2007: Scandal and abuse of power – Buzzwords summarising the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP in Northern Ireland
In 2005 the DUP became the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, replacing the the Ulster Unionists who had dominated the unionist vote since the partition of Ireland.
Introducing a new approach and ignoring a range of policy differences Ian Paisley accepted a need for change and entered into a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein.
Minded by an ever growing catholic population the DUP agenda was to woo nationalists over to the unionist cause through efficient, tolerant and fair minded governance and with the knowledge that the political fortunes of Sinn Fein in Dublin had taken a downturn in recent years.
Progressive governance was established over the first year, primarily due to the pragmatisim of Ian Paisley (snr) and Martin McGuiness.
Indeed the rapour between the two was so evident in their joint public briefings that many supporters who had supported the DUP and Paisley 40 years of protests were flabbergasted that as Northern Ireland’s first minister he could enjoy a close friendship with Sinn Fein’s, Martin McGuinness. The Press even gave them the title the “Chuckle Brothers”.
2008: Paisley Forced Out of Office
The marriage did not last for long. Hard line Unionists in the DUP led by Nigel Dodds (MP) and the Party deputy leader Peter Robinson plotted against Paisley and forced his resignation only a year after the new government took up office.
His political career at an end a failing Paisley took his seat in the House of Lords in 2010, to be formally known as Lord Bannside of North Antrim. He died in September 2014, aged 88y.
2008: Peter Robinson Appointed Leader of the DUP and Northern Ireland First Minister
Robinson, who founded the DUP with Ian Paisley, took over the role of DUP Party Leader and First Minister in the Spring of 2008.
But he lacked the political will of Paisley and whilst the power sharing agreement remained in place progressive policies were abandoned and replaced with the sectarian wrangling of the past.
A key part of the power sharing agreement, the transfer of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast was finally concluded in March 2010, the implementation having been obstructed by the DUP on many occasions over points of little consequence.
2010: The UK general election
Robinson lost his seat at Westminster in the 2010, UK general election. But was re-elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2011 and retained his position as First Minister in the power-sharing government of Northern Ireland.
The election as expected, was a disaster for the Labour Party but the Tory Party was unable to capitalise on the misfortunes of Labour and the balance of power transferred to the Lib/Dem Party who entered into a formal coalition with the Tory party and provided the government until May 2015.
In the period 2010-2015 an increasingly right wing Tory Party started to make overtures to the DUP in the belief that strengthened links would be beneficial to both Parties in the long term.
Meanwhile, in Dublin the growth of Sinn Fein in the South and in Northern Ireland was causing headaches for other Irish Parties bringing about fears that a re-unification of Ireland could result in an influx of Sinn Fein and Unionist favouring MP’s warping the politics of Ireland.
2015: DUP abandons the power sharing agreement
In the Autumn of 2015 revelations appeared in the press about the role of a murdered IRA member which suggested that a skeleton structure of the Provisional IRA had remained in place contrary to the “Good Friday” peace accord.
The unproven allegations provided the excuse for Robinson to “step aside” from his position as First Minister in protest.
Due to the quirky rules applicable to the power sharing agreement his resignation did not lead to another Northern Ireland Assembly election.
All DUP ministers at Stormont then “stepped aside” with the exception of a caretaker minister, (Arlene Foster) providing “breathing space” in which inter-party discussions could be convened.
Nationalist and unionist parties, facilited by Westminster advisers met frequently for nearly 3 months eventually bringing forward a document called “A Fresh Start,” the adoption of which would resolve many issues that had arisen from the start of the power sharing agreement.
There was also a commitment from the UK government to provide additional recurring finance to assist the process of welfare reforms which had been rolled out in other parts of the UK.
2016: First Minister Robinson accused of financial mis-management resigned and replaced by Arlene Foster
In January 2016, Robinson, plagued by contoversy in his private life, including allegations of financial mis-management resigned from his position as First Minister just a few months after government had been restored, to be replaced by Arlene Foster, who had served as interim First Minister in times of Robinson’s temporary absences from office.
Foster, subsequently led the DUP to victory in the May 2010 election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, taking 38 seats against Sinn Féin’s 28. Martin McGuinness stayed on as Deputy First Minister.
2014 – 2016: DUP abuse of the Irish speaking community
The growing nationalist community in Northern Ireland had been asking for many years for the introduction of an Irish language act so that the language could be saved and its use expanded. It was not considered high priority business and little progress was made.
The matter was cynically brought to the fore of politics when Gregory Campbell of the DUP mocked the Irish language in Stormont crudely parodying it replacing “go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” English translation “Thank you very much” with the nonsensical phrase “Curry my yoghurt, can coca coalyer”.
Repeating the jibe at the DUP Party conference, he added “We will never agree to an Irish Language Act at Stormont and we will treat Sinn Fein’s wish list as no more than toilet paper. They better get used to it.”
Adding insult to injury a DUP minister then renamed a fisheries boat, replacing the Irish ‘Banríon Uladh’ title put in place by a Sinn Féin minister, with the English name “Queen of Ulster”.
In a follow up shortly after, attacking Irish speakers the DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan announced the immediate closure of a £50,000 grant scheme which had allowed people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend Irish lessons. He closed his letter wishing the recipients “Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.”
Irish language activists organised public protests as the political temperature soared and a disillusioned Martin McGuinness pulled the plug on Stormont, forcing a snap election, during which a campaigning Arlene Foster compared the granting of an Irish language act to the “feeding of crocodiles”.
A sad end to an aspiration of the 20 year old Good Friday Agreement which promised “parity of esteem” for British and Irish identities.
Which begs the question “If the future for Northern Ireland does not provide equal support for Unionist and Nationalist traditions what will a morphed future be like? I dred to think!!
2017 First Minister, Arlene Foster accused of financial mis-management refuses to stand down
In March 2017 the electorate of Northern Ireland were called to the polling stations, yet again, for an election brought about by the resignation of Martin McGuinness in response to a failure by the DUP to commit to the introduction of an act supporting the use of the Irish language and yet another financial abuse scandal involving Foster and other DUP leaders. Namely:
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scandal
In 2012, Foster, when Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment managed the introduction of the (RHI) scheme, a program that provided financial subsidies to enterprises that generated their heat through renewable sources, such as biomass boilers (fueled primarily by wood pellets).
In February 2016, revelations of widespread abuse of the program were exposed by the press highlighting an overspend of £700 million.
Foster was accused of financial mis-management but refused to stand down from the position of First Minister to allow an independent investigation into the matter.
Martin McGuniess resigned from his position as Deputy First Minister in protest, in January 2017 triggering an early election since the power sharing agreement required the DUP and Sinn Fein to share the executive management of Northern Ireland.
2017: Foster tells Sinn Fein to sod off and goes to the electorate
Despite clarion calls for her to resign, Foster led the DUP into the election.
Martin McGuiness, battling a terminal illness, was forced to give up politics and handed over leadership of Sinn Féin to Michelle O’Neill.
Constituency boundaries had been redrawn reducing the seats in the Assembly from 108 to 90.
In the election the DUP gained 28 seats remaining the largest Party, but with only 1000 votes separating them from Sinn Fein.
The unionist UUP gained 10 seats, and the centrist Alliance won eight.
Sinn Fein further increased its Assembly presence with 27 seats and the capture of 12 seats by the SDLP changed the demography of the politics in Northern Ireland since for the first time in history nationalist parties became the largest voting block.
The UK government gave the DUP and Sinn Fein three weeks to consolidate a power sharing government, failing which there would be yet another election or a return of rule by Westminster.
Endless negotiations since then have ended with no agreement in sight.
2017 UK Prime minister calls a General Election for 8 June 2017.
The unexpected general election had been called by the UK Prime Minister, Mrs May who was seeking a mandate for the Tory government “Brexit” negotiations with the European Union.
In the election the Northern Ireland electorate polarised its voting around the DUP, with 10 seats (gaining 2) and Sinn Fein with 7 seats (gaining 3).
2017: General Election – The Westminster perspective
The outcome of the election was a disaster for the Conservatives, who lost their working majority at Westminster.
But, determined to remain in government the Tories turned to the DUP for support pursuing a “confidence and supply” arrangement, through which the DUP’s support on key issues and votes of confidence would give the government 328 votes, two more than required for a majority.
A controversial deal was finalised and signed off at the end of June 2017 and included:
* An allocation of £1 billion extra funding to Northern Ireland in the period 2017-2019.
* A guarantee that there would be no changes to the state pension triple lock ensuring pensions rise by at least 2.5 per cent every year.
* No reduction of winter fuel payments for pensioners.