June 15, 2017

A NEW political era doesn’t quite do justice to the remarkable outcome of last week’s election.

What a reversal of fortunes for Arlene Foster, having gone from looking like her leadership position was untenable to propping up a Conservative government.

She looked understandably delighted with herself when along with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds she spoke to the press at Stormont on Monday, just before traveling to Downing Street to meet her new partner in government Theresa May.

Gone was the strained look of a woman working her notice and back was the supremely confident Arlene of old.

In March as the results of the Stormont election were counted, the changing demographics of Northern Ireland were demonstrated for the first time, with a massive surge in the nationalist vote, almost all of which went to Sinn Féin.

When the peopleLoyalism was conditioned to treat as an enemy or at least with deep suspicion appeared to be growing in power and status, it created a panic within sections of Unionism.

The removal of the Unionist majority at Stormont for the first time since the creation of a state— designed and gerrymandered to keep Unionist dominance for as long as possible—was like a political earthquake.

In calling a general election at a time when Northern Ireland was in crisis,  Theresa May was not thinking of what was best for us but had her own political ambitions in mind given the polls at the time showing she was flying high.

And while we now know what a spectacular error of judgment that was on Theresa May’s part, it has been advantageous for an under-pressure DUP in a way the party could only have dreamed of.

Kingmakers at last.

If the DUP manages to negotiate a deal that mitigates austerity and brings home sacks of cash for the health service, education, and infrastructure,  then it will silence their critics and place Sinn Féin in a very difficult position.

The reality may not be as glorious, minority governments rarely last. I suspect the DUP knows this and will be trying to get as much as it can as quickly as it can.

The party was gifted with this position in part by the backing of the Loyalist community, a section of society who arguably gained least from the peace process.

A community which had invested a lot in its identity but failed to make much in the way of gains electorally and so trusted ‘ big house’ Unionism to represent it, only to be left behind in a fast-changing Northern Ireland.

Loyalist groups, including the Orange Order and UPRG, ran registration drives in the run-up to the election, convincing people that casting a vote for the DUP was the best way to save The Union.

And it worked, voter turnout was up in polling stations in Loyalist areas, in some places to more than 70 percent.

Previously unthinkable in areas where voting was traditionally shunned.

The flag protests were a stark reminder of what bubbles close to the surface in Northern Ireland when people feel left behind and are politically manipulated.

Loyalists felt abandoned and demonized by the press, and that is something I can relate to, as someone from a working-class nationalist area the only journalists I ever met growing up had plummy accents and portrayed my community as bloodthirsty savages.

I have always felt the heavy responsibility that comes with my now privileged position.

The DUP has been trusted with a mandate from a section of society which traditionally did not vote, and as such, it needs to deliver.

A good start would be abandoning support for academic selection, which disadvantages the working classes, investing in education that will help young men reach university rather than prison and opposing Tory welfare reforms that penalize the most vulnerable.

Working-class loyalists turned their back on electoral politics for many reasons, some out of apathy that The Union was safe regardless, others out of anger that they had been socially and economically abandoned.

Now that the trends are changing, loyalists are once again engaging with electoral politics. The fact that young loyalists feel politics can deliver for them should be encouraged.

The DUP’s MPs have been trusted to deliver. The question is, will they?