The unionist lens: RHI or no RHI, who’s best placed to keep the Shinners in check?

Soon after Martin McGuinness’ resignation as deputy First Minister, we saw the DUP sign up to a public inquiry, call for party talks, and reverse the cut to the Líofa scheme. If this episode has taught us anything, it’s that despite all their intransigence, when their hand is forced, the DUP are quite capable of being sound.

However, by the time of this newfound pragmatism, the ship of any “window of opportunity” touted by Charlie Flanagan had long since sailed. Sure, it was Sinn Féin that ultimately pulled the plug, but responsibility for the escalation of the crisis itself lies firmly in the DUP’s court.

Indeed, bar the faithful bubble of DUP partisans hailing a ‘strong unionist leader’, few can really deny the complete hash that Arlene Foster has made of this crisis, as her ministry over the botched RHI scheme has been followed up by an equally botched response to the public outcry.

Foster has been particularly keen to front her critics through a unionist veil, but such criticism evidently hasn’t been limited to the nationalist sphere. Alex Kane has said the “present chaos” was “largely Foster’s doing”; Jim Allister described Foster as the “author of squander”; Naomi Long criticised her “imperiousness and petulance”; while Peter Hain, in probably the most aptly put of them all, described Foster’s approach as “a textbook case of how not to handle a crisis”.

It’s equally worth noting that, amidst all the talk of a “republican agenda”, it was a fellow leader of unionism in the form of Mike Nesbitt who was the first to call for Foster’s resignation as First Minister.

It’s something of an understatement to say that RHI has been a bad news story for the DUP, and so it’s expected that the party will at least shed a few votes in the upcoming election. Interestingly, while the DUP won 3 in every 10 votes in the Assembly elections of 2011 (30%: 198,436) and 2016 (29.2%: 202,567), the party won a lesser share of the vote in the 2014 council elections (23.1%: 144,928); resulting in a notable disparity of the share between 2014 and both 2011 (6.9%) and 2016 (6.1%).

This 50,000-strong crop of voters have shown to be quite capable of falling short for the DUP on election day before and, in the context of RHI, some may well be tempted to give the party a by ball at the ballot box once again. Nonetheless, commentators remain rather muted on the prospect of any sizeable swing.

Paul Givan has said that this election is effectively an exercise in “testing unionism” and though he is obviously doing his bit to circle the wagons, there’s an element of truth to this statement. Present circumstances put the DUP electorate in something of a catch-22 situation, because an on masse snub of the party would subsequently spilt the unionist vote, thus stifling the DUP’s position as the all-important vanguard of northern unionism.

This avenue of thought ultimately needs to be viewed through a unionist lens: RHI or no RHI, which party is best placed to keep the Shinners in check? It’s a rather crude way to approach it, but then the DUP approach has been exactly that in recent Assembly elections – and, most significantly, it worked a treat; the party having won the majority support of the unionist electorate in 2011 (64.1%) and 2016 (61.4%).

Given the RHI cloud currently reigning over the public parade, there is no time like the present to employ such an approach again. It may be the only card that the DUP has left, but the unionist card is certainly not a weak one.
Jim Wilson, exemplifying this very point on the Nolan Show, took Nesbitt to task for the UUP being “in the same camp” as Sinn Féin on the issue of RHI, before also adding: “I’m disappointed in Mike because I’m a unionist” – so much for Nesbitt’s RHI referendum. Indeed, it’ll take more than £85,000 a day to buy the loyalty of the DUP’s most ardent supporters.

Some DUP folks have already given us a “brutal” glimpse of what’s to come: we will not “give in” nor “bow down” says Nigel Dodds; they want to “break us” says Givan; “Do they think they can dictate terms to the unionist community?” says Gregory Campbell. Ian Paisley Jr may have chosen not to “beat the drum” on The View, but the DUP, it seems, is gearing up for the mother of all “beat the drum” campaigns.

In this election, the DUP is effectively banking on the ideological unionism of its electoral base to supersede whatever misgivings they may have about the RHI scheme. Such is the strength of unionism here that the DUP may well rise from the ashes largely unscathed. Anyhow; in the early hours of Friday 3rd March, we’ll soon find out.

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  • grumpy oul man

    Your takig the p#*s. Seriously claiming that MMg has had leass scrutiny about his IRA membership than AF over RHI.

  • grumpy oul man

    How much would you want. How big a bowl of pottage would you accept to run away.
    Do you honestally think that nationlists want a mirror image of the old NI.
    that would guarantee that a UI would not work it would fail like NI failed.
    No need to worry we wont treat nionists like they treated us.

  • grumpy oul man

    SF, by right shouldn’t even be here!
    So nationlist voters have no rights.
    Classic unionisn, fits perfectally with your theory that the troubled started when themmuns started shooting back.

  • Msiegnaro

    That’s exactly why I’m leaving if the dreaded day arrives if Nationalists aren’t seeking to exert revenge, acting pious will be the order of the day.

  • Annie Breensson

    Nationalists seeking revenge? Why would they do that if there is no cause?

  • grumpy oul man

    Cant win eh , if themmuns don’t slaughter. You all its because they are acting all goody goody.
    I think you maybe should go and let the rest of us get on with building a better Ireland.

  • Msiegnaro

    It will be more than just I whom will leave. Why would one live in a country one is not welcome in?

  • Msiegnaro

    History is being re-written.

  • Annie Breensson
  • grumpy oul man

    Oh your more than wellcome. But if you think that we are going to behave like unionists did in yhe old NI and you are so paranoid about it.then for tha sake of your mental health perhaps you would be better off leaving.
    And i would like to point out thst you dont speak for a awful lot of Unionists .

  • Msiegnaro

    Do think Unionists will be comfortable living in a UI where we would inevitably have to bow to our Nationalist rulers?

  • grumpy oul man

    Seriously ” bow to our Nationalist rulers?” where are you getting this BS from!

  • Msiegnaro

    Come on, it’s bad enough now – it will be worse when you’ve full control.

  • grumpy oul man
  • grumpy oul man

    whats is bad enough, give us a few examples!

  • Msiegnaro

    SF can pull the executive down at will.

    Refusing to say Northern Ireland.

    Persecution of ex soldiers with nothing similar on the terrorist front.

    The narrative of Unionism as the reincarnation of evil, that should keep you going for now.

  • grumpy oul man

    “SF can pull the executive down at will”. as can any party that gets enough votes, this is called democracy.

    Refusing to say Northern Ireland. well that is terrible ,end of the world stuff!

    “Persecution of ex soldiers with nothing similar on the terrorist front” are you suggesting that murderers should be allowed to get away with murder?

    “The narrative of Unionism as the reincarnation of evil,” well certainly the violent sectarian unionism of the old NI was evil and The links that the DUP has with terror groups is a bit off , however i have never heard a nationalist accuse every unionist of being the reincarnation of evil, perhaps you could furnish some proof!

  • grumpy oul man

    So elected representatives are the same as a invading army.
    good one!

  • Msiegnaro

    The vein of threads even on here have got an anti Unionists theme to them.

  • grumpy oul man

    Your the king of the mopes sir.
    I take my hat of to you rerely in the annals of mopery has your equal been found.
    But i know where you are coming from, the big mistake was given those taigs the vote and then letting them have proper schools.
    Life was better when we had the oul penal laws now dont get me wrong the B Specials and the special powers act was good but. The penal laws were it.

  • Mike the First

    Where did I say that?

    You do realise if wasn’t me who talked about SF “using equality as a Trojan Horse”, right?

    If you have a problem with an analogy being drawn between the builders of the metaphorical and literal Trojan Horses (even jestingly), you’d be best to take it up with Gerry Adams, not me…

  • Msiegnaro

    I don’t agree but just one of our many differences.

  • grumpy oul man

    And you do realize that you where replying to AG who was replying to Msiegnaro who was talking about elected representatives.

  • Mike the First

    And so was Gerry Adams.

    So again, if you have a problem with the Trojan Horse analogy, take it up with him.

  • grumpy oul man

    Oh dear mike.
    Im not sure are you admitting your comparing elected reps to a invading atmy or just shouting themmuns.
    By the way it says a lot about unionisn that equlity is a threat.