May and Foster meet as part of negotiations. Photo from BBC news.
Just under a month ago, I wrote a piece commentating on the major parties for the recent General Election. Within that article I mentioned that “Northern Ireland, I’ll perhaps write on our political parties once we actually stop messing about and form a legislative assembly”. One party seemed to take that as a personal insult, and have swooped into the political limelight, seeking some sort of satisfaction, all with out actually doing anything. The Party, I am, of course, referring to is that of the Democratic Unionist Party. Although I did a brief paragraph (rather a footnote in comparison to the rest of the article) I feel now a sense of duty, as a Northern Ireland native, to inform you of the true colours of the D.U.P.
In philosophy you are taught to take arguments in their most charitable status, so for a moment lets ignore the character traits, and look purely at their legislative ability! The best way to sum up their political talent is by looking at the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, or RHI scandal for short.
In 2012, when the present day leader Arlene Foster was head of the Department for the Economy (DETI), the RHI program was rolled out across Northern Ireland, as an economic incentive to move towards renewables, and lower the carbon footprint of the U.K. The issue they used seemed to “copy and paste” the Westminster legislation, replacing England for Northern Ireland, and Westminster for Stormont. The problem? They didn’t add in any safe guards in order to protect against over spending (i.e. no maximum reimbursement for using biomass boilers, instead of diesel). This meant farmers could actually profit from the scheme, by heating empty barns. A drain on the tax payers’ money, and completely contrary to the goal of reducing the CO2 footprint. A whistleblower brought this issue to DETI head, Arlene Foster, quoting one farmer planning on making £1 million over the twenty-year contract, by heating an empty shed.
After this whistleblower came forward, little was done, and in fact the scheme was rolled out further into the domestic sector by the D.U.P. led assembly. It took investigators five minutes to find the flaws within the legislation. Before the scheme was closed there was a surge in applicants, who due to legibility were accepted, despite the knowledge the scheme was unsustainable. Where did the majority of these farmers’ hail from? Fermanagh, and the constituency that Mrs. Foster represents!
In an independent investigation the estimated cost is approximately £650 million. That shows the sheer legislative incompetence of this party.
So what happened next? Well after the scandal came to public knowledge, The Sinn Fein leader, and Deputy First minister stepped down in a move Arlene called “Political, not principled” (I sometimes query if she can define either of those things). The republican party then refused to nominate a new Deputy First Minister, collapsing the power sharing assembly.
In March, Northern Ireland held elections to form a new assembly, in which the D.U.P. lost a number of seats. They lost the votes required to use a “petition of concern,” a de facto veto, to use against any topics of debate they did not want to discussed on the assembly chamber floor. Of course, this left them rather happy to not re-assume governance, and paired with a Sinn Fein who would only sit with them under a number of prerequisites, ended up in direct rule being reassumed by Westminster (or as it’s being referred to by a number of political commentators “stealth rule”).
So that’s what makes this so interesting, we have a party, whom aren’t willing to set up a local government, who are now the key player for Mrs. May to keep hold of her dwindling power in the national establishment.
So what is it they stand for? Well as the Unionist party, they stand for the Union! However, it is their track record which is horrifying people; tarnished with the sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia. There are many articles out there which deal with the grit of these civil liberty violations, so I will just give you a flavor of them. Repeatedly they have shot down discussion of Equal Marriage Legislation using the before mentioned “petition of concern”, (awfully nondemocratic for a party who flaunt it in their name!) This has meant that Northern Ireland has been left behind the rest of the U.K. when it comes to equality. Their non-engaging pro-life stance, is so stringent that it remains illegal to abort even in the case of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother or fetus is at risk. This led recently to the prosecution of a teen, studying at Queens university, after she had traveled to England to seek an abortion on the NHS. Although their policies may not scream xenophobic, their lack of action when paramilitary groups run immigrants out of communities which they represent, speaks volumes.
However, there is an important point which nobody has addressed. They are a bi-product of the peace process; all be it a nasty one. In ’98, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK was filled with hope. Hope for peace between unionists and republicans, that things were going to change. And for a while they did. Things progressed, went as expected, they formed an assembly, they started putting in place legislation to help rebuild and heal the country after the troubles.
But then, the rest of the U.K. lost interest, either because of the events that shook the world that fateful September Ninth, and the subsequent wars that followed, or because it was nothing new, it was uninteresting, boring… not gripping. The UK was much more interested in chasing peace across the Middle East, than they were walking along side their own citizens in Northern Ireland, through the long, slow, unsexy process that is reconciliation. So the U.K. left Northern Ireland to its own devices, and what happened? The political system became more polarized. As we moved away from ’98, the politicians forgot the peace and reconciliation they were running to protect. They were no longer held to account by Westminster, or Scotland, leaving only those within, voices to call out for movement in N.I., but these were masked by those of the polarized sides shouting jeers against each other.
The U.K.’s disinterest can be summed up by countless tweets by those from the mainland asking “who cares?!” in regards the political instability in Northern Ireland, and it makes you think, are we actually a United Kingdom? If we truly are United then we all should care how each country is functioning, we should care about how some of our citizens are not afforded the same liberties. But no, it’s easier to ignore the issue, ’till it effects us here.
A constant problem online is to pass judgment, without doing anything, as the “armchair social justice warrior”. Across Facebook and social media, you see so many people cry out against the demons of the D.U.P. asking for MPs to oppose the alliance, but none seeking positive change in Northern Ireland. Imagine if we focused on finding a long lasting, peaceful, stable solution for Northern Ireland, and actually walked the path towards it?
Honestly I think many are fearful of the D.U.P. having a pivotal role, for the wrong reasons. They are scared they will send Westminster back to the dark ages in regards civil liberties’, by holding May to ransom over Brexit. However, both May and Foster know this is political suicide. What will likely happen is the D.U.P. will ask for N.I.’s heart, they will seek sustained direct rule, letting the assembly be swallowed up by the earth, this will essentially leave D.U.P. as the voice of Northern Ireland (since Sinn Fein won’t take their seats in Westminster) and since civil issues are a devolved matter, they won’t be put in place by Westminster. So after D.U.P. loose the seats in the Assembly, they gain supreme power through Westminster. And once again this leaves N.I. at the fringes of the U.K.
The D.U.P. won’t cause any issues to the rest of the U.K. beyond what a Tory majority would (i.e. Brexit and NHS cuts) but they will cripple Northern Ireland, stopping the reconciliation process dead in it’s tracks.
So when you write to your MP and ask them to oppose the Tory, D.U.P. alliance, remember who will actually be harmed by this the most; The LGBTQ+ community who see their representatives in bed with blatant homophobes; The refugees and immigrants who are offered no protections by the D.U.P. and Finally; the people of Northern Ireland, left behind once again.