It seems that the steady normalisation of the Democratic Unionist Party in the mainstream of British politics has come to yet another juddering halt, as politicians and journalists in Britain are confronted once again by the group’s fundamentalist origins and beliefs. In the wake of Ireland’s historic referendum vote to remove a controversial anti-choice amendment from the constitution, with the promise of abortion legislation to follow, pressure has piled on the DUP to drop its opposition to the provision of similar services in the United Kingdom’s legacy territory in the north-east of the island. So far, the ultra-right party has set its face against any move by the authorities in London to expand UK-wide abortion laws to the contested region. Consequently prime minister Theresa May and the ruling Conservative Party, whose minority government is reliant on Democratic Unionist votes in parliament to stay in office, has declined to confront the serried ranks of reactionary pro-union opinion in the Six Counties. A body which extends far beyond the Arlene Foster led party.
However, putting the issue of abortion – or even equal marriage – to one side, several other questions arise in relation to the attempted mainstreaming of the Democratic Unionists in Britain. In any civilized society one would have thought that the continuing willingness of the DUP to act as the de facto political wing of various pro-British or loyalist terror gangs in the north of Ireland would have disqualified it from a place in conventional UK politics. Let alone giving it privileged access to the levers of power in Number 10 Downing Street through a grubby, post-election backdoor deal with the Tories in 2017. But far from it, as we know.
While the press in London is focused on the rights of women, the DUP is giving cover to those organised militants from its own community who wish to carve up parts of Belfast into new ethno-national zones. This can be seen in the latest decision by loyalist groups to “only” fly specified British flags in mixed unionist and nationalist neighbourhoods of the city at certain times of the year. The DUP has claimed credit for this “agreement”, where former or current gunmen have agreed with themselves how they should behave, regardless of the wishes of local residents.
For a pro-life party the Democratic Unionists seem remarkably happy to speak on behalf of the still extant merchants of death in the Six Counties who give loyalty to the United Kingdom. And the news media and political establishment in the UK seems remarkably sanguine about this relationship. However, when the liberal touchstone issues of the average Briton are dismissed out of hand by the DUP, it’s then that the British throw up their hands in horror. It’s hard to know which is the more hypocritical.