Clash of DUP wills to determine future of Northern Ireland

Michael McGimpsey has a platform piece in todays Newsletter in which he argues that the two faces of the DUP will come to blows more and more in the coming months.

The field on the twelfth of July is usually not a particularly controversial place. However this year Ian Paisley grabbed a few headlines when he announced that there was no place for Sinn Fein in the Government of Northern Ireland. “It will be over our dead bodies” he said. His speech delivered to Independent Orange Order Members was his standard oratory punctuated with a few no surrenders. It was noteworthy for the media and political commentators as all eyes are on Ian Paisley’s party in the run up to the 24 November deadline for restoring the Assembly and Executive.

Meanwhile in another field on the twelfth Jeffrey Donaldson was calling on people to recognise the efforts the IRA had made in decommissioning. Two DUP MPs, two different messages.

The old DUP loves the bombastic Paisley rhetoric, it is re-assuring like a comfort blanket. Meanwhile the new DUP as characterised by Peter Robinson, Jeffrey Donaldson and the many ‘young turks’ in the press office and policy unit within the DUP have been frantically trying to do a recovery job and return the party onto more pragmatic ground.

These differences, which I predict will become more stark in the weeks ahead, show the difficulty that the DUP, after many years in opposition and where tough decisions were avoided in favour of pouring cold water over every agreement or political initiative, are facing. Their arguments over the years, by appealing to the comfort blanket mentality, were convincing. Ultimately it could be argued that through the strength of their ‘no, nay, never’ positioning they have steered a majority of Unionists to their way of thinking. It is the path of least resistance and when offered a seemingly comfortable path where nothing ever changes or a hard path with uncomfortable but arguably necessary changes, most unionists will take the comfortable road everytime.

But therein lies the dilemma facing the Party. The DUP have devoted their energies to unionist infighting and slating everything that moved to the point where they are now unable to move.

Bar a few cosmetic tweaks here and there to the agreement, the deal being offered by the DUP, is essentially the Belfast Agreement. I like to think of the DUP ‘fair deal’ as one of these modified cars that you see from time to time. Under the hood it is still the same car. But the bodywork has been changed with a few go faster stripes and a spoiler. The point I am trying to make is that in the end it still does the same things as the car without the modifications and ultimately will drive you to the same destination. But the DUP will tell you it is not the same car at all.

Meanwhile the IRA have engaged in a massive act of decommissioning but criminality still presents a hurdle to be overcome, as does support from Sinn Fein for the PSNI.

In the coming weeks, while unpopular decisions by our direct rule ministers continue to affect the daily lives of everyone in Northern Ireland, the DUP have a tough job ahead of them. Even tougher, I would argue than the job that my party faced when we were the lead Unionist party. No longer do they have the comfort of opposition. They have to undo their convincing arguments and try and present the people to whom they promised so much with what effectively is a slightly modified Belfast Agreement. This obviously requires a lot of ground work and a lot more go-faster stripes if they think they can get away with it.

So Dr Paisley’s twelfth speech needs to be viewed in this context. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Donaldson and others, eager to get properly into the driving seat know this as good as it gets and want to take the modified agreement for a spin around the country. It is, in the end, this simple clash of wills and who prevails that will determine your future on the 24th November