Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Far from being strong and stable, as the robotic Theresa May repeated ad nauseum during the general election, the new Westminster government is a toxic Tory coalition of chaos.
May's reliance on the misnamed Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in her desperate bid to cling onto power - and prevent a left-leaning minority Corbyn government - has built explosive instability into the very foundations of her regime. 

But who are the DUP? What are their roots? How did they manage to become the biggest party in Northern Ireland? And how can socialists and trade unionists dislodge this reactionary Tory party from its dominant position?

The DUP's particularly reactionary brand of conservatism has smacked those previously unaware of their politics like a stinking wet fish in the face. 
This is the party that blocked equal marriage by wielding their power of veto in the Northern Ireland Assembly, after a majority had voted in favour of bringing the North into line with every other part of the UK. The DUP regard LGBT people as "an abomination", with one of their MPs declaring they could only be "saved by the power of prayer". In fact, in 1977 they launched and were at the heart of the charmingly named campaign, Save Ulster From Sodomy. 
They are creationists, denying science. Climate change deniers - although as we will mention later, ruthless, corrupt opportunists when they can make a fast buck out of allegedly 'green' environmental measures, as implemented by their power-sharing government with Sinn Fein!

Old Testament DUP 
Their attitude to women is equally prehistoric. They deny women the right to control over their own bodies through the right to abortion - even in cases of rape. 
As Theresa May discovered after declaring her intention of negotiating a 'confidence and supply' deal with "our friends in the DUP" - a loose version of coalition government - the DUP are strict Sabbatarians. They refused to negotiate on a Sunday, and kept the hapless May waiting until the Monday. 
It's hardly surprising that comedian Frankie Boyle described them as "the political wing of the Old Testament", or that another wag dubbed the DUP "the Old Testament with fortnightly bin collections."

Pork Barrel Politics
But when Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson rushed to the nearest TV cameras to declare she had been on the phone to Theresa May asking for reassurances that a deal with the DUP would not mean a reversal of legislation on LGBT rights here, she was guilty of one of three things. Profound ignorance of the politics and roots of the DUP; cynical opportunism to win kudos amongst voters for her 'oh-so-liberal' social policies; or a bit of both. 

The DUP are backward-looking reactionaries, but they are also masters at duping their own electorate by having other policies attuned to win votes from mostly working-class Protestants. In fact, surveys have shown that 73% of DUP voters favour advances on abortion rights, and a majority favour equal marriage. So pushing their bigotry on these social issues doesn't win them a majority amongst Protestants at the ballot box, and won't be their preoccupation in carving out power and influence for themselves at Westminster.

Rather than push their reactionary social policy agenda, the DUP are far more interested in exploiting their unexpected power as kingmakers to wring funds out of May for some vote-catching projects, or as the BBC N Ireland correspondent rightly put it, "to have slightly less severe austerity than they'd otherwise impose, for they certainly won't get enough funds to avoid austerity measures altogether". 

As opportunist vote-hunters with an ear for working class concerns, the DUP are opposed to Tory plans on pension cuts, and call for UK-wide abolition of the bedroom tax.
And whatever concessions this pork barrel politics forces on May, it will add to the severity of cuts for working class people elsewhere in the UK; another strand of government instability. 

Brexit Chaos 
One of the DUP's other policy planks could spell disaster for their Tory friends: they are pro-Brexit, but oppose a 'hard border' between the North and South of Ireland. Some close observers believe they preached the virtues of a Leave vote in the EU Referendum in order to curry favour with voters concerned to hold onto their British identity, in the belief that a majority in the UK would reject their advice and vote to Remain - thereby handing the DUP a win-win situation. 
Their voters in the working class and rural poor would be potentially crucified by the impact of border tariffs and trade barriers, so the DUP try to square the circle, advocating an open border between the EU member state in the South and the Brexit North - but try to avoid arguing for special status for Northern Ireland within a Brexit deal, in case that encourages the SNP in their pursuit of the same for Scotland, thereby undermining the cohesion of the 'United' Kingdom. 
At the very least, their presence in the Westminster government weakens the full-blown, Little Englander 'hard Brexit' advocated by the Blue Brexiteers of the Tory right, now advocated by May. Even on that one issue, a 'coalition of chaos'. 

Sectarian History 
Those who rightly condemn the DUP for their mind-blowing reactionary social policies - but leave it at that - are in serious danger of implying all Protestants who made them the dominant Unionist party in several recent elections are a homogenous block of Bible-thumping, anti-women, homophobic, anti-Catholic bigots. 
Not so! Many of the DUP's party activists undoubtedly fit that description, but their broad base have voted the way they did for entirely different and varied reasons, rooted in the history of Ireland, the consciously divisive role of the British landowning and capitalist class in Ireland historically, and indeed the role of other political forces in Ireland to this very day. 

Looking at the growth of the DUP - from a fledgling party launched in 1971 by Ian Paisley, to the winners of 36% of all votes cast in N Ireland recently - actually only serves to emphasise their anti-working class role, as perpetrators of division within working class communities. 
In turn, it shows that socialists and trade unionists in Scotland who wish to help break the grisly embrace of the DUP over many working class Protestants need to assist those brave forces fighting for working class unity, equal rights and socialism in Ireland - not reinforce the sectarian divisions by being cheerleaders for the nationalist Sinn Fein. 

Ireland was conquered as Britain's first colony. The methods used included bloody military conquest, land robbery, mass death through entirely avoidable famines, and a long history of 'divide-and-rule' tactics, pitting Catholic and Protestant peasants and workers against each other. 
But throughout the centuries, waves of united struggles confronted the same ruling classes of Britain, with peasants and - in the 20th century - workers periodically overcoming the sectarian divisions injected into them by the landlords, capitalists and military chiefs, who sought to exploit them. 
The pinnacle of division was reached after the 1920s Partition of Ireland - and the religious and class-based discrimination that particularly hammered the Catholic minority in the North, but also working class Protestants. For instance, businesses had up to 30 votes in council elections - the bodies allocating jobs and housing - but poor Catholics and Protestants without property (tenants) had no vote at all, right up to the late 1960s!

Workers' Unity
In the 1960s, the trend was towards integration of working class communities, through mixed housing estates, radical struggles and united strikes by workers, and then the mass upsurge for Civil Rights in 1968, involving masses of young Catholics, but also big sections of Protestant youth and trade unionists. 
The entirely justified demand for an end to discrimation against Catholics on jobs, housing allocation - and even voting rights - initially won widespread support across both communities. 
But the leaders of both the Civil Rights and trade union movements failed to clearly link the demand for civil rights with a struggle for well-paid jobs and decent housing for all. 

This opened the door to reactionary bigots like founder of the Christian fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, Rev. Ian Paisley, to whip up support for his anti-Catholic vitriol amongst the most reactionary minority of rural, middle class and despairing sections of Protestants. 
He was able to whip up the justified fears of many that in a society of mass unemployment, low wages and appalling housing conditions (amongst the worst in Europe at the time), more opportunities for Catholics meant fewer for Protestants. 

Paisleyite Thuggery 
Paisley wasn't averse to mobilizing thugs with guns and truncheons to attack Civil Rights marchers - or two years later to arson-attack Catholics in their homes, leading to the biggest population displacement since the Second World War. 

By the 1960s the British ruling class had no interest in holding onto Northern Ireland. British monopoly firms by then were making twice as much profit from investments in the South as in the North. 
For them, some arrangement of a unified capitalist Ireland, willing to provide copious profits for British and multinational companies, was far preferable to subsidizing an unstable statelet they'd created half a century earlier. But they'd created the monster of sectarianism, which wouldn't lie down and accept the plans of the modern British capitalist class and their governments. 

Failed Opportunities
History is made by the struggle between living forces. The 1960s in Ireland - in the context of world-wide movements against inequality, capitalism and wars - was a golden opportunity for the organised trade unions and labour movement to advance working class unity and struggle towards a socialist Ireland. 
Instead, the leadership of that movement failed to advocate and lead such a unifying struggle, and the forces of Paisleyism went from a tiny but violent fringe - held in contempt by most Protestant workers - to a much bigger, and brutally divisive force.

The failures of the same labour movement leadership to resist state repression - after the Paisleyite pogroms against Catholics, and the introduction of British troops in August 1969 - led to the emergence of the Provisional IRA. Regardless of the intentions of the young volunteers, the methods of the Provos deeply alienated Protestants, driving them further into the arms of the likes of Paisley - their own worst enemies. 

DUP Launch
Paisley and his cohort launched the DUP in that context, in 1971, appealing to the fears of many Protestants that the upper-class Unionist Party leadership - landowners and factory owners, dubbed by many 'the fur coat brigade' - were selling them out. 
The Unionist Party tried belatedly to arrange power-sharing with middle-class nationalist politicians, hoping to stabilize Ireland for better profit margins for the rich. 
At first only a minority - mostly in rural villages and small towns - responded to the DUP's sectarian rants. But over the years they made inroads, based on growing suspicions towards the 'fur coat' Unionist politicians; fear of being driven into an unattractive united Ireland by the armed struggle and sometimes nakedly sectarian actions of the IRA; and the (false) impression that the demagogic Ian Paisley was standing up for 'the Protestant people'. 

Ulster Resistance: DUP paramilitary wing
The fortunes of Paisley and the DUP were boosted by the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, arranged over the heads of the population by the governments of London, Dublin and the Ulster Unionists in Belfast. This earlier variant of a power-sharing agreement met a torrent of vitriol from Paisley at a series of mass 'Ulster Says No' rallies, which whipped up the fear of rule by Dublin amongst sections of increasingly beleaguered Protestants. 

But when the Tories tried to block Jeremy Corbyn's advance amongst the working class and youth in the recent General Election by dredging up his links with Sinn Fein and the IRA in the days of the Troubles, they display their customary, rank hypocrisy by now holding hands with the DUP. 
That's the party whose founders and past leaders - including Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Ivan Foster - all attended the secretive, invitation-only rally in Belfast in November 1986, to launch the paramilitary Ulster Resistance. Paisley was secretly filmed donning the red beret of this militaristic outfit, then saluting its assembled 'soldiers'. 

From the Bullet to the Ballot Box
Ulster Resistance collaborated with the murderous loyalist paramilitaries of the UVF, Red Hand Commandos and UDA to smuggle guns, rocket launchers and copious caches of ammunition from the likes of Lebanon and South Africa.
One of those arrested for these gun-running operations - more than once - was Noel Little, whose daughter Emma Little Pengelly has just been elected as DUP MP for South Belfast. 
So Ulster Resistance was effectively the paramilitary wing of the DUP in the few years of its active existence, at the height of Paisleyite mobilizations against the power-sharing 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. 

But in a parallel evolution to that of Sinn Fein/IRA, the very same DUP luminaries turned towards the ballot box rather than the bullet in subsequent years, grabbing power (and privileged incomes!) for themselves - through the new version of power-sharing... with the politicians they'd for years denounced as the Devil incarnate, mobilizing and misleading hundreds of thousands through a sectarian quagmire for their own ends. 

Demand for Peace 
After 30 years of 'the Troubles', with over 3,600 dead and countless maimed and scarred for life, working class communities were war-weary, sick of the killings, and made their desire for an end to the bitter conflict known to the loyalist killing gangs and IRA, through a series of vast demonstrations, peace rallies and united workers' strikes against killings and death threats. 
Those movements of trade unionists, and women in the communities - combined with the growing exhaustion of the paramilitaries, as they came to recognize the failures of their armed methods, and felt increasingly isolated from the mood of 'their own' communities - led to the peace talks, and the ceasefires of 1998. 

Paisley - who for decades had demagogically denounced any suggestion of 'power-sharing' as a concession to 'Popery' - was instrumental in establishing the power-sharing government, becoming First Minister, with his Deputy in the person of ex-IRA leader Martin McGuinness. The two became popularly known as 'The Chuckle Brothers', such was their level of friendly collaboration... including in horrendous austerity cuts, privatisation, welfare benefit attacks, and a drive to reduce Corporation Tax! 

Power-sharing Agreement - for the Political Elite  
The Peace Process, through both the 1998 Belfast Agreement and the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement, established a system of power-sharing that is purely between a political elite; it certainly doesn't open the door to working class people of either or both communities sharing power. 
It's a system with a history in other nations (such as Lebanon) also bedeviled by communal conflicts; divisions implanted by imperialist powers in the first place. 
It's an institutionalized arrangement between parties rooted in segregated communities.
Whilst the accompanying ceasefires were and are welcome - and the overwhelming majority of both Catholic and Protestant people are totally and utterly opposed to going back to the bleak, bloody days of the Troubles - the power-sharing agreement tends to reinforce the sectarian segregation between communities. 

Institutionalised Sectarianism 
In the Northern Ireland Assembly, every elected MLA has to be designated as either a Unionist, Nationalist, or Other. Additionally, what's called the Petition of Concern gives a full-blown veto to any 30 MLAs - either Unionist or Nationalist - against anything the Assembly majority might vote for. In that built-in mechanism, the duly elected MLAs who refuse to define themselves as either Unionist or Nationalist, but are classified as Others, literally disappear from the voting process. So much for democracy! 

A recent case, before last Christmas, illustrates this monstrously sectarian set-up. A majority of Assembly members voted for a motion demanding the resignation of Arlene Foster over her handling of Cash for Ash, which 30 Unionist MLAs vetoed, turning the Assembly majority into its opposite. 
The same device was used by the DUP to block lifting the ban on same sex marriage. 

DUP/Sinn Fein Austerity 
Theresa May is being propped up in office courtesy this voting system in Northern Ireland, which institutionalizes and reinforces a sectarian headcount, as was the case to an unprecedented degree in the June general election.
For a decade, the DUP and Sinn Fein caught up with and then eclipsed their more 'moderate' rivals in the respective communities: the Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP. 

For a decade the DUP and Sinn Fein were content to collaborate in savage cuts; privatisation of services either through the Assembly or councils they controlled; a shared ambition to reduce the public sector; reduction of corporation tax; and benefit cuts averaging £2,000 to over 100,000 people. 

The DUP is reactionary to the core on women's issues; Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have both described Sinn Fein as 'an anti-abortion party'. In the South's parliament, the Dail, Sinn Fein TDs abstained in a vote on a Bill calling for the right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities in 2013, only adopting that one narrow concession to abortion rights at their subsequent party conference. 

Cash for Ash Scandal 
Before his death, McGuinness toppled the DUP/Sinn Fein government led by Arlene Foster in January 2017, by resigning as Deputy First Minister. The issue was the Cash for Ash scandal. 
This was a scheme introduced in Britain, then adopted by Foster when she was Enterprise Minister in 2012 - with one critical alteration that opened the door to outrageous corruption. 
The cap on state subsidies for use of allegedly environmentally friendly biomass wooden pellets was scrapped, so that for every £1 spent by businesses, big farmers and individuals burning this fuel, they were awarded £1.60 from the public purse. 
When her advisers alerted Foster of the dangers of abuse, back in 2013, she dismissed them, and several of the DUP hierarchy, advisers and friends accelerated their investments in the scheme. 
Empty factories and farm outhouses literally burnt these pellets endlessly. They burnt taxpayers' money, to the extent an estimated £490million overspend in subsidies mounted up, with warnings from the Audit Commission that the eventual handout to these corrupt chancers will reach £1billion. 

Turning a Blind Eye to Corruption 
These corrupt practices were known to all the major politicians since at least early 2016, but not one of the parties - including Sinn Fein - lifted a finger to expose or end it. 
As recently as December 2016, Sinn Fein abstained on a vote in the Assembly demanding Arlene Foster's resignation as First Minister pending a public inquiry. They only brought the issue to a head, through Martin McGuinness triggering the March 2017 Assembly elections, after public protests erupted, with Sinn Fein at risk of losing their popular base for turning a blind eye to their DUP partners' corruption. 

Sectarian Headcount 
In the March Assembly elections and subsequent June 2017 general election, Sinn Fein whipped up righteous anger at the DUP's methods. In the words of their recently elected Fermanagh MP, Michelle Gildernew, they called on Catholic voters "to put manners on them".   
They conducted a belligerent campaign to make Sinn Fein the biggest party in the North, which wiped out all remaining SDLP MPs, but also played right into the hands of the DUP. 
The DUP focused on dire warnings to the Protestants that SF, Gerry Adams and 'the IRA' would become the biggest party unless they all voted DUP. 

In the most blatant sectarian headcount since the height of the Troubles in 1970, with appeals to "keep out the other side", the DUP rose to 36% of all votes cast by both communities, and Sinn Fein to 29%. 
The inbuilt sectarian division that the power-sharing system assumes allowed both major parties to escape scrutiny on their appalling track record on austerity; on social, economic, class questions that impact on the lives and livelihoods of working class people, regardless of what religious tag is attached to them; which side of the 'peace lines' they live on. 

United Working Class 
The DUP are blatant reactionaries, who only get away with their anti-working class agenda by whipping up the fears of working class Protestants of losing their identity and rights by being coerced into a capitalist united Ireland. 
Sinn Fein is nothing like a socialist party - even though many who vote for them are - and are incapable of appealing to Protestant workers - in part because of their historic links with the IRA's campaign of individual terrorism. 

In the recent elections, they've turned up the volume on their calls for a border poll - referenda North and South on reunification of Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday Agreement - something now also echoed by the Green Tory Fianna Fáil party in the South. 
Sinn Fein have become increasingly triumphalist and belligerent on this demand, with references to demographic changes possibly making the Catholics a majority in the North a few years ahead. The sum total impact of that approach was to dragoon even more Protestants into voting DUP, whose vote rose nearly 10%, out of fear and uncertainty. Further sectarian polarization on the electoral front. 

There is a growing, desperate need for a working class socialist party that actively reaches across the community divide, uniting workers on class issues, but also guaranteeing the democratic rights of all communities in a socialist Ireland. 

A Socialist Ireland 
The vision of a socialist Ireland - a world apart from the type of societies that currently exist, North and South - is what's required to unite working class people, by convincing  them not only of the social and economic advantages, but that guarantees for all minorities would be embedded in such a socialist democracy. 
Consent, through patient explanation - and above all years of united struggle by working class people on common, class questions - is the route to a socialist Ireland, not ultimatums or coercion in any form.

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