Poots underestimated depth of loathing for all things Irish     

Posted By: June 22, 2021


Chris Donnelly. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, June, 21, 2020

For a brief period of time, observers of unionism flirted with the notion that the crisis engulfing the DUP was a consequence of a split between a more pragmatic and reforming wing, loyal (well at least partially) to Arlene Foster and a fundamentalist, traditionalist bloc rallied by Edwin Poots and Ian Paisley Junior.

The dramatic fallout since the British government’s decision to finally begin honoring commitments over the Irish language, fifteen years after these were first made at St Andrews, has highlighted the central flaw in that analysis.

Edwin Poots’s move to effectively take that decision on the chin and proceed with re-establishing the executive, with his own man at the helm, cost him his job only a matter of weeks since assuming office. As political humiliations go, this one will take some beating.

The party revolt confirmed that intolerance of the many manifestations of The Other in this society continues to run to the core of the DUP’s identity and politics. One hundred years into the state’s existence, the impoverished nature of their vision is reaffirmed time and time again. Amidst all the noise, it should not be forgotten that the leader of unionism was forced to resign simply because his colleagues cannot stomach modest legislative protections for the Irish language in a part of Ireland.

The voices fulminating against Poots from within the DUP were those who had led the charge in defense of Arlene Foster and for whom Jeffrey Donaldson was the chosen replacement.

Poots’s undoing was his calculation that party colleagues could see that the fight had been fought and lost over the Irish language. This was a reasonable assumption. After all, his predecessor had publicly called on him to deliver on implementation of the Irish Language Act which formed a critical part of the New Decade New Approach deal. His words uttered in the Stormont assembly chamber before nominating Paul Givan as first minister were intriguing when he spoke of “a brand of confident unionism” capable of “recognizing those things that do not do us demonstrable harm.”

Yet he underestimated the depth of loathing consuming both his own followers and internal adversaries when it comes to all things Irish. His subsequent Lundification was brutal, swift, and unmerciful.

The simple truth is that the root cause of political and communal angst being visited upon many unionist and loyalist communities is the pervasive and enduring sense of entitlement that continues to afflict unionism.

It can be seen in the proliferation of loyalist flags once again in mixed residential communities across the north of Ireland, including in parts of Glengormley, south Belfast and a north Lisburn at the heart of the constituency shared between the current and likely next DUP leader. Don’t expect senior unionists to condemn the practice or call on the PSNI to do their job of serving and protecting ordinary people from the sectarian bully boys. The principle of ‘The People’ being entitled to fly their flags when and where they want along the Queen’s Highway will not be compromised.

It was visible in the loyalist parade that culminated in an orchestrated protest and banner burning episode at the west Belfast peace-line and in the recently floated plans for a ‘mass’ loyalist protest in Dublin over the summer, neither of which has been roundly condemned by senior unionist leaders.

It explains the recent decision of unionist politicians (including from the UUP) in Derry to withdraw from a bonfire management group, unconvincingly citing an incoherent list of reasons to explain a decision which will resign their own people to a miserable fate of coexistence with open litter sites for the next month.

Down in Moygashel, they take entitlement to another level. There, loyalists are advertising a “thermal protection scheme” for windows in houses that have been inconveniently built near to a loyal bonfire. File that amongst things you could not make up.

 A brazen sense of entitlement was apparent in the unionist reaction to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s call for Fine Gael to prepare for Irish unity, including by setting up in the north and appealing to middle ground voters here. Foster loyalist, former DUP special adviser and one-time DUP South Belfast MP, Emma Little-Pengelly, furiously tweeted that Leo Varadkar’s speech was “mad stuff” because “Unionism is trying to ensure a peaceful summer,” implying that nationalists merely voicing support for the entirely legitimate cause of constitutional change somehow threatens peace.

Drawing out that poison does not even appear to be on the agenda for a political leadership blinded by prejudice and short-sightedness.