Use a position of power wisely, with caution.







The election results of the 8th June came as shock to many.

The Governing party, the Conservative & Unionist (the Unionist being something people seem to forget) Party was short of a majority, having at the outset expected a fantastic election: which would give them a huge majority; put Corbyn’s (Old) Labour ‘out-of-business’; and strengthen the United Kingdom negotiation position ahead of Brexit.

Didn’t quite work out that way. The most unexpected outcome, amongst all the ramifications and recriminations, has been the increased attention towards Northern Ireland and principally the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

In the words of the late Winston Churchill: “… we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.” (Sir Winston Churchill, February 16, 1922)

The prospect of a role of the DUP in any National Government was raised in the context of the 2010 and 2015 General elections. There was much hope and anticipation that a hung Parliament (which was predicted on both occasions, and proven correct on one occasion, 2010) would give the DUP great privilege, power and an ability to ‘punch above’ its representative weight. Interest in support from the DUP was explored by both Labour and the Conservatives.

Returning 10 MPs to Parliament Thursday week ago has given greater importance to Ulster’s Unionist MPs, albeit not for the first time. Jim Molyneaux was relied upon by John Major (who has been critical of prospect of a Tory-DUP link-up) relied on the support of Jim Molyneaux’s UUP during his turbulent years in office (1992-1997) and the many backbench rebellions, as had James Callaghan in the 1970s.

Some would say Arlene Foster’s DUP has risen from the ashes, as on the 2nd March they became the biggest losers, losing 10 MLAs in the election following Sinn Fein collapse of the Stormont Assembly (though loses probably exaggerated in an overall reduction in seats in the Assembly).

The DUP is now in a significant position of influence to extract additional resources, capital, and policy changes that would assist Northern ireland. However, the state of the Union remains fragile in a febrile political environment, even if the SNP in Scotland took a hit. It is incumbent upon the DUP to use their new found position to strengthen the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They must not over-reach and be temped to ask too much, but instead act in the strategic interests of NI and dull nationalist fervour.

The Assembly election held on the 2nd March gave rise to a more aggressive (cocky) Sinn Fein. There is only one seat of difference between Sinn Fein and the DUP at Stormont, albeit a non-functioning Stormont. Brexit has created a new line of challenge to the Union from Sinn Feint and the SDLP, albeit one that has not been borne out on any rational analysis. 

Arlene Foster and the DUP therefore need learn from the 2nd March and place Unionism back in the driving seat. The late Lord Brookeborough, a fellow native of County Fermanagh, always believed in obeying London, or doing little to ‘annoy’ them. This was a man who served our Province for thirty-three years continuously (which is a record) within a Government office of which nearly twenty-years were as Prime Minister.

Ten additional seats in the House of Commons will help the Prime Minister have a majority, but it is in Unionisms interests that we use our position wisely in order to maintain and strengthen the Union, not give others something to complain about. The hysteria around the potential influence on social policy has been quickly closed down, but a residual suspicion and aversion (borderline racism) probably remains.

The DUP has three key areas where it can bring influence to bear that will be for the good of everyone in Northern Ireland, and with broader national significance.

First, influence on securing a broadly frictionless border will do much to pour cold water on any hype and hysteria over Brexit. This should include making the case for EU nationals to freely remain in Northern Ireland, showing how it can deliver to a constituency whose fears were ruthlessly exploited by Sinn Fein in the March Assembly elections.

Second, is keeping a focus firmly on what is needed to secure socio-economic stability, but especially on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy and securing Treasury support for what that will require.

Finally, the DUP must reassure the Conservative & Unionist Party by being reasonable and making appropriate requests that are easily deliverable.

Lord Brookeborough’s approach remains a sound one.