During the corruption scandal which finally brought down the power-sharing executive at Stormont in late 2016, early 2017, the Democratic Unionist Party proved itself to be a particularly inept negotiator, frequently miscalculating the intentions of its political partners and rivals. Historically, the group’s existence has been dependent on its ability to politicise the siege mentality of some in the separatist or pro-union minority in Ireland, to turn fear and hatred into votes, and to couple that with formidable bluster and intimidation. However away from its fiercely partisan base, or unionism more generally, the party has shown itself to be very much a one-trick pony. Throughout the last thirty years of dealings with “outsiders” the DUP’s successes have derived from the weight of its communal numbers and not from any innate abilities on the part of its representatives or leaders.
The current party chief, Arlene Foster, has been symbolic of that poor grasp of post-conflict realpolitik. The Fermanagh MLA may rule the roost within northern unionism but away from its sheltering walls she flails and prevaricates. Her retreat into selective memory and obfuscation has been particularly noticeable over the last year, from the RHI or “cash-for-ash” controversy to the recent denials of an official letter to the SNP government in Edinburgh demanding a block on gay couples from the Six Counties marrying in Scotland.
The ongoing backdoor coalition talks between the Democratic Unionists and the Conservative Party in Britain have highlighted the worse characteristics of the DUP, which is both offended by and exuberant in its status as a political pariah. The long shopping list of demands the DUP brought to the talks in London seems to have surprised and dismayed the Tories, not least the attempt to extract hundreds of millions of pounds in grants and funding from the United Kingdom government. According to the Guardian:
Theresa May will press ahead with a Brexit-dominated Queen’s speech shorn of a series of controversial social policies after failing to complete “confidence and supply” negotiations with the Democratic Unionist party.
The Conservative leader will become the first prime minister in decades to lay out a legislative programme without a guaranteed House of Commons majority after DUP sources said the two-party negotiations “haven’t proceeded in the way we would have expected”.
The Northern Irish party accused Downing Street negotiators of being chaotic and said the “Conservative high command ought to stop their backbenchers whingeing about the DUP and show our party some respect”. The DUP added that the party “can’t be taken for granted”.
The failure, in this case, lies not with the incompetent prime minister Theresa May and her wounded party but with the DUP’s delusional belief that they can ride roughshod over all others in pursuit of their own aims and objectives, and to hell with the boarder consequences of their actions.