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EDITORIAL: Marching Boldly Backwards

The Democratic Unionist Party could never be accused of an over-abundance of political and social imagination. Right from its birth in 1971 it has been seen by many as resistant to changes in Northern Ireland that drag the place a day or two beyond the status quo that applied….in 1690.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s not an assertion that is completely beyond reality. Not an inch has been a rallying cry down the years alongside the emblematic “Ulster Says No” battle cry of the 1980s.

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Well, in 2022, the DUP is still saying no, in this case to the Northern Ireland/Irish Sea Protocol, a device designed to ward off a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the spirit and practical application of the Good Friday Agreement, a game changing accord that the DUP, of course, opposed.

The protocol is more than an irritant in the eyes of the DUP. It is a provocation and a fundamental threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

A far bigger threat, of course, is Brexit; something the DUP actually supported.

The DUP, then, is partly responsible for the protocol. The irony is either largely lost on the party and its leaders, or they are simply choosing to ignore it.

Be that as it may, the DUP has now walked away from its political role in the Northern Ireland Executive and that walking away will be presented to voters as a bold action and a reason for voting for the DUP in the upcoming Assembly elections.

Voters in Northern Ireland, especially those on the unionist side, are not entirely unfamiliar with voting for negatives. But they are perhaps less tolerant of such negatives in a time of peace and relative progress, and for sure a time when cross-border trade and business is booming like never before.

So what will the DUP be campaigning for in the coming weeks and months? Ridding the North of the protocol from outside the political process after being unable to get rid of it from within?

That doesn’t quite cut it. The majority of voters in the North want a functioning Executive. And they want an active Assembly, where unionists, by the by, are already in a minority.

Sure, there is a hard core DUP vote come hell or high water. But it might not be as rigid and immovable as in years past. There are traditional DUP voters who may well now view the Democratic Unionist Party more on the lines of the Democratic Useless Party.

What may happen in the elections, should voters decide to cast ballots tactically, and for positives as opposed to negatives, is that Sinn Féin comes out as the top party, thus securing the post of First Minister. Another party other than the DUP could end up coming in second and nailing down the position of Deputy First Minister. That could be Alliance, the SDLP, or even a resurgent Ulster Unionist Party.

The DUP has taken a big gamble. It may come to regret this particular backward march from political engagement.

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