Fire and brimstone

Around the web with Phil Hamilton: Democratic Unionist Party

The success of the Democratic Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland assembly elections is indicative of the lack of recent progress over the Good Friday settlement. The DUP’s hue and cry about IRA arms decommissioning has had the twin effect of stalling the so-called peace process and relegating the Ulster Unionist Party to the second fiddle of loyalist politics.

As is to be expected, the surge in DUP support is plastered all over its website. A big ‘Thank you’ graces the home page, with the legend, “Thirty seats: the biggest party in Northern Ireland”. All the more remarkable is the photo of Ian Paisley and friends - it does such a good job that it almost makes him look like a human being.

The main field continues in a similar vein. Side by side with a tub-thumping graphic, we are treated to “Today’s fair deal campaign DUP news headlines”. Or perhaps not, given that the latest “leader’s message” was posted on the eve of the election. A ‘David the Incompetent’ cartoon follows these items. This humourless attempt at satire falls even wider of the mark - what with the cartoonist’s rendering of David Trimble as more like ex-spook David Shayler than the former first minister. If that was not enough, archives of these comic capers are available for the masochistic amongst us. Finally there is even more nauseating self-congratulation in the form of a letter, allegedly written by a catholic ranting about “terrorist scum” and Gerry Adams. This is used to make the unconvincing claim that the DUP is attracting “decent people of all persuasions” - such as Holy Cross protestors, Garvaghy Road paraders, etc.

Turning to the navigation bar, ‘Our fair deal’ is a piece of fire and brimstone fear-mongering - no prizes for guessing the author. It asks the reader to imagine the north four years down the line, with the police in the hands of “the terrorists”, Sinn Féin in charge of justice, and prominence given to Gaelic and Irish culture - all at the expense of British identity. In reply, Paisley offers seven principles on which a renegotiated agreement must be based. First and second, the DUP claims to be a democratic party for accountable government, and will only discuss issues with other democrats, not “representatives of terrorism”. Third, those not committed to peaceful means should not be allowed to exercise power. Therefore the decommissioning of arms and disbandment of “terrorist structures” are a precondition for participation in Stormont. The final three are more mundane: the north’s relationship to the republic to be accountable to the assembly; for a rejuvenation of the police; and calls for equality for all. Alongside these principles go seven tests to which the DUP will subject any new agreement. These amount to more of the same. If the DUP sticks to these guns, then the current constitutional impasse looks set to continue.

The manifesto link gives the option of downloading it in pdf. One observation is necessary here. Of its 30 pages, the first 17 are given over to the national question in one way or another: denunciations of Sinn Féin, the IRA and UUP; and criticisms of the agreement. (Yet, if one is to look at what the revolutionary left has to offer, this central issue is criminally underplayed. For example, the four-page manifesto of the Socialist Workers Party-sponsored Socialist Environmental Alliance devotes less than a quarter of its content to “the border issue”, preferring to emphasise privatisation, water charges, nasty bosses, etc. It does not even begin to challenge the DUP’s reactionary constitutional agenda).

Next along are ‘Your candidates’, an opportunity to get to know your friendly neighbourhood DUP MPs, MEPs, and assembly members. Looking up Paisley the elder, we have a run-down of his political activities and fascinating titbits (did you know he can boast a personal library of over 20,000 titles?). Likewise Paisley junior is partial to a spot of reading, as well as collecting political cartoons and caricatures. Sadly, the site neither confirms nor denies whether this is the prime reason for his DUP membership.

The rest of the panel is the usual party paraphernalia. These include links to the party site proper, downloadable policy papers, email and text alerts, and election results. Taking all these together, the site is attractive, colourful and to the point. Now, while it is easy to file the DUP in a drawer labelled ‘Reaction’, the concerns it addresses amongst loyalist workers are live issues. If progressive forces do not learn to address them, then a united Ireland, let alone a socialist Ireland, will remain a distant dream.