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Britain's strange silence on the Democratic Unionist Party

The British political elite has relentlessly demanded the SNP be excluded from government after May 7. Why are they so quiet on the DUP?

Chris Bambery
1 April 2015
Peter Robinson in East Belfast

Could Peter Robinson be a key player in May? Flickr/DUP photos. Some rights reserved.

The pressure on Ed Miliband to rule out any coalition agreement between Labour and the SNP was so remorseless the result was never in doubt.

But while the British elite were shrill in demanding there could be no role for the SNP in a Westminster government there is complete silence on the possibility of one involving Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Given its policies on a raft of issues this is surprising. Remember the case brought against the owners of a Bed and Breakfast in England who refused to let a room with a double bed to a gay couple? They eventually lost in court, thank goodness.

Current policies, long legacies

Well now, across the Irish Sea, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Paul Givan is bringing forward a private member’s bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly which would make it legal for those with “strongly held” religious convictions to refuse to provide certain services to LGBT people, like renting them a room or accepting a restaurant booking.

DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, supports the bill. Robinson can try and claim that opposition to LGBT rights is a matter of individual conscience but that won’t wash. The party’s stance has deep roots, beyond even when party founder and long time leader, Rev. Ian Paisley, campaigned against moves to legalise gay sex under the banner “Save Ulster from Sodomy.” The party has repeatedly blocked attempts to legalise equal marriage in Northern Ireland, in line with England, Scotland and Wales.

The party’s current policies include the bald statement that it will, “Oppose a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.” Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland unless a termination is required to save a woman’s life or to avoid permanent and serious damage to her health.  It is not available after rape, incest or a fatal abnormality of the foetus. The DUP will fight May’s Westminster General Election with the pledge, “Oppose extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.”

DUP bill of rights

A clear message. Flickr/DUP photos. Some rights reserved.

An acceptable partner?

Back in Westminster, Cameron, Gove et al must be jealous of the fact that the DUP can state it will, “Preserve and promote grammar schools.” Yes, that’s correct: grammar schools survive in Northern Ireland.  A telling fact is that just 7.4% of grammar school kids are on Free School Meals, compared to 28% in non-grammar schools. The 11 plus has been abolished but the majority of grammar schools set their own entrance exams.

Under the heading Culture on its website the party pledges to: “Support a new start on parades including abolition of the Parades Commission, working alongside the Loyal Orders to achieve this.” In other words, to abolish the restrictions on Orange marches going through Catholic neighbourhoods imposed following the Good Friday agreement. 

And, for this thoroughly Christian party there is also a determined promise to, “Rigorously enforce legislation against begging.” If David Cameron is in need of a coalition partner on the morning of Friday 8 May, the DUP are an option. I haven’t heard one politician or read one article demanding Cameron rules out in advance any coalition with the DUP.

The conclusion must be that for the UK elite Peter Robinson and the DUP are perfectly acceptable government partners, while Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are not. Who would you rather have in government?

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