Peter Robinson is outraged that welfare cuts aren’t being implemented in the north. Speaking yesterday he said that:
In our discussions, the Prime Minister was absolutely clear that there is no more room for manoeuvre on welfare reform. Now is the time to decide this issue. The days of republican ducking and diving are over.
In brief, the Assembly doesn’t have to impose the proposed cuts the Tories want implemented as it has devolved powers and can introduce amended legislation (eg see an overview from last October). The DUP have been adamant that the cuts be imposed, with Robinson and Martin McGuinness clashing over false claims made by the First Minister back in April. On that occasion Robinson bizarrely claimed Sinn Féin and McGuinness had agreed to the cuts only for it to be scuppered by Gerry Adams. The depth of opposition in Sinn Féin to the cuts might be better reflected in Danny Morrison pointing out a couple of days ago that he reckons the Assembly will fall over the issue.
Friend of mine just bet £50 that DUP would ultimately join SF in opposition to welfare cuts. Disagree. Assembly might/will fall over issue. — Danny Morrison (@molloy1916) June 30, 2014
The DUP’s support for the welfare cuts has no doubt been galvanised by the odd flash of orange knickers with which the Tories have been grooming them. It will also act as a barrier to any significant movement on any local issue since the DUP will attempt to both leverage further dominance of unionism/loyalism through flaunting possible links to the Tories, and continue to refuse to engage in any meaningful ways on street level issues. All this despite the fact that even Edward Carson belatedly recognised the corroding influence of British politics on Ireland:
What a fool I was! I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into Power
The deepest irony here, though, lies in the DUP’s treatment of those who would suffer most after welfare cuts. Deprivation and disadvantage crosses the community divide in the north and many areas where loyalism finds strong support would be considerably impacted by cuts. Those also happen to be the areas where the DUP is waving its own orange card around the loudest. Last night, North Belfast MLAs William Humphrey and Nelson McCausland were prominent at a protest outside Tennent Street PSNI station where members of the Pride of Ardoyne band were being questioned about breaches of Parade Commission determinations. This appears to be a shift in DUP policy, since Sinn Féin protesting at the PSNI over Gerry Adams arrest were criticised by Peter Robinson:
The protest action taken by Sinn Féin is unacceptable in any democratic country operating under the rule of law… They [the PSNI] must be completely free to follow any and all evidence regardless of where it takes them and to decide free of political considerations whether suspects will be charged or not.
That Gerry Adams arrest had also, by complete and utter coincidence, happened while the DUP and the Tories were, by pure chance, at a party in Number 10 drinking red lemonade and eating digestives. Coincidentally, too, one of the DUP’s MLA’s in attendance at last night’s protest, Nelson McCausland, has come back into the spotlight this morning over his links to contractors and housing maintenance contracts.
The contrast between the zeal of unionist/loyalist protests over identity issues and the apparent apathy of the protesters towards the economic/social policies of the DUP are a tribute to the party. But a society that wastes so much bloody time and energy on flags and symbols is clearly broken. And a broken society is just what unionism needs of loyalism. With the DUP doing it’s best to flirt with the Tories, those caught up in the cycle of street-level protests and antagonism over issues of identity will continue to provide convenient cover for the socio-economic policies of the DUP while they let themselves be wasted as cannon-fodder, like their beloved Ulster Division in the Somme in 1916.