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Thaw the cold front towards the DUP

(by Arlene Foster, the Village)

Have you ever had that feeling when you wonder why you bothered making the effort? Of late that feeling would be understandable within the DUP.

Since November, the party has seriously engaged in the talks process and published proposals for moving forward. We have expressed our full support for a devolved administration in which all democrats would work together. We have had constructive discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic, to the extent of apparently reducing Mary McAleese to tears. We have also had dialogue with all of the pro-Agreement parties except those who know what our electoral commitments require them to do before we can recognise them.

Some painted the picture that the process, if not the world itself, would practically end the next day if the DUP won the election. Yet despite having energetically played our part, some still refuse to give credit where credit is due. Large sections of the media also prefer to lay the blame for deadlock at the feet of the DUP as the usual whipping boy rather than give any real analysis to the situation.

Danny Morrison recently wrote: "They (the DUP) object to the safeguards, the checks and balances which were put in place because of unionism's historic abuse of majoritarianism in the six counties. They object to parallel consent and weighted majorities which protect both communities. They object to the provisions of cross-community support for key decisions".

This is typical of a number of extreme nationalist commentators who use the same language to describe the DUP as they would have done thirty years ago. Now, I am assuming that Danny Morrison can read as well as write. If he had bothered to look at "Devolution Now", or give a fair account of it, then he would know that the DUP set out its support for weighted majorities and cross community support. No matter how false and mischievous the claims, how come this bigotry towards the DUP is more acceptable and goes unchallenged by few than if it was occurring in the other direction?

This imbalance has always been in the process and has always caused great offence to unionists. A determined effort was made over years to woo Sinn Féin/IRA into civil society while their anything but civil war continued. Sinn Féin/IRA were met with blooming bouquets and hugs and kisses from cuddly Mo of the NIO, but the brickbats were reserved for anti-Agreement unionists.

The mandarins would never have contemplated advancing any proposal with at least half of nationalism in opposition, but they didn't have the same qualms with unionism. Opposing the Belfast Agreement was a valid democratic choice but those who made it were more demonised than those who continued their dirty war.

Look also at the varying attitudes to equality. Nationalists bang on about it ad infinitem without challenge from anyone but unionists. Yet when unionists raise the inequalities of 50-50 recruitment, the anomalies in the Equality Commission, the suppression of unionist opinion in Queen's Students Union, or ethnic cleansing against Protestants along the border or within North and West Belfast, they are dismissed with the same anecdotes about what happened in Northern Ireland fifty years ago. Apparently nationalists believe that two wrongs make a right.

Perpetuating the myth that those who were anti-Agreement were anti-any agreement and the bigger problem, was and is a mistake. That approach merely served to push more and more unionists to say "enough is enough" so that the electoral mathematics now mean that things cannot feasibly move forward without the DUP.

Sections of the establishment and the media have a lot to do to remove at least the perception that they were more comfortable cooperating with those involved with terrorism than with anti-Agreement unionists. After the years of criticism of the DUP where now are the warm words to encourage a move forward? Where are the people questioning whether the pro-Agreement parties should be allowed to delay a settlement, not through a wish to protect a failed Agreement, but more to avoid admitting the imperfections of conceived and giving any impression that the DUP had a case. Where are the critics of the idea of the SDLP and the UUP boycotting any deal for nothing but narrow electoral advantage?

A healthy glow is now emerging from a unionism regaining confidence within itself regardless of what others think, but there are signs that the cold front against the DUP is thawing within the Government at least. Others need to catch up with the reality that in any future devolved administration the DUP are going to be the key players, taking decisions in more departments than anyone else. Moving away from majority rule cannot mean abandoning the entitlement to respect of the majority of the population.

October 15, 2004

Arlene Foster is a DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly for Fermanagh & South Tyrone.

This article appears in the October 9, 2004 edition of the Village.