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Advising DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson...

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 15th, 2023 at 09:33:22 PM EST

Imagine you have just landed a job as adviser to DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Your job is to make him and the DUP look good and promote the Union with Britain.

Would you: A) Crash the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland within the UK, inhibit investment in Northern Ireland by creating maximum political and policy instability, enrage the UK government to the point that it proposes a punishment budget for Northern Ireland, and alienate everyone broadly disposed to support the Union but who doesn't vote DUP?

Or B) Make sure Northern Ireland political institutions work as well as possible, promote investment in the economy, work hand in glove with your allies in Westminster to improve public services in Northern Ireland, and work hard to build a broad political coalition of all those prepared to make Northern Ireland work better within the Union?

Cross-posted from Slugger O'Toole

Please tell me what I am missing here. In what universe are the DUP's current actions rational? I get it that they need to build solidarity within their base, but the apparently low turn-out of their voters at the local  elections doesn't seem to indicate that even that strategy is working well.

Are there some recent success stories the DUP can point to in order to rally their troops? How is Brexit going? Was King Charles overjoyed to see them? Is Keir Starmer wooing them? Did Biden spend time with them? Are their old buddies in the ERG still inviting them to parties?

In sports coaching it is standard practice to advise players to "focus on the things you can control". There is little point in blaming the referee, the weather, the rules, or opposition tactics. Arguing in the pub afterwards never changed a result. So, what can the DUP control, and what must they simply accept as outside their control?

This may come as news to some, but the EU, the USA, Westminster and Dublin all have their own interests to prioritise and pursue. These do not include making the DUP look good or ensuring their success at the polls. They may wish the people of Northern Ireland well, but they can't do the hard job of making the place work on its own terms or to the detriment of their own interests.

So, what CAN the DUP do?

The DUP could:

1.    Appeal to a broader and younger demographic of potential unionist voters. That might involve backgrounding some fundamentalist/creationist protestant theology which is off-putting for younger and more secular unionists and doesn't have immediate practical law-making implications in any case.

2.    Tone down the anti-Catholic rhetoric to make Catholics more comfortable in Northern Ireland and more supportive of the constitutional status quo.

3.    Implement more pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-investment policies and remove any reputational or actual barriers to outside investment. The more people have good jobs in Northern Ireland, the more have a stake in the status quo.

4.    Build alliances with southern conservatives who share their conservative economic and social beliefs and who are equally comfortable with partition - from the other side of the fence.

5.    Do everything possible to make Northern Ireland the most successful region within the UK by maximising the advantages of free access to the Single Market and closeness to the booming Irish economy. They could do this by leading investment promotion delegations to UK companies who require better access to the Single Market.

6.    Market Northern Ireland produce more actively by leading trade delegations to EU countries highlighting the lack of barriers to trade when compared to territories outside the Single Market.

7.    Promote tourism to Northern Ireland to highlight its more positive attractions and the friendliness of its people.  (Opposing the requirement for non-EU citizens to apply for visas if travelling from the south would be helpful here).

8.    Lobby the UK government to give Northern Ireland similar corporate tax rates and investment promotional policies to compete more effectively with the south.

9.    Highlight the attractiveness of lower house prices for employees, lower commercial rents for businesses, and open access to both the UK and EU markets for businesses seeking to establish a base in Europe.

Strange as it may seem, the above activities are all the normal bread and butter of practical politics, and yet I cannot recall a Northern Ireland trade delegation ever making a splash abroad.

All most people abroad know about the DUP is that they are very good at saying NO. They have never seen the DUP portray a positive image of what doing business with or in Northern Ireland could do for them or their businesses.

And while we are at it, ask yourself the question, Jeffrey, what can the DUP do for anyone outside Northern Ireland? What could it do for the UK - besides making life more difficult for the UK government in its relations with the EU and the USA? What could it do for Ireland or the EU?

It seems strange that it is necessary to say this, but most politics is a matter of give and take. If you want something from someone else, you have to be able to offer something of approximately equal value to them.

What positive contribution can the DUP make to Northern Ireland and the wider world? Why should Britain, Ireland, the EU and the USA spend so much time or treasure trying to address the DUP's concerns? What's in it for them?

Merely fending off a second round of Troubles (or reigniting the first) isn't going to get you very much credit abroad. People are expected to behave in a civilised manner in an advanced democracy.

It is only when the DUP has figured out what positive role it can play at home and abroad that its status and influence will start to rise. Until then it will remain a pariah, an object of derision and scorn - and its supporters with it.

Many in Northern Ireland may not care overmuch about what others think of them, but you will not get very far in the modern world on your own. Even the subvention from the UK treasury cannot be taken for granted, and the goodwill of others is running in short supply.

You have been offered free access to the Single Market - something Scotland, Norway, or many other non-EU countries would dearly love to have. (Norway pays dearly for the privilege).

You have been offered Irish and EU citizenship should you want it, something many immigrants are risking their lives for. You have the benefit of southern Irish investment in the north through the shared island unit and health service cooperation. You still have all the benefits of UK citizenship and of representation in the UK parliament.

But the question is, "what have you got to give in return that others actually want?" Jeffrey Donaldson needs to find an answer to that, or you have nothing to work with as advisor to the DUP and will need to find a new job.

"DUP" and "rational" should never be used together.  The U in TULIP stands for "Unconditional Election", and we all know who they think the elect are.  And since P stands for "Perseverance of Saints", no bad thing they do affects their status as the elect.
by rifek on Fri Jun 16th, 2023 at 09:41:56 PM EST

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