‘DUP Facts’: An opportunity for education

Meghan Rice holds an MA in Early Modern History with a specialism in Irish and British History from King’s College London. She is passionate about both Gaelige and Ulster Scots and has worked with various groups and individuals from both communities in Northern Ireland to help foster a better understanding of the peace process among the diaspora. Tweets at @MeghanJRice

With the understandable furore surrounding a potential DUP- Tory coalition, now being dubbed a ‘confidence and supply agreement’, many people in the UK, outside Northern Ireland, are only now becoming fully aware of some rather difficult-to-swallow DUP facts. In spite of Northern Ireland being part of the same UK many strove to preserve when faced with the prospect of the Scottish independence referendum, it is surprisingly little considered by people in other parts of the UK. It leads one to ponder how is it that people can so passionately defend the idea of the UK without a proper understanding of all it’s component parts? The answer is pervasive, cropping up again and again since time immemorial in the Government, the school curriculum, and in the media to name only a few aspects of UK life – Anglocentrism. The current political situation resulting from the outcome of the General Election provides an excellent catalyst for people in the UK, but England especially, to help remedy Westminster’s chronic Anglocentrism by making a concerted effort to become better informed about Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The importance of developing a better understanding of the UK as a whole has been starkly highlighted by this election. To this end, don’t stop at just investigating the DUP simply because they are currently the only Northern Irish party with the ability to immediately impact your patch. Take this as a golden opportunity to understand more about Northern Ireland as a whole; the political climate, yes, but also the people, history (it’s your history too!), cultures, economy, and rich natural landscape. Most definitely be clear on the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the relationship between the two. Additionally, expand your knowledge of your nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, with whom you share a very significant land border and, therefore, with whom your Government must negotiate many elements related to Brexit strategy.

In the case of Northern Ireland’s history, it is worth remembering that the Nationalist/Republican/Catholic community there has had to deal with, at best, naked sectarianism and discrimination and, at worst, various forms of violence directed towards it since 1922. This formed the root cause of the Northern Irish Civil Rights Movement and the modern ‘Troubles’ which, similarly, as long as it didn’t directly impinge on so-called ‘mainland’ Britain, many were happy to ignore and turn a blind eye to the suffering and abuses of authority inherent in that part of the UK. In this sense we are witnessing a wave of historical repetition whereby suddenly the wider UK population can no longer avoid the complex issues of Northern Ireland bleeding into their otherwise separate way of life. To avoid having to continue in the same vein yet again in future, the personal and political will to become educated, and in some instances re-educated about the nuances of Northern Ireland, must be embraced fully by wider UK society.

In the interests of fairness, and for those who are new to Northern Irish politics, it is important to note that the DUP do not represent the views of all Unionists and certainly not the views of all the of people of Northern Ireland. I know many reasonable, compassionate, open-minded Unionists doing great work to better cross-community relations, attempting to drag Northern Ireland out of the dark ages in terms of LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, and who are passionate supporters of protections for minority indigenous languages including Irish aka Gaeilge as well as Ulster Scots. I am proud to have worked with them on various projects and to call them friends.

On the other side of the coin, the closer one looks at the DUP, the more obvious it becomes that they cannot be seen simply as a Unionist counterpart to the Nationalist/Republican parties. Although opposite the DUP with regard to the constitutional question, they are not necessarily always so in terms of being socially progressive. For example, while the main Nationalist/Republican parties do favour marriage equality, the SDLP for example, hold exactly the same highly restrictive views on abortion as the DUP. Sinn Féin’s policy on a woman’s right to choose is marginally better allowing for abortion but only in the often difficult, if not downright impossible, to prove cases of sexual crime, life of the mother including suicide risk, and more recently, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. They have also criticised criminal prosecution based on abortion and have suggested that such prosecution should not be brought against individuals procuring or facilitating abortions. Bottom line, politics in Northern Ireland is not black and white, nor is it simply orange and green, and cannot be easily understood based solely on a given party’s stance on the constitutional question; you must dig deeper in order to fully understand.

In relation to the constitutional divide and the sectarianism which has all too often accompanied it, in spite of some lingering tensions and occasional flare ups, it is also important to take the time to recognise how far Northern Ireland has come in terms of reconciliation and peace. It is equally if not more vital to remember that the peace process is just that – a process, ongoing and by no means complete – a process which your Government are co-guarantors of via the Good Friday Agreement. Become educated about the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and its international importance; as someone living in the UK, it is absolutely your business and not just because it may affect the possibility of a ‘confidence and supply agreement’ with the Government in Westminster. Now, facing the complications of Brexit, the continuing peace process needs your knowledgeable personal investment and support in order to keep politicians on track with regard to the UK’s obligations to uphold and safeguard it via the Good Friday Agreement.

In 1935 Winston Churchill said, “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.” He was referencing efforts to maintain the independence of Austria but similar could be said of successive UK Governments’ general attitude towards Northern Ireland and the dismal record of human rights violations that persists there to this day. Some of those same human rights violations, such as the criminalisation of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, only concern most people the rest of the UK now that they risk facing the effects of them personally under a potential DUP-Tory deal. These same human rights violations were being perpetrated in the same part of the UK before this week. Where was the public outcry before now?

In the interests of not being caught out yet again and, more importantly, of being aware of the injustices faced by people in Northern Ireland – a component part of the same UK you live in – the will to become educated and remain informed must lie with the individual. The sheer scope of the public catch-up being done in relation to the possibility of a Tory Government being propped up by the DUP, whose party policies are actually quite well-known, clearly demonstrates that neither the Government or public education nor even the media in ‘mainland’ UK can be trusted to provide regular and reliable information, if any at all, with regard to Northern Ireland.

Now is the perfect time to make a personal commitment to knowledge and understanding of and engagement with all component parts of the UK. That, if nothing else, is a positive to have come out of this General Election.

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  • FOARP

    We get it – we’re very very bad people(tm) for ignoring what happens in a part of the union whose main political parties are dedicated to telling us what happens there is none of our business and resisting any mainland influence over their affairs since people from that part of the union stopped bombing us.

    OK, the above is a bit facetious, obviously people should already know who the DUP are, should already know what their political stances are at about the same level as they know what the other minor UK parties that sit in parliament are (which is not much). Discovering right now that all the main NI parties have opposed changes to the law on abortion in NI to allow freedom of choice on the matter is particularly daft when the Tories have long flirted with Ulster Unionists, and Labour have a longstanding arrangement with SDLP.

    Scolding like this, though, is a little bit silly. Northern Ireland’s population is roughly that of the traditional county of Sussex – how familiar is Meghan Rice with matters there? How much does she care what happens there? Is the fact that Northenr Irish politicians likely neither know nor care what happens there evidence either than they need to know better what happens there, or that Northern Irish media can’t be trusted?

  • Dónall

    Here’s a question: is there more difference between North and South or is there more difference between Britain and Ireland North or South?

  • BERZERKERMG

    This has the tone of a Troy McLure eduational video – “Meat and you: partners in freedom” or “Mommy, what’s wrong with that man’s face?”

    You can’t make people care about things that don’t affect them personally. Northern unionists know zero about the Republic except the propaganda they’ve been fed during the Troubles, for example.

    Expecting the English to educate themselves about NI/Ireland is naive. They’ve had plenty of opportunity over the decades and centuries even and are just not interested. If you want to promote knowledge about the constituent parts of the UK you need to modify the school curriculum, not wait for people to read up on it themselves when they would rather be going to Gran Canaria or listening to grime music or catching up on football or whatever.

  • BERZERKERMG

    Seems to be a big difference between west NI and east NI.

  • Nevin

    “the will to become educated and remain informed must lie with the individual.”

    But which sources to trust? I found it useful to move beyond the binary approach, for examples: Catholic Presbyterian and Episcopalian and Nationalist, Unionist and Socialist. This led me to the likes of Desmond Greaves and the cynical use of rights issues to disengage Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and to the sweeping away of the conservative administrations in Belfast and Dublin to be replaced by a 32-county socialist utopia. It also pointed up the Presbyterian hostility to an Episcopalian and/or Catholic hegemony.

    Sadly, this thread’s post reads a bit like a softer version of a Jude Collin’s blog.

  • Nevin

    I’ve noted differences between Bushmills and Ballycastle!

  • Nevin

    “remedy Westminster’s chronic Anglocentrism”

    I suspect many problems/misjudgements exist as a consequence of the Westminster, Leinster House and Stormont ‘bubbles’. Everything in our small corner beyond Glengormley is just jungle inhabited by savage bottle-blonde culchies – and that’s just the men folk!

  • JOHN TURLEY

    I expect both Mrs May and Arlene will do a deal today and once that is done none of them can walk away,
    the last thing the P.M. wants is an election.while Arlene will hang on for dear life and she is right.
    ,The problems will come from the British media,if things are not going according to their plans in the EU.
    the pressure will be put on the backbechers.and what better way than to shine a light on the D.U.P.
    If there is a soft border there will be no freedom of movement as expected,Lets not forget Ruth Davidson
    she had a great election only for her Mrs May would not have a hope.she is not going to let. Arlene wipe
    her eye with Goodies. Contrary to common belief the government could last a year and it could suit the
    Shinners just fine.

  • Oggins

    Comparing apples to oranges. Sussex did not have the history, troubles and sectarianism that we all have seen.

  • FOARP

    Yes. Sussex does not have NI’s problems.

    Typically, in a democracy, the importance of an arena is not predicated entirely on how messed up it is.

  • David Crookes

    A good friend from Annalong, now deceased, said to me in 1970, ‘It would kill me if my daughter married a Kilkeel man.’

  • Oggins

    Typically, any examples?

    Would argue differently. Say to anyone outside of NI. What are the words come to mind when I say, NI…

    So in a democracy that is the UK that had a region that was sectarian for 60 odd years, lead to a civil war for 30s and then troubled politics since. Add in top of that the poverty, the segregation, the flight of people to other parts of the UK, Ireland and abroad for work, better life’s.

    Would not be deemed important? So unimportant that it has its own legislation protected by both, Irish, British and European law…..

    Hmmm

  • FOARP

    “Typically, any examples?”

    The GDP/capita of North-East England is roughly that of Northern Ireland, with about twice the population of Northern Ireland. Could you put your hand on your heart and say what you believe the issues special to that area of the country to be?

    In a democracy what matters is the number of people, not whether or not they are going to suddenly decide to starting bombing and shooting.

  • Nevin

    I take it there’s no direct connection between his death and that prediction!

  • Oggins

    You didn’t answer my question. Any examples please where democracy isn’t measured on how ‘messed up the arena is’?

    Yes I can, l lived there. Under funded schools, hospitals, gang violence in inner cities. Lack of training and education. Infrastructure; roads creaking with users. The usually.

    Can you show me where you got this conclusion of how a democracy should be measured. As you have yet to back I with creditable sources and just randomly pulling points with out facts.

    How do you measure the importance of a democracy?

  • Zig70

    Now you’ve got me defending the DUP. A woman’s right to end a pregnancy? Since when did that get enshrined anywhere. She has a right not to have sex if the consequences are that abhorrent.

  • David Crookes

    Correct, Nevin. That stroke was well laid by.

    Years ago I was visiting a friend who lived between Broughshane and Carnlough. A local lady came in to ask him something. When she heard me speak, she said, ‘You’re not from these parts.’

    Her statement sounded like a grave accusation.

  • john millar

    “Yes I can, l lived there. Under funded schools, hospitals, gang violence in inner cities. Lack of training and education. Infrastructure; roads creaking with users. The usually.”

    Excellent -now show me/ get me the funds to fix it

  • john millar

    “Everything in our small corner beyond Glengormley is just jungle inhabited by savage bottle-blonde culchies – and that’s just the men folk!”
    That`s the “country” -and it begins before “Glengormly”

  • Oggins

    My leftie in me says Taxation on the bigger businesses and rich. As someone who has a a more than comfortable living, happy to pay more to benefit the public. The rightie in me says remove waste in public spending.

    A combination of both

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And sadly I am regularly asked “How are you enjoying your holidays?”, and making it also sound “like a grave accusation” when some local people hear my own Anglo-Irish accent, despite my accurately claiming descent from Niall Noígíallach, (which, of course about 70% and more of my fellow citizens could also do). The provincialism of our increasingly inward looking politics are simply an institutionalised expression of this tendency.