Soapbox: The shameless fear politics being deployed by the DUP

Jamie Bryson is a well known anti-agreement Loyalist activist with an interest in law, politics and writing. He is author of “My Only Crime Was Loyalty”, an account of his role in the Union Flag protests and his subsequent lengthy and complex criminal trial.

In an interview with Danny Morrison from the Andersonstown News just over a month ago, the former Republican prisoner remarked that surely the DUP would say that by Ruth Patterson- and other independents- standing in hotly contested constituencies this could shred the Unionist vote and open the door to a Sinn Fein First Minister.

My response was this ““That’s a ridiculous argument to make. Robinson, and now Arlene, can’t sign a letter without McGuinness okaying it. Any unionist that doesn’t recognise that is being conned by the DUP. It’s a joint office.

“That argument plays into the fear politics and it’s aimed at intimidating others, within Unionism, with a different view from standing against the DUP.

“Even as First Minister, McGuinness will not have any more power after May than he has now. The core problem is the ludicrous system based upon a mandatory coalition that allows that joint office, and it is the DUP that props that arrangement up.”

The position of First and Deputy First Minister is a joint post in practice and in law. There, in reality, is no First and Deputy First Minister, but rather two co-equal partners. One has no power without the other.

The DUP send out a rallying battle cry to their voter base effectively saying ‘vote for us or you will have a Sinn Fein First Minister’. This conveniently glosses over the fact that in law we already do have a Sinn Fein First Minister.

Thanks to the mandatory coalition – underpinned and sustained by the DUP themselves – they then ‘warn’ the electorate of the dangers of Sinn Fein, their own closest partners in Government!

The Belfast Agreement – flawed as it was – at least decreed that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister posts would be selected by a cross-community vote.

This would have ensured that so long as Unionism remained the majority tradition, so too would the First Minister post remain in the hands of a Unionist.

But that all changed at St Andrews.

As a result of secret talks in London between the DUP and Sinn Fein in November 2006 – a new provision that the First Minister be selected by the “largest party” paved the way for a member of Sinn Fein to take that position should they become the largest party.

Contrary to the original Belfast Agreement, this now requires no Nationalist majority. The First Minister position could be held by a Nationalist even whilst Unionism remains the majority tradition in the house!

One would think that given the DUP’s apparent fear of a Sinn Fein First Minister, that they would have objected strongly to this change in the nomination process and insisted on the “largest party from the largest designation” mechanism.

So how many DUP MP’s objected to the St Andrews agreement when it came before the House of Commons? None of them.

Instead, the DUP accepted the change and has used it as a clever electoral tool which enables them to peddle the “vote for us, or get McGuinness” line as a handy means to manipulate the Unionist electorate into voting for them!

However, the facts are clear-

  • OFMDFM is a joint post in law. We already have a Sinn Fein First Minister because the position of First and Deputy First Minister is equal.
  • The door to a Sinn Fein ‘First Minister’ is open thanks to the changes the DUP cynically allowed inserted in the St Andrews Agreement.

The shameless fear politics being deployed by the DUP would carry more weight if it was unpinned by genuine conviction rather than a mean form of politicking, designed to mislead the Unionist electorate.

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  • Karl

    The DUP agreed to the amendment to make the leader of the largest party, regardless of designation, First Minister because they saw the writing on the wall. When the day does come, that nationalist votes overtake unionists, then there will either be a voluntary unionist coalition under a single party dominated by the DUP or the DUP will use it to crush the UUP.
    It allows a unionist First Minister even when they become a minority. Its self serving and regressive and entirely in keeping with their modus operandi.

  • Redstar

    I don’t buy into this inevitable Nationalist majority- it’s total bunkum. The Nat vote is consistently dropping and the Unionist lead increasing

  • Brendan Heading

    I will ignore for a moment the supreme irony of one of the well known individuals associated with the flag protests growing a conscience about needlessly whipping up tensions by scaring people (protests which were themselves the outcome of a DUP fear tactic), and also ignore the fact that Jamie’s sponsor, Ruth Patterson, remained a member of the DUP for almost ten years after the DUP made this change, to point out that none of this is news. This was agreed at St Andrews in 2006.

    When the bill was going through Parliament, Lord Trimble spoke in the House of Lords on this precise detail; here is the link to his comments in the Lords in Hansard. Quote :

    It was probably done at the behest of Sinn Fein and the DUP, the result of which will enable the DUP to go around Northern Ireland saying “Vote for us or else you’ll get Martin McGuinness as First Minister”, and will enable Sinn Fein to go around the country saying “If all nationalists vote for us there’s a chance we’ll get Martin McGuinness as First Minister”. It is a crude device which people will say is the result of the law, and it will be used to polarise the electorate. You can imagine the effect that that is going to have on politics.

  • Brendan Heading

    Not quite. The DUP insisted on this change (with SF agreement) to help to consolidate their hold on the Unionist electorate. They can now say, as Arlene did last weekend, that any splitting of the Unionist vote will lead to a Sinn Féin First Minister.

  • Robin Keogh

    Well if you ignore the demographic tide you would be correct. The current voting population breaks down at 53 % PUL 42% CNR. With Unionism at around 50% of the vote and Nationalism around 40%. Fast Forward to 2026 and the picture looks set to be very different. If the middle ground ( Alliance, Green) can’t attract new voters in handsome numbers it is inevitable that the green orange blocks will reach parity within ten years. However, if a week is a long time in politics, ten years is a lifetime. If the vast majority of Unionist votes continue to come from the PUL community and turnout remains the same it is a mathematical certainty that they will lose their majority.

  • Karl

    The DUP and I disagree with you. Without being morbid about it, the greatest participation rate in the political process is the over 55s in which the unionist population are disproportionately represented as compared to their overall share of the population.
    I believe there will be greater nationalist participation whenward analysis and council elections identify tipping points. They will likely need bone of contention to galvanise around but finding one wont be hard. The Garvaghy Road didnt happen on its on. It remains to be seen whether the nationalist parties can reenergise their electorate in positive or negative ways.

  • chrisjones2

    the problem is though that there are lots of the wrong kind of Catholics who may vote unionist

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, ya millions of them !!

  • Neil

    would carry more weight if it was unpinned [underpinned?] by genuine conviction

    You obviously believe people’s “genuine convictions” can change, no? Not the criminal convictions kids got for protesting during the flag protests obviously, they’ll never change.

  • Gaygael

    Not to mention Jmaies vociferous opposition to marriage yet he is happy to run an election campaign for a someone who will support it.

    Is he politically maturing? Or an opportunist?

  • Gaygael


    Is that dunking people into census based boxes?
    At the most recent Westminster election the votes for the 3 blocks were;
    Unionists (DUP, UUP, TUV, UKIP, PUP, Cons and Independents) 50.4%. No change from 2010.
    Nationalists (SF and SDLP) 38.4%. -3.6% from 2010.
    Others (Alliance, Greens, PBP, WP, SP) 11.2%. Up 3.8 from 2010.

    The only group to grow is others. Nationalism is sliding. Unionism is staying same, but this may be due to the plethora of choice within unionism.

    I do understand that there is some agreement to suggest that PBP and WP votes may come from nationalist voters and areas.

  • Robin Keogh

    Yes you are leaving out the WP and PBP who based on second preferences are overwhelmingly on the side of nationalism. Nationalism has a far more confident voter Base. There is no siege mentality to match the terror that afflicts unionism. The turnout rates in both political communities reflect the level of apathy or certainty depending on context. Unionism is scared, nationalism is not.

  • Jack Stone

    The problem really isnt the voter themselves but the greying of the unionist votes. Under the age of 35, the majority population is already more liberal and more likely to vote for Nationalist parties . Over the age of 35, the majority population continues to be more conservative and more likely to vote for Unionist parties. So, just because there hasnt been a slide doesnt mean one isnt coming. How does Unionism hope to keep their vote steady? Firstly, higher turnout percentages among older voters (Unionists did that). Secondly, make sure the boundaries favor your party (that is currently true) and finally, make less younger voters vote.

    Is that happening? Well according to Electoral Office, almost one in three potential voters in Northern Ireland arent registered. The lack of registration is greatest in the young and in Nationalist areas. So, if registration changes (or Sinn Fein succeeds in lowering the voting age), there seems to be a great potential for change. Over time, it seems that younger people vote at higher levels and older voters die. Those are trends which do not look good for Unionism in the future.

  • Jack Stone

    A higher percentage of Protestants vote for Sinn Fein than Catholics vote for the DUP. Also people who declare as “No Religion” vote more for Sinn Fein then they do for the DUP. The real problem is that Catholics who support staying in the Union do not vote for Unionists.

  • Reader

    Robin Keogh: There is no siege mentality to match the terror that afflicts naziism.
    Eh? Have you got some Nuremburg trials and a bit of de-nazification planned?
    Robin Keogh: The turnout rates in both political communities reflect the level of apathy or certainty depending on context. Unionism is scared, nationalism is not.
    So, low nationalist turnout is good news to Robin…

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But is it always going to be a 2 horse race?

  • Robin Keogh

    Sorry, genuinely that was meant to read unionism.

  • Robin Keogh

    And that’s the question. Alliance has been around for forty years yet we still seem to have pretty much a two horse race.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Honestly, if mandatory coalition goes one of the terms the SDLP, Alliance, and UUP should demand for entering government with Sinn Féin and the DUP is the scrapping of this part of the St Andrew’s Agreement.

    If that doesn’t work a Private member’s bill.

    Then maybe even a legal challenge on the basis that Arlene operated as First Minister without technically being the leader of the main party. I don’t believe this applies to the DFM role, so Martin McGuinness and John O’Dowd are off the hook.

    In the Republic we have a situation where the leader of the largest party will not be Taoiseach (First minister equivalence), so Sinn Féin and the SDLP should think about how “Irish” this rule is.

    And in the United Kingdom in the next election as was the case in the previous there is a possibility that a coalition not headed by the largest party, so the UUP should think about reverting back to the GFA template or something more inclusive. We may even have a bizarre situation in a transition phase as a result of a Leave EU referendum result where Cameron could lead the Tories and Boris leads the Government.

    For Alliance this is a no brainer, this is Them and Us personified.

    You would be hard pressed to find support for this outside the two main parties.

  • Kevin Breslin

    In Belgium I think the PM comes from the 3rd largest party and is in coalition with the largest.

    Perhaps the option for a junior party in coalition say Alliance being the First Minister should be open without them taking one of the two highest positions. Perhaps if there’s a situation where there’s a coalition without the largest unionist or the largest nationalist party we could have an arrangement where Joint First minsters apply.

    I would prefer to see the end of the designation system entirely, and the petition of concern system entirely. They were designed against parties consolidating their position in power from either tradition and they have failed to do their job.

    If either tradition wants to play the tyranny of the majority card they should face strong political opposition providing an alternative not a maliable systematic bind.

  • submariner

    Catch yourself on Chris, Catholics do not vote for Unionist parties as they see them as a bunch of sectarian clowns. As has been already said Catholics who are pro Union tend to vote for Alliance

  • chrisjones2

    Read it in context —— in a border poll they will vote unionist

  • Greenflag 2

    The Lord arrives in NI and demands a meeting with the party political leaders . At the meeting he informs them that they each can have one question which he will answer truthfully because like George Washington the Lord lieth not .

    First up is Martin McGuinness .SF

    ‘Tell me O Lord how many years before my people will be free and happy ‘?

    “Ten Years ‘ replies the Lord . The DFM grins and leaves with a broad I told youse so smile .

    Next up is MIke Nesbitt UUP

    ‘Tell me O Lord how many years before my party will overtake the DUP in number of seats at Stormont ‘

    ‘ Never ‘ replies the Lord – Nesbitt weeps copiously and leaves .

    Last up is Arlene Foster DUP who is so delighted with the Lord’s response to Nesbitt that she decides to repeat the question of her DFM McGuinness .

    ‘Tell me O Lord how many years before my people will be happy ‘?

    Not in my lifetime replies the Lord who then weeps and leaves 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    Everytime Arlene opens her mouth, sectarianism and bigotry come tumbling out. It seems that some in the Unionist family are going rapidly backwards. With chaos in Antrim because a few manhole covers have the Irish word for water on them (uisce) and with Arlene feeling left out that St Paddy’s day is too Irish it looks like we are witnessing another attempt by Unionism to eradicate the Irish from this part of Ireland. It will fail as it did before.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘Those are trends which do not look good for Unionism in the future’

    Indeed . As it’s Friday the Oracle of the future has foreseen a time in the not too distant future when NI no longer exists as a state and the bould Mr Bryson is so disconsolate that in desperation he consults the wise woman – a soothsayer of renown in the Antrim Glens .

    ‘What should or can I do ‘? asks the bould Jamie , now that he effin Fenians have taken over ?

    ‘There are only two possible solutions ‘ said the wise woman . A natural one and a supernatural one !

    ‘Whats the natural one ‘? asks our bould super unionist .

    ‘The archangel Gabriel will chase out the Fenians with his fiery sword ‘ says the woman of wisdom .

    ‘And the supernatural solution ‘ ? asks the bould Bryson now clearly upset .

    ‘The Fenians will decide to leave of their own accord ‘ said the wise woman .

  • Jollyraj

    Too right, Robin. After all, what did Republicans ever do to her?

  • Robin Keogh

    We are not talking about Republicans. We are talking about the first minister of your statelet failing to even try reach out across the divide in any meaningful way. If you think that’s OK Jolly then you are not the person I assumed you are.

  • Jollyraj

    Actually, I don’t think it’s ok – how many times have I made the point on here that building mutual understanding through the fundamental step of integrating all schools is the way forward. (Something your Mr O’Dowd and McGuinness before him showed zero interest in – though it is clearly, clearly the first step.) But this white hat/black hat thing, never charming, has long since got old.

  • Jollyraj

    Ten years hmm?

    When was that meeting?

  • Robin Keogh

    But we are not talking about integrated education on this thread. We are talking about your first minister, Arlene Foster and her constant Anti – Irish sentiments. She is head of government even if her office is a partnership. She holds the title of first minister and she has done bugger all to foster accommodation and reconciliation. How can people like me argue the Unionist case with any credibility when a sectarian craw undermines every effort with every word that comes from her mouth?

  • Jollyraj

    “We are talking about your first minister, Arlene Foster and her constant Anti – Irish sentiments.”

    We are indeed. It must be said that your criticism of her would have a little more credibility if you were at least equally scathing about her Deputy, Mr McGuinness – a man whose anti- Protestant sentiments drove him to decide to join an organisation which existed in large part to murder them. What he did in that organization is not a matter of public record, of course, and nor is there likely to be an inquiry into the, presumably illegal and possibly (given the notoriously violent character and illegality of the grouping) violent, acts he may or may not have seen, committed or ordered to be committed in the several years that he admits being a member (or indeed the several decades that most believe he was a member for).

    That aside, I’m interested to know to whom you are arguing the unionist case on our behalf. Could you explain that comment a little?

  • Greenflag 2

    A few weeks back but the good Lord insisted on no publicity 🙂

  • Jollyraj

    They do say there is more joy in Heaven over one Shinner that relenteth than over a thousand decent people just getting on with their lives…..

  • Robin Keogh

    I won’t bother jolly because it’s clearly wasted on you.

  • Greenflag 2

    Good one very punny ‘ Let him who is without shin cast the first stone as the actress said to the bishop or was it vice versa .

  • Jollyraj

    With respect, I believe you won’t engage with the first because you are (sadly) demonstrably unwilling to hold Sinn Fein members to the same standards that you expect of others. This tends to undermine every criticism you make of others, even where you may be justifiably critical.

    I believe you won’t answer the second because, if truth be known, you don’t believe that the unionist position deserves to be considered.

    Wasted on me? On the contrary, I stand ready to be proven wrong, but it seems you are unwilling or unable to attempt such in this case. I can only assume it is because you quietly recognize the truth in it.

  • Jollyraj

    No doubt there were many actors who said things to priests that would have been shocking.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am happy to discuss anything with anybody but I am not interested in humouring whataboutery. If you need to reach into the past to conduct a coversation on current events that’s fine. I don’t have to play ball. If you would like to post an OP on Martin McGuinness or anybody elsee I have no doubt Slugger will support you and we can all get stuck in. Otherwise try stick to the topic.

  • Superfluous

    Yeah, so the DUP signed up to something that was good for them then, but might not be good for them as voters/demographics change? And Jamie wants a return to majority rule, which is good for his tribe now, but…

  • Greenflag 2

    indeed and even priests who said things to other priests that may have been more shocking and bishops who deserved to be kicked up the rear end . But we’ll have nun of that on slugger . Cows bulls and calves but cattle one and all that is -humans – even the inhumane humans .

  • Jollyraj


  • Jollyraj

    It is not whataboutery for me to pull you on the inconsistent application of your grave condemnation of behaviours in some that you then excuse/celebrate in others.

    If anythinf it’s… ermm…let’s coin a new one right here: ‘whynotery’?

  • Ryan

    You can guarantee Jamie and his like will be massive fans of mandatory coalition if/when Nationalists do become the majority in Stormont. Jamies a big fan of democracy, like most Unionists, when its in their favour. But when it comes to the democracy at Belfast City Hall, they are then suddenly not so democratic.

  • Robin Keogh

    So why not deal with the issue at hand, rather than deflect with something which was dealt with almost 20 years ago by the GFA. Fosters promouncements and bigotry are here and now. McGuinness action ‘s are a history ago. What u are doing is attempting the to justify actions in the here and now based on events that are a generation old. It’s shallow and fruitless. Arlene”s comments today are relevant to our future tomorrow. McGuinness’ actions of decades ago are wrapped in a conflict of an entirely different age and hold no value for our tomorrow, except maybe for you. But you are not my concern, I am not my concern. My concern is ‘We’ and what happens tomorrow.

  • Greenflag 2

    They’re included in the cattle . The difference between the British/Irish bullock and the American bullock is said to be significant but only in respect to the next generation .

  • Paddy Reilly

    Unfortunately the Catholic Church is a little more holistic than certain other sects and insists that Catholic children need more than just catechism classes, but need to be put in Catholic directed schools for the duration of their school years. So your approach is ruled out as it would violate Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to practise one’s religion.

  • Jollyraj

    Since we’re talking bullocks, one can’t help but wish the EU would lay down some sort of quota to limit production.

  • Greenflag 2

    The eh Bullocks were your contribution not mine but on the subject of said bovines – Wikipedia makes it clear that quotas are not required in the case of British bullocks

    I quote

    ” Bullock (in British English), a castrated male bovine animal of any age. Bullock (in North America), a young bull (an uncastrated male bovine animals

    The USA is not a member of the EU thus their bullocks will not be allowed to sing in the opera and not just because the castrati singers came to an end in the mid 19th century but has something to do with beef mountains etc . Rumour has it there are quite a few American bullocks running as presidential candidates and the high pitched shrieking coming from some of them gives the impression of comic opera masquerading as politics or is it vice versa ?

    Over to you Bolux 🙂