It’s been a remarkable seventy-two hours for the Democratic Unionist Party. Its leaders have gone from being fêted as the “guardians of the union” by the ideological hard-right in the United Kingdom, revelling in two years of unprecedented influence over the elected Conservative Party government in London, to being decried by those self-same voices as traitors to the Brexit aspirations of the UK. Or at least, the real UK and not that bedraggled rump of its Medieval colony across the Irish Sea. Here is the staunch Brexiteer journalist and DUP critic Leo McKinstry writing in today’s Sun newspaper in Britain:
[The DUP] …is a movement that glories in its unwillingness to compromise and makes a virtue of its grim stubbornness.
But tragically for our nation, these are the qualities that now control the process of Brexit — with disastrous consequences for our hopes of independence from EU rule.
At a time when flexibility and imagination are needed to pull Brexit out of the quagmire, our destiny is governed by a bunch of narrow-minded, intransigent bigots who care nothing for the wider interests of the UK.
The DUP were the only major party in Ulster strongly opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and “Ulster Says No” were the watchwords of their resistance campaign. More than 30 years later, the mood is just the same.
It is profoundly depressing that our great nation’s future should be guided by this tiny, unrepresentative platoon of charlatans and reactionaries.
The DUP does not belong in the mainstream of British politics, but on its despised fringes.
This is a nasty organisation with its roots in vicious Protestant sectarianism.
Determined to uphold Protestant rule in Northern Ireland, the DUP has a sinister history of flirtation with paramilitary outfits such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association.
The Conservatives should have never entered into any kind of alliance with the DUP.
The bitter irony, however, is that through their recklessness the Democratic Unionists might soon achieve the very opposite of their goals.
For one thing, by preventing May’s deal they could well destroy any chance of Brexit. They pose as Brexit battlers but are really Brexit blockers.
The DUP were Brexiteers long before the term was invented, with five decades of animosity towards any kind of formal or institutional cooperation and alliance between the nation-states of Europe. A stance which became part and parcel of the party’s better known opposition to the reunification of Ireland. Having shaped Brexit with others as a one-shot bullet intended to kill both the UK’s membership of the EU and the “soft unity” witnessed on the island of Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which the DUP campaigned against, the group now finds its “hard union” plans scorched by unexpected blowback in Belfast, Dublin and London.
Rather than sneaking in a Partition 2.0 via an exit deal, the DUP’s shenanigans since 2016 seems to have actually accelerated thoughts of reunification by unsettling or alienating majority opinion on the island of Ireland. The party has succeeded in reviving the once ubiquitous debate about national unity in mainstream Irish politics and with a halo of legitimacy not seen in decades. And rather than finding all-weather allies among the anti-EU factions in the Palace of Westminster, principally the farcically-named European Research Group, the Democratic Unionists have discovered instead that many of their Conservative Party associates are fair weather friends at best. And that, in truth, most MPs in the House of Commons view “Northern Ireland” as no more British than Hong Kong or Jamaica or any other former occupied territory of the old empire.
So, fingers burned, a few wiser or more rational heads in the DUP may now be preparing to downplay the party’s enthusiasm for a “hard Brexit”, desperately hoping to un-pull a pulled trigger. But in terms of a younger generation of nationalist opinion on the island of Ireland, the aggravating injury has already been inflicted.