THE guiding slogan of Ulster Unionism has always been “no surrender”.
This is a movement that glories in its unwillingness to compromise and makes a virtue of its grim stubbornness.
AFP – Getty DUP leader Arlene Foster with her deputy Nigel Dodds
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.
As the political turmoil deepens at Westminster, so the fate of our country has fallen into the hands of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds the balance of power in the Commons.
It is hard to imagine a group less suited to this crucial role.
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.
PA:Press Association Our destiny is in the hands of the DUP leadership
Without the support of the DUP, the Government will probably remain unable to pass Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, no matter how many Brexiteers switch.
But the Unionists, relishing their capacity to hold ministers to ransom, show not the slightest sign of abandoning their ferocious opposition to May’s deal.
If anything, their hostility has deepened this week as the stalemate intensifies.
In the 1980s, the Unionists bitterly attacked Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement, which aimed to establish better relations between London and Dublin.
PA:Press Association The Unionists, relishing their capacity to hold ministers to ransom, show no sign of abandoning their opposition to May’s deal
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.
At a historic moment when statesmanship and vision are required, Britain is landed instead with crude partisanship and selfish provincialism.
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.
Alamy Live News The DUP was founded in 1971 and has its roots in Protestant sectarianism
This is a nasty organisation with its roots in vicious Protestant sectarianism. Formed out of a loyalist vigilante group, the DUP was founded in 1971 by fundamentalist Free Presbyterian preacher Ian Paisley, who delighted in conflict.
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.
I was only too aware of the party’s ugly influence on politics in Northern Ireland, for I was born in Belfast and spent all my upbringing during the Troubles.
Ian Paisley’s booming, divisive rhetoric was part of the soundtrack of my early life. I went to school in Enniskillen in the west of Ulster, a place called Portora Royal which prided itself on its tolerant, non-sectarian ethos.
Getty – Contributor Ian Paisley’s booming, divisive rhetoric was part of the soundtrack of my early life
Among its former pupils were two of Ireland’s greatest writers, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. And one of my own contemporaries there was Nigel Dodds, now the leader of the DUP group at Westminster.
He was intellectually brilliant but the hardline stance was always there.
As one of my old teachers commented to me: “Nigel has been through 15 years of liberal education and has emerged entirely unscathed.”
After growing up in this atmosphere of discord, it was a relief to escape in my twenties to England, where life was not dominated by the border or religion or security.
Getty Images – Getty Dodds has argued Ulster must not be treated any differently to England, but they don’t care about ‘constitutional integrity’ when it comes to their own bigoted causes
But I feel only despair that the DUP, having exerted such a malignant influence in my homeland, should now be so dominant on the wider stage of British politics. The party’s shameful past is one of epic hypocrisy.
During their attacks on Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, DUP politicians such as Dodds like to blather about “the constitutional integrity” of the UK, arguing that Ulster must not be treated any differently to England. But they don’t care about “constitutional integrity” when it comes to their own bigoted causes.
They are happy for Ulster, uniquely in the British Isles, to have bans on same-sex marriage and abortion.
But the DUP is continually in denial about reality. The party pretends to speak for Northern Ireland but gained only 36 per cent of the vote in the last General Election there.
Alamy Live News DUP Member of the Legistlative Assembly Jim Wells with Bernadette Smyth from Precious Life
Furthermore, in the 2016 EU referendum, the province voted overwhelmingly to Remain.
Contrary to the DUP’s position, local people and businesses in Ulster are crying out for a deal to be agreed.
After the experience of the Troubles, Northern Ireland needs a spirit of co-operation rather than the pathetic demand to die in the last ditch.
Since the General Election of 2017, the Government has wasted two years in negotiating Brexit but got nowhere. And Tories’ dependence on the DUP is partly to blame.
PA:Press Association The Conservatives should have never entered into any kind of alliance with the DUP
Throughout, the Ulster party has behaved like a tantrum-throwing toddler bent on mayhem. Despite being spoonfed huge dollops of cash, including £1billion for Northern Ireland to prop up the Prime Minister, the DUP has never shown any gratitude.
Instead, it acts with increasing recklessness, threatening to pull down the Government if it does not get its way. 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.
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Even worse for them, their antics could install a Labour Government under Jeremy Corbyn, who is a fanatical supporter of Irish unification.
Corbyn in power would really be the end of the union and the DUP would have brought about that outcome.
The party had better come to its senses — if it still has any.
DUP leader Arlene Foster says her party will not support Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement