The two major parties in contemporary Northern Ireland politics are the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. The DUP are now running England, and Sinn Féin are the main Opposition party in the Republic of Ireland.
Neither are in government in Northern Ireland.
In terms of introduction to the bizarre world of politics in the North, the four dozen words above would probably suffice on their own.
Casual observers of Northern Ireland politics would quite possibly come away with the belief that the DUP’s bitterest enemies in the game are Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin’s nemeses in politics are the DUP.
But they couldn’t be further from the truth. The great game in the North isn’t to try and convert Unionists into Nationalists or Republicans, or vice-versa, but to dominate one’s own community.
Thus, the hated rival of the DUP is the “weak and cowardly” Ulster Unionist Party, whilst Sinn Féin retain their most withering contempt for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (“west-Brits”, or the “Stoop Down Low party”).
The UUP – for generations the establishment, and government, in Northern Ireland -is now dead and buried. When Northern politics was a straight Nationalist/Unionist fight, Northern Unionists rallied to its flag – it was led by (relatively and by the standards of the place and day) liberal gentry and governed northern Ireland in a patrician – and openly sectarian – fashion. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Its relationship to the Tory party wasn’t entirely unlike the relationship Ruth Davidson envisages for her MPs. In the latter days of its influence in the early part of this century, it liberalised enough to elect a Catholic member of the Northern assembly, and severed its official links with the fascist Orange Order.
Crucially, the UUP backed every move towards a more peaceful and collegiate Northern Ireland. When the Northern Ireland parliament was abolished in the 1970s, it supported the Sunningdale Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly. In the 1990s, it supported the Belfast Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly (you may notice that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive).
Understanding the history of the UUP (and, let’s be frank, the entire party is now history) is crucial to understanding the emergence of the DUP. In 2010, the UUP and the Conservatives fought on a joint – and unsuccessul – ticket in the North, the catchily-monikered Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (Scottish readers may note a pang of recognition here). In 2011, the Conservative leadership proposed a merger of the Conservatives and UUP. The two parties have deep and longstanding links – links that run longer than Northern Ireland, in fact, has existed.
It is these links which has led to Theresa May’s crucial, and catastrophic, misunderstanding of the DUP.
The result of peace and powersharing in Northern Ireland was the entrenchment of the UUP as the moderate Unionist party, forever retaining a place in the heart of a grateful Unionist population.
No – wait. The other thing. They were unceremoniously dumped in favour of a party which would “stand up to Themmuns”
The DUP was formed during the Northern troubles, by Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley was not a politician who could thrive in any other part of Europe. A rabble-rousing religious extremist, he was far closer in terms of his Biblical fundamentalism to Islamic State than he was to mainstream Protestant teaching.
Paisley saw his job as opposing the Unionist government’s “wets”, representing the Protestant working class and conditioning them to see their fellow workers in the Catholic communities as their enemy, instead of the landowning, patrician Unionist leadership.
As late as 1981, Dr Paisley sought to create an Afrikaner Weerstanbeweging-style Loyalist militia to fight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army, and British militias in northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army. At one notorious rally, thousands of Loyalists gathered in front of the international media brandishing their firearm permits.
At every step of the way to peace in the North, Dr Paisley and his DUP – and it was his DUP undoubtedly, with no opposition to his leadership – opposed it. They opposed Sunningdale. They opposed Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Charles Haughey. They physically occupied the northern Ireland assembly, halting its deliberations, and the same month occupied an entire town in northern Ireland with a 4000-strong armed militia. The militia invaded the Republic of Ireland and fought pitched battles with An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Loyalist spies in a Northern Ireland armaments firm attempted to swap missile blueprints for arms from Apartheid South Africa as Nelson Mandela lay in prison.
In the 1990s, they called for ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, with the Catholic population to be expelled or interned to create a wholly Protestant Northern Ireland.
Almost inevitably, they opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that led to the permanent and irrevocable establishment of peace and powersharing for as long as northern Ireland remained. Although they participated in the Northern election, they came third and – in a surprise development – refused to participate in the powersharing Executive.
Even in 2001, they were a bit-part political player in grown-up politics. At that year’s election, the UUP won five times as many seats as them.
But just two years later, the DUP was the biggest party in Northern Ireland, winning thirty seats to the UUP’s 27. At the 2005 UK election, the realignment of northern Unionist politics completed, with the DUP winning nine Unionist seats to the UUP’s solitary effort – David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist leader lost his seat to David Simpson, a DUP man who believes dinosaurs are a hoax sent by God to test our faith.
The ratchet continued. 2007, the DUP won twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP. 2010, the UUP were wiped out at Westminster (between 2015 and 2017, they had two seats before being wiped out again last week). In 2011, the DUP again took twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP, and in 2015, completed their hat-trick. In the 2017 snap Assembly election, they lost ten seats, but finished on almost three times as many seats as the UUP.
The Democratic Unionist Party of 2017 is the undisputed master of the Unionist community in northern Ireland. They are the Protestant/Unionist community’s chosen representatives to face Britain and the world – just as the UUP were for so many generations.
But they are not a normal political party in the British sense of things.
While the UUP were effectively the northern Ireland wing of the Conservative party, with perhaps a soupcon of entrenched anti-Catholicism, the DUP are no such thing.
The DUP regard the Conservatives as dangerous, socially-radical dilletantes who are bringing the wrath of God down on the people of the United Kingdom with their wackily modern ideas like womens’ rights (that they have a woman leader neither obviates nor mitigates this fact in the way that having black friends does not constitute an immunity to being racist).
The DUP stand for ideas which, in Britain, ceased to exist as an effective political force in the 18th century, and are, in fact, closer to those of fundamentalist Islam than reformed Christianity, far less modern democratic politics.
They believe that women are inferior beings to men; teach that women should dress modestly; and demand that women not enjoy the little luxuries in life such as access to medical care. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland, with several women awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court accused of “procuring an abortion”.
The DUP does not believe in gay rights. Iris Robinson has condemned gay people as being “[viler] than child abusers”, and believes in gay cure. (The rather aptly-named Mrs Robinson resigned from her position as an MLA, MP and councillor after being caught engaging in an enjoyable interlude with a 19-year-old to whom she had illegally funnelled public money). While there is a majority in the Northern assembly in favour of equal marriage, the DUP has repeatedly abused the Petition Of Concern mechanism designed as a veto to ensure neither community can damage the civil rights of the other to veto equal marriage legislation.
It appointed – as Northern environment minister – Sammy Wilson, who does not believe in climate change. Oh, or evolution. He believes that the Gaelic Athletic Association is the “sporting wing of the IRA”, and that breastfeeding in public is “voyeuristic”. As environment minister, he banned climate change advertisements from appearing on television in the North. Mr Wilson is MP for East Antrim.
You may remember David Simpson, who took David Trimble’s seat. Mr Simpson is a member of the Orange Order, which prohibits Catholics from joining. He does not believe in evolution, but does believe that God can heal the sick, rather than medicine. He is MP for Upper Bann.
The party has appointed as Northern culture minister one Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell has called homosexuality “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”, and has denounced the television cartoon The Simpsons as an IRA front. He has also denounced the singer Dido as an IRA supporter. He put forward a motion in the House of Commons denouncing the car manufacturer Kia after it called one of its cars “Provo”, Italian for “test”. Mr Campbell is against the use of the Irish language, and for state executions. He is MP for East Derry.
Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson are probably the most inoffensive of the DUP’s MPs. Made junior minister in the North just a month after being elected, Pengelly has managed not to disgrace herself. The daughter of convicted Loyalist terrorist Noel Little, she is MP for South Belfast. Gavin Robinson (no relation) is MP for East Belfast.
Jim Shannon, a member of the Orange Order, was once voted “least sexiest MP”, and is a former member of the UDR. In 2015, he claimed the highest expenses of any MP. He is MP for Iris Robinson’s old Strangford constituency.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is an Orangeman who, before entering politics, worked for the infamous racist MP Enoch Powell. A former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, Sir Jeffrey believes that Catholics are traitors who owe their allegiance to the Pope, rather than their country. He is MP for the Lagan Valley.
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nigel Dodds has served as finance minister in the Northern executive. A friend of Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist leader John Bingham, Mr Dodds waked Bingham at his funeral. Almost inevitably, Mr Dodds is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Flag Group. Mr Dodds wants to ban other EU nationals from claiming social security payments in the United Kingdom. He is MP for North Belfast.
Paul Girvan has called for scrap metal dealers to be armed with firearms to “protect themselves from gypsies”, and has supported burning the Irish national flag atop Loyalist bonfires during the summer Loyalist marching season. He is MP for South Antrim.
Ian Paisley is “pretty repulsed by gay [sic] and lesbianism”, and has called for Irish republicans to be “shot on sight”. The son of the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, Mr Paisley is MP for North Antrim (you must remind me never to go to Co. Antrim).
So, you’ve met the ten people who are now governing the United Kingom. A fairly motley crew of terrorists, psychopaths, fascists and bigots.
Theresa May has chosen to save her political skin by bringing these people into government. People who don’t believe in dinosaurs. People who would rather see a woman bleed to death rather than “defy God’s will” than provide her with medical care. Anti-Irish bigots; homophobic bigots; racist bigots. Sometimes all in the one person.
Mrs May is a scared, sick old woman. She is making the mistake of thinking that Northern Ireland’s Unionists are the gentleman Unionists of her youth. They are not. And the worst thing of all is this: how can a Northern Ireland minister who owes his position to the continued support of the DUP ever be seen as an honest broker between the North’s two polarised communities?
By bringing the DUP into government, Mrs May does not just plunge politics into reaction and bigotry, nor does she risk the Northern peace process – she risks alienating the government in Dublin, just one of 27 governments which can veto her Brexit deal.
Mrs May should put country before party, and forego an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.