It seems that Edwin Poots, the new head of the Democratic Unionist Party, is taking no prisoners in his contest with the demoralised followers of the former leader Arlene Foster and her would-be successor Jeffrey Donaldson. The Lagan Valley politician has smacked down any notion of reconciliation with his opponents by kicking them out of ministerial or committee positions at Stormont, elevating hardliners from the traditionalist wing of the party to their posts. By doing so he has completed the long-abiding revenge of the Paisleyite and Free Presbyterian faction in the DUP which saw influence gradually slip from its hands in the second decade of the 2000s, pushed aside by a mutually beneficial coalition led by militant-tuned-apostate Peter Robinson and a tightly knit group of defectors from the rival Ulster Unionist Party.
However today’s announcement, as well as sending a message to blow-ins and reputed moderates that Edwin Poots couldn’t care less for resignations by disgruntled members or criticisms by sceptical journalists, will no doubt have also caught the attention of a more influential audience. If, as reported, the fall of Arlene Foster and the defeat of Jeffrey Donaldson owes something to the backroom demands and threats of the Ulster Defence Association, the largest British terrorist grouping on the island and one long associated with elements of the DUP, then the upheaval at Stormont could almost have been designed to meet its political expectations. Particularly as the DUP has now made clear its intent to fatally undermine the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol while offering no real alternative beyond, by implication, moving the so-called Irish Sea border to the island of Ireland. Which of course fulfills the DUP’s original vision for Brexit as a mechanism to facilitate a partition 2.0.
This leaves pro-union opinion focusing on the possibility of a rebel faction in the DUP splintering off to join the Ulster Unionist Party or establishing its own organisation. On the face of it the first option seems the more likely one given that it is primarily the ex-UUP clique that is being pushed to the edges of the DUP. However, for all their supposed liberalism the former defectors and their associates might find a cold reception in their old home, especially as their ideological leanings place them closer to the politics of the late Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux than to the politics of the current UUP incumbent, Doug Beattie. Which might indicate that a pre-1994 UUP clone would be the more likely outcome of any split in DUP ranks.
Talking of Doug Beattie, the latest poster boy for moderate unionism has been forced to defend his attendance at an illegal loyalist parade in his constituency, an event which featured several hundred protestors led by masked militants holding terrorist flags marching through Portadown while the UUP MLA and the DUP MP Carla Lockhart looked on. Though the UPP boss denies seeing any paramilitary trappings during the demonstration – and indeed claims he was subject to abuse by the crowds – one is left wondering why he would would be present at a protest against the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol in the first place given the close involvement of violent extremists in the campaign.