Over the last several months rivals and commentators have repeatedly criticised the Democratic Unionist Party for its ever-closer ties with various British terrorist factions in the north-east of Ireland. In particular, the DUP’s public appearances with the Ulster Defence Association or its representatives, a banned militant group in the United Kingdom, have drawn much condemnation. In the view of some observers these actions seem purposefully designed to attract the approval of hardline pro-UK voters in the disputed region. In the aftermath of last March’s shock performance by Sinn Féin and to a lesser extent the Social Democratic and Labour Party in the Stormont crisis election, pro-union sentiment has coalesced around the idea of communal unity. While the DUP and the competing Ulster Unionist Party have declined to stand candidates against each other in certain Westminster consistences, to maximise the unionist ballot, the former body has also reached out to the violent fringes of unionism.
Since the start of the year – and in the full glare of the press – senior elected representatives of the DUP have met with known members of the UDA across the Six Counties. They have visited organisations and buildings under its influence, including its Belfast “headquarters”, have leased constituency offices from its affiliates and have jointly attended rallies and demonstrations with its leaders. As result of this cooperation the illegal terror faction has urged its activists and supporters to campaign for the Democratic Unionists, a call the party has pointedly refused to reject (indeed the weasel words of some DUP MPs on the subject have brought to mind Donald Trump’s dissembling in relation to support from so-called White Nationalist groupings or the KKK in the United States in 2016).
If the metropolitan press in London cared about events in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland, or Irish-British relations in general, all of the above would be a national scandal. Instead the focus of Britain’s media is on thirty year old historical links between the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the wartime Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin. A former insurgent movement which has been at peace with the United Kingdom for over two decades thanks to the negotiated Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Meanwhile the Ulster Defence Association is still at war, this time with its own community, shooting dead a man in County Down just last week.
A further step in the DUP’s pan-unionist electoral strategy seems to have been reached with the declaration by the Loyalist Communities Council, a front-organisation for the banned terrorists of the UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando, urging block voting by pro-union supporters.
The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) urges every unionist and loyalist voter to ensure they turn out and vote for unionist candidates in the forthcoming general election. Sinn Fein, and the other anti-unionist parties are seeking to capitalise on the uncertainty created by the collapse of the Stormont Executive, and the impending Brexit negotiations to move Northern Ireland away from the United Kingdom. This will only succeed if unionists fail to register their votes for unionist candidates.
The LCC deplores the unwillingness of the main unionist parties to co-operate to maximise unionist representation at Westminster. In constituencies where there is a risk of losing a seat to republicans, we ask that unionists vote for the unionist candidate most likely to win that seat. In particular we offer the following guidance:
In Fermanagh South Tyrone we ask that every unionist votes for Tom Elliott
In North Belfast we ask that every unionist votes for Nigel Dodds
In East Belfast we ask that every unionist votes for Gavin Robinson
In South Belfast we ask that every unionist votes for Emma Pengelly
If there is a maximum turnout of the unionist electorate not only will three unionist seats be protected but a fourth (South Belfast) will be won back for Unionism.
The LCC particularly warns all unionists and loyalists against voting for Alliance Party candidates. Many unionists think they can retain their unionism yet vote for Alliance candidates. They are sorely mistaken in that belief. No party does more to undermine the Britishness of Northern Ireland, and foment community mistrust and division than the Alliance Party. Any unionist who votes for the Alliance Party is driving a nail into the coffin of the Union. This Party must be rejected at the polls by all unionists and loyalists.
The LCC will be continuing its efforts after the general election to encourage greater co-operation amongst unionists to ensure that unionist representation in Councils and in any future Assembly is maximised.
While newspapers across the water in the United Kingdom obsess over meetings between elected members of the Labour Party and Sinn Féin some three decades ago, in the UK’s legacy colony of “Northern Ireland” the majority pro-union party is publicly courting the support of an active terrorist organisation and its affiliates. Though one doubts that we will ever see the DUP’s bellicose leader, Arlene Foster, being repeatedly grilled on television the way Jeremy Corbyn has been over the last year. As noted before, the Irish are condemned by the British for having “terrorists” whereas the British insist that they have “paramilitaries”. And that shapes and influences all political – or electoral – reporting by the media in Britain. Now or in the past.