By Fra Hughes – Apr 29, 2021
After 18 years as an elected member of the legislative assembly for Northern Ireland, six years as leader of the Democratic Unionist party and the last year as joint first minister, Arlene Foster’s political future is now in question.
When 75% of the elected party members called for a vote of no confidence in her leadership she resigned on the 28th of April 2021. The new leader of the party is to be elected in May and her position as the first minister of Northern Ireland will finish in June 2021 as we head towards assembly summer recess. An opportunity will then exist for the new leader to enter into dialogue with Sinn Fein, who also hold the joint position of the first minister about how to proceed. That is accepting that the Democratic Unionist party decide to continue with its role within the Northern Ireland Assembly, which seems unclear. Bringing down the assembly has no real relevance except as a political stunt?
There have been many scandals during the six years of Fosters as leader of the DUP and to date not one of those scandals individually was enough to call her leadership into question. We had the renewable heating initiative, RHI, which was seen by many as malfeasance in public office or possibly corruption when public subsidies of millions of pounds were given to private individuals and companies as part of a renewable energy programme.
The social investment fund also saw millions of pounds go directly to community groups and individuals whom many felt were just conduits for money to enter into the Republican and Loyalist paramilitary and political grassroots. Jobs for the boys and girls to help secure the Peace by bribing paramilitaries?
More recently Arlene Foster seemed to finally endorse the Irish language act. The DUP had for years refused to finance and subsidise an Irish language act that would allow the native indigenous language to hold the same position within Society as that of the coloniser English language. This may have upset hardline anti-Irish unionists both within and without the party.
When the DUP voted alongside the Conservative Party to endorse a Brexit strategy that would remove Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union some members of the DUP said any deal was welcome that removed Britain and Northern Ireland in its entirety from the European Union. The result of the Brexit deal between Boris Johnson and the EU has ushered in the Northern Ireland protocol. This has placed Customs checks for some goods between Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish sea and not on the island of Ireland, which is seen as one integral body for Customs purposes and still resides within the European Union Single market as a special case.
As political unionism failed to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol they engaged with loyalist paramilitaries and their representatives. The result was violence on the streets of Belfast, Derry and Carrickfergus. Loyalism flexed its violent muscles against the state to try and force renegotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol not politically but through political violence and paramilitary thugs.
Just a few days ago Arlene Foster, against the wishes of many in her party, abstained on a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly concerning a tabled motion in connection with banning conversion therapy. This is a therapy used by some to try and convince members of the LGBTQ not to embrace their sexuality.
The DUP has been shedding votes to the more liberal Unionist party Alliance and the more extreme Unionist party Traditional Ulster Voice. Her leadership, her decision-making, and her role in leading the party have been called into question. The Northern Ireland Protocol is, without doubt, the Genesis for her demise as loyalist and more right-wing members of the DUP seem to be literally calling the shots. On the 3rd of May, we witness celebrations for some and the condemnation of others of 100 years of the state of Northern Ireland being in existence. A Unionist State for a Unionist people.
Many within the Democratic Unionist party want a return to the past. They want a return to Unionist, loyalist, Protestant domination of society in the north of Ireland. This is no longer an option as both demographics and times have changed and the DUP no longer holds the type of power within society that traditional unionism once had.
If a misogynistic, hard right, fully paid-up member of the Orange Order is elected to the position of leader of the Democratic Unionist party I believe this is another nail in the coffin of reactionary unionism.
The Democratic Unionist party only really exists to promote the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. With democrat change and a united Ireland drawing ever closer, the rationale for the existence of the DUP will soon fizzle out. Without the sectarian coat trilling, the sectarian sabre-rattling and a diminishing sectarian voter base, which has sustained the DUP from its Inception 50 years ago, it will become marginalized on the periphery of politics both regionally in the North and nationally on the island of Ireland.
I believe a more moderate unionism will come to the fore as we slowly progress towards National reunification. The writing on the wall will not say ’No Irish Sea Border or Forster must go’. The writing on the wall will be the new dispensation in a new Ireland for a new future for all.
Featured image: Arlene Foster will step down as leader of the DUP on May 28. Photo: Liam McBurney/Picture Alliance.
Fra Hughes is an Irish political activist, commentator, and author. His most recent books are My Walk with Palestine: an Activist's Tale and Voices from Donbass.