Friday, September 23, 2005

Is DUP up to the job?

Robin Livingstone:

So just what do the UUP and the DUP talk to the UVF and the UDA about when the North and West Belfast Parades Forum convenes? It's a fair question, but we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for an answer.

I seem to remember that when the IMC issued its first report, it recommended sanctions against any groups that were proved to be consorting with paramilitaries. Of course, those words were aimed at community groups with Shinners on the board, but when the UUP and the DUP have tea and buns with loyalist paramilitaries to discuss a parade and the upshot is that the place is wrecked, you wonder what the difference is.

The DUP is fairly elastic about when it's going to sit down and talk to Sinn Féin – according to who's speaking at the time it's either never or when hell freezes over. And yet even as they're refusing to get together with Sinn Féin to hammer out a solution, the DUP is happy to rub shoulders with men who are killing each other over drugs, trying to kill Catholics in their beds and stabbing teenagers in the back.

If the result of the largest unionist party refusing to talk to the largest nationalist party was political stagnation and the continuation of direct rule, well, you mightn't like it, but it wouldn't be so bad. But the fact is that this chronic hypocrisy leads to sectarian murder and mayhem, both of which we've seen in abundance in recent weeks and months.

It's only five months since the DUP practically obliterated the UUP in the Westminster elections. And when the votes were counted and crowing began, the DUP had nothing, not a word, to say about educational underachievement, poor social infrastructure, joblessness or hopelessness.

Far from it. They stuck their chests out, waved their Ulster flags and loudly proclaimed that unionism was reinvigorated, newly confident, that it wouldn't be pushed around any more and the days of unionist leaders being an easy touch were over. The IRA statement was the DUP's first big test.

It was always going to be the case that the British would have to respond, but given the great game that the DUP talked back in May, loyalists had every right to expect that the London response would be at worst niggardly, at best non-existent. In the event, even republicans were surprised by the speed and scope of what happened next: the dismantling of security bases in Divis and South Armagh, the halving of troop levels and the dissolution of the home units of the RIR. If that had happened on David Trimble's watch more hills would have to have been marched up, more red berets donned and more shotgun licences waved in the air.

It's no wonder, then, that the DUP changed its traditional response to street riots in the wake of the Springfield parade madness. Rather than urge the cutting of water, power and heat and the deployment of the SAS, the DUP called for a financial package and blamed the violence on everyone except the Orange Order and the paramilitaries. Not surprising that they would do that really, because if the ordinary people of the Shankill and the Albertbridge were to sit down and think about it for a second, they could only blame the DUP for the pickle that unionism and loyalism is in at present.

The DUP's only achievement as the leading unionist party has been to lead the Protestant people from Trimbleite apprehension to Paisleyite despair. Perhaps the real reason that the party prefers sitting in draughty Orange halls with paramilitary drug-dealers and killers to facing down republicans in a democratic open forum is that it knows, deep down, that it's just not up to the job.

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