A Strong and Consistent Leadership Enabled DUP to Dominate Unionism in Northern Ireland Since 2007

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In 2018, It has been 47 years since the Democratic Unionist Party’s inception. It became the dominant unionist party surpassing the UUP about 17 years ago. It has seen in the previous decade two leadership changes, two further election successes, its founder’s death and occasional controversies. The DUP has enjoyed a surge in popularity, yet the voting patterns reveal that its support is largely based on personalities and remained regional for the most part (Irish Political Maps, 2017). Ian Paisley was its founder who led it until 2008. His successor was Peter Robinson who assumed leadership in May 2007. Arlene Foster replaced him in December 2015. Though it is believed that all three leaders displayed consistent and a resilient leadership that led DUP to become the leading party affiliated with unionism, but factionalism and disagreements within the party suggest that the reasons for their success may also lie elsewhere.Out of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland, the DUP is the larger one. It is grounded in Protestant views, stemming from the insecurities of its working class. The DUP has always been a staunch supporter of a union with Great Britain, and Ian Paisley merged his Protestant Unionist Party into the new DUP party to contest electoral votes. Initially, the Ulster Unionist Party UUP supported the DUP but later in the mid 90’s they both took highly divergent stances in their discussions. As Sinn Fein entered the talks in 1997, the DUP boycotted it. The historic 1998 Belfast Agreement was rejected by the DUP, who did not agree to the new power-sharing formula in Northern Island. They objected to Sinn Fein’s inclusion and condemned the new Northern Ireland Assembly for diluting British Sovereignty. But later in 2006, following the St Andrews Agreement, a power-sharing devolved government formula was agreed to by the DUP who to the surprise of many agreed to ally with Sinn Fein. In 2007, A majority of the party favoured the new power-sharing deal but there were definite reports of disagreements within the party (BBC, 2007).The DUP in their policy and views are Ulster unionists, who strongly support Northern Island to be a part of the UK, essentially opposing a unified Ireland. The party perceives itself to be defending Ulster Protestant culture and Britishness against Irish republicanism and nationalism (NewsLetter, 2008). They define themselves to be on the left of centre when it comes to social policies and “right wing in the sense of being strong on the constitution” (DUP, 2011). Despite that, they are well-known for taking conservative positions on social issues The inner-city working-class areas and the rural communities in Northern Island that include some deeply religious groups, form their main constituencies; something that reflects the anti-Catholicism and fundamentalism of the DUP’s founder (O’Malley, 2013). The party, later on, moderated its positions on several issues and accepted Sinn Fein’s participation in a power-sharing deal. They prioritised the economy, in their latest manifesto, seeking to assist the province to recover and arise from the recession (DUP, 2011). They take an unwavering pro-Israel line when it comes to foreign policy agreeing to Israel’s aggressive stances. They supported “Leave’ during the Brexit campaign, the only party from Northern Ireland’s government, to do so (Pasha-Robinson, 2017). They also call to maintain the ‘Common Travel Area’ opposing a hard Irish border (Paul Taggart, 2002). They opposed LGBT rights in Northern Ireland while also maintaining “pro-life” adoption stances. Some DUP politicians have also called for creationism to be taught in schools (Henry, 2007).The founder of the DUP, Ian Paisley, founded the party a year after he became a Member of Parliament for North Antrim. He leads the party for forty years until 2008. Paisley, throughout his political and religiously activism, was seen a hardline unionist and a firebrand. Any attempts to resolve the conflict between Irish republicans/nationalists and unionists through a power-sharing deal were staunchly opposed by him, along with any endeavour for the Republic of Ireland to intervene in the affairs of Northern Ireland. His charismatic personality won him a lot of following. He held uncontested moderatorship of the ‘Free Presbyterian Church’ for 54 years, and his leadership of the DUP remained unchallenged, until his final years (Southern, 2005). What surprised many commentators was his decision to enter the government sharing power with Sinn Fein following the St Andrews Agreement, wherein they agreed for an all-Ireland governance in particular matters. Though they were many disagreements, Paisley’s moral capital was used by some of his chief supporters in order to justify that deal, that would otherwise be seen as a complete betrayal of all he stood for in his earlier activism (Patterson, 2014). As part of the deal, Paisley and Martin McGuiness became the ‘First Minister’ and ‘Deputy First Minister’ correspondingly, though could only remain in power together for a year. Owing to some controversies and disagreements, Paisley’s leadership came into question. In 2014, Baroness Paisley his wife accused senior DUP members of treating her husband “shamefully” (Breen, 2018). Commentators said that the DUP which was a ruthless and a well-organised outfit begin to see that Paisley had outlived his usefulness. Regardless of that, they agree that he deserved enormous credit for his final massive gesture of political pragmatism (Meagher, 2014). The factionalism and disagreements within the party and the alliance continued. Martin McGuiness later resigned from his position stating differences with the DUP and the leader of that time, Arlene Foster, stating that:“Apart from the negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture, there has been a shameful disrespect towards many other sections of our community. The public are demanding robust action and accountability (over RHI) but the DUP, in particular, its leader Arlene Foster, have refused to accept this. The DUP leader has a clear conflict of interest.” (The Irish Times, 2017)After Paisley, it was Peter David Robinson who assumed charge of the DUP from 2008 to 2015. He was, along with Ian Paisley, the founding member of the DUP, and everyone agreed to his leadership. His era, although marked by controversies, was still seen as a stable leadership. He was nominated unanimously as leader-designate in April 2008 by DUP MLA’s along with Nigel Dodds as ‘deputy leader-designate’. He and McGuinness worked together on several issues, one of which oversaw the devolution of justice powers and policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly from the British Parliament after the power-sharing deal was negotiated with Sinn Fein (BBC News, 2010). Robinson announced his resignation in November 2015, Robinson as First Minister and from the leadership of the DUP.Arlene Foster’s leadership also saw many controversies and disagreements (Walker, 2018), The author of ‘DUP: From Protest to Power’ said: “Mrs Foster is in the car but it’s being driven by Nigel Dodds.” (McCann, 2018). Because of the RHI inquiry, her situation as the DUP leader deteriorated and party members were heard contemplating over how she can be removed without bringing any damage to the party (McCann, 2018). Ever since Mrs Foster collapsed the latest Stormont talks, the unionist parties, as well as resistance from within DUP leaders, surprised Mrs Foster and her cabinet advisors even though a majority saw it as a poor deal for nationalists (Manley, 2018). Electorally, the DUP remained dominant under Peter Robinson, continuing from Ian Paisley, but the relations began to cool down between the unionists and the nationalists in the executive. Robinson did not win a seat in Westminister in 2010, handing over DUP’s leadership to Mrs Foster, who assumed charge in 2015 as a leader and as ‘First Minister’ in 2016. Controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive Deal RHI in 2016 in which it was speculated that over 400 million pounds were overspent, began to tarnish her leadership abilities. It led also to a power-sharing executive collapse in 2017, leading to an earlier election in Stormont. She made some controversial remarks over the Irish language act, in which she proclaimed that DUP will never agree to such an act. More people according to her speak Polish in Northern Ireland, so there should be a Polish language act. It was one of Sinn Fein’s demands that DUP perceived as devaluing Britishness, to which she reacted and said. “If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more”. (Press Association, 2017).Though with a strong leadership yet not so consistent, the DUP overtook the splintered, weakened, unpopular UUP as the biggest Unionist party. It can be said that the DUP’s dominating the unionism was not out of a consistent leadership but from other factors as well. One factor could be that opinions themselves hardened amongst voters on both sides so the moderate parties decreased in popularity while the more extreme parties such as DUP increased in popularity. Out of that, a fear arose that if you don’t vote for your own, it might mean that your biggest enemies may take power to prevent that the enemy’s enemy is my friend rule has to be applied, even if it is an extremist on “my side”, it is a better defence against the lunatic extremist on “the other side”. It was the SDLP & UUP who paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement, who put in the hours, had the tough conversations and made the compromises to try and find something workable while the DUP was still adamant in its position. In Northern Ireland, the SF and DUP are the main parties and SDLP, UUP and Alliance are fringe parties. So rather than weakening their voice by voting for a minority party, they preferred to go with the loudest voice gain, and the DUP is the stronger voice in the Unionist community, which explains why DUP continues to dominate unionism.BibliographyBBC News, 2010. Northern Ireland parties agree on a power-sharing deal. [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8499629.stm [Accessed 18 March 2018].BBC, 2007. DUP ‘would share power in May’. [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/6491769.stm [Accessed 2018 March 2018].Breen, S., 2018. Suzanne Breen: Beleaguered DUP leadership reeling from savage Paisley blow. [Online] Available at: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/suzanne-breen/suzanne-breen-beleaguered-dup-leadership-reeling-from-savage-paisley-blow-36634576.html [Accessed 18 March 2018].DUP, 2011. Moving Forward Manifesto. [Online] Available at: http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/docs/dup/dup_2011-05-05_man.pdf [Accessed 18 March 2018].Henry, L.-A., 2007. Tussle of Biblical proportions over creationism in Ulster classrooms. [Online] Available at: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/tussle-of-biblical-proportions-over-creationism-in-ulster-classrooms-28064310.html [Accessed 18 March 2018].Irish Political Maps, 2017. DUP: Is the only way up for the party?. [Online] Available at: https://sluggerotoole.com/2016/01/13/dup-is-the-only-way-up-for-the-party/ [Accessed 18 March 2018].Manley, J., 2018. John Manley: Foster’s recent performances unnerving the party faithful. [Online] Available at: https://www.irishnews.com/news/politicalnews/2018/03/05/news/analysis-what-does-future-hold-for-arlene–1269601/ [Accessed 18 March 2018].McCann, D., 2018. Mrs Foster is in the car but it’s being driven by Nigel Dodds. [Online] Available at: https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/03/07/mrs-foster-is-in-the-car-but-its-being-driven-by-nigel-dodds/ [Accessed 18 March 2018].Meagher, K., 2014. The ruthless DUP knows it was right to ditch Paisley. [Online] Available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/01/ruthless-dup-knows-it-was-right-ditch-paisley [Accessed 18 March 2018].NewsLetter, 2008. DUP fights back against ‘erosion of Britishness’. [Online] Available at: https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/dup-fights-back-against-erosion-of-britishness-1-1871450 [Accessed 18 Marcg 2018].O’Malley, E., 2013. Religion and democratization in Northern Ireland: is religion actually ethnicity in disguise?. Democratization, 20(5), pp. 939-958.Pasha-Robinson, L., 2017. Tory-DUP deal: Why are the Northern Irish unionists so controversial?. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-dup-deal-latest-news-northern-ireland-unionists-hung-parliament-minority-abortion-gay-rights-a7808151.html [Accessed 18 March 2018].Patterson, H., 2014. Ian Paisley: Conflict, Confrontation and Eventual Compromise. [Online] Available at: Ian Paisley: Conflict, confrontation, and eventual compromise Read more at https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/ian-paisley-conflict-confrontation-and-eventual-compromise-1-6310116 [Accessed 18 March 2018].Paul Taggart, A. S., 2002. The Party Politics of Euroscepticism in EU Member and Candidate States, s.l.: Opposing Europe Research Network.Press Association, 2017. Arlene Foster on Irish language act: ‘More people speak Polish’. [Online] Available at: https://www.independent.ie/breaking-news/irish-news/arlene-foster-on-irish-language-act-more-people-speak-polish-35427533.html [Accessed 18 March 2018].Purdy, M., 2014. a Paisley says DUP told him to quit as leader. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-25801295 [Accessed 18 March 2018].Southern, N., 2005. Ian Paisley and evangelical Democratic Unionists: An analysis of the role of evangelical Protestantism within the Democratic Unionist Party. Irish Political Studies, 20(2), pp. 127-145.The Irish Times, 2017. Full text of Martin McGuinness’s resignation letter. [Online] Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/full-text-of-martin-mcguinness-s-resignation-letter-1.2930429 [Accessed 2018 March 2018].Walker, B., 2018. More than the leadership of Arlene Foster it’s about what the DUP under unprecedented pressure, is for. [Online] Available at: https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/03/08/more-than-the-leadership-of-arlene-foster-its-about-what-the-dup-under-unprecedented-pressure-is-for/ [Accessed 18 March 2018].Whyte, N., 1998. Who Won What When and Where?. [Online] Available at: http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/ [Accessed 18 March 2018].

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