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Perpetual opposition haunts DUP


David Adams • Irish Times, 8 December 2006

Last Friday, speaking before a meeting held to discuss tensions within the DUP, Ian Paisley jnr said his colleagues should remember that the "real enemy are republicans".

This was rich, coming from that source. Throughout his political career, Mr Paisley's father has persisted in treating other unionists as though they were the "real enemy".

If his attitude had been more in line with his son's belated advice, then unionism - not to mention Northern Ireland - might well be in better shape than it is today.

But for the antics of Ian Paisley and a variety of sidekicks down through the years, moderate unionists might long ago have been able to establish and maintain a powersharing administration with their nationalist counterparts. And, consequently, might just have managed to bring a measure of political stability and social cohesion to Northern Ireland when those were most sorely needed.

As it was, every forward-looking unionist leader was characterised as an enemy of the union and relentlessly pursued with accusations of sell-out and treachery until eventually toppled. In this way, Ian Paisley and his cohorts brought every political initiative to collapse.

How times have changed. After finally managing to clamber into the driving seat of unionism, it is clear that Paisley is now eager to make a deal of his own. Except it isn't really his own deal.

Apart from Sinn Féin now being the lead nationalist party, there is little difference between what is currently on offer and any of the other proposed settlements that Paisley spent decades opposing.

This tells us that, regardless of what he has said or done in the past, Ian Paisley didn't really consider the more far-sighted leaders of unionism as enemies at all, but rather as mere obstacles on the road to his own ambition.

Despite all of his past protestations and accusations of sell-out, it would appear he was more upset by the fact that it wasn't he and his party who were making an agreement than with anything other unionists were prepared to agree upon.

The problem now for Paisley and his more pragmatic colleagues is that not all of the DUP or its supporters were alive to this.

Many of them actually believed the high-flown rhetoric about the traitorous Ulster Unionists, the slippery slope to Dublin, smashing Sinn Féin, never sharing power with republicans, the necessity for sackcloth and ashes, and all the rest of it.

Those within the DUP concerned at the direction the party is taking consider themselves, with justification, to be simply holding firm to the supposedly immovable articles of faith to which they and their leader have always clung.

When the now dissenters vowed never to have any truck with "IRA/Sinn Féin" they actually meant it.

In reply to Ian Paisley jnr, they would argue it is not they but the party leadership that has forgotten who the "real enemy" are.

Though obviously related, not all of the current tensions in the DUP are exclusively to do with the party's dilution of its previous position.

With an eye to Ian Paisley's age and his health problems of a couple of years ago, no doubt some senior members are taking the opportunity to position themselves for a leadership bid when the occasion arises. There is also a good deal of resentment among many longtime DUP stalwarts at the parachuting of former Ulster Unionist dissidents into senior party positions over their heads.

That said, this has been considerably heightened by the fact that, virtually to a man and woman, these past UUP members are among those pushing hardest for Ian Paisley to run with the St Andrews Agreement.

At root, everything stems from the fact that the DUP is now charged with giving leadership (as opposed to sniping from the sidelines) and hard decisions having to be made.

In essence, Ian Paisley is facing the same dilemma that confronted former UUP leader David Trimble.

Either, like the courageous Trimble, he faces down the opposition in his party and enters a powersharing Executive with Sinn Féin where unionism will help direct the future of Northern Ireland, but run the significant attendant risk that republicans will act as a ministerial fifth column, or he buckles under the pressure and opts for allowing the process to collapse, hoping that blame for the subsequent dissolution of the Assembly spreads beyond his door.

The obvious problem with this option is that it will leave unionism politically isolated, and Northern Ireland to be jointly managed by the British and Irish governments.

Dragging out the process beyond March next year, in the forlorn hope that things might change for the better, would probably guarantee party unity, but it is not a realistic option.

There can be little doubt that with elections in the Republic and Tony Blair's imminent departure from Downing Street to occupy them, next year's deadline is at least one the two governments intend sticking to.

One thing is certain, whatever Ian Paisley decides to do his party will shed members and supporters.

For, by its very success, the DUP has been robbed of the internal cohesion that comes with perpetual opposition.



Reprinted with permission from the author.










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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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12 December 2006

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Circling the Wagons
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