The Democratic Unionists are likely to be courted by either of the two main partiesby David McKittrick / May 5, 2015 / Leave a comment
For the first half-century of Northern Ireland’s existence its ruling unionist community knew where it stood with Westminster: the Conservatives were aligned with the Protestants, while British Labour favoured a united Ireland. It was all fairly straightforward.
But those ancient simplicities were dispelled when the troubles erupted in the late 1960s, the waves of violence breaking the old bonds. After that the realities of bombs and bullets dictated to both Tories and Labour that the primary priority was combating the IRA.
Today, with the peace process holding sway, the unionist leaders of the Democratic Unionist party really mean it when they declare themselves open to striking a deal with either Cameron or Miliband. The DUP look set to win eight or nine Commons seats.
Their experiences with successive British governments have taught them to understand that Palmerston meant it when he declared Britain had no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies.
To take but one example: in the 1979 the IRA assassinated the Queen’s relative Lord Mountbatten yet in recent years she has entertained and publicly shaken hands with Martin McGuinness, once one of the IRA’s most implacable leaders. Many unionists frown on such signs of a new rapport between royalty and republicanism.
They disapproved even more strongly of the actions of a number of Her Majesty’s ministers over the decades. In the seventies they were affronted when a Conservative government abolished Belfast’s unionist-dominated Stormont parliament.
Decades later they were outraged when Margaret Thatcher signed a solemn pact with the Irish Republic giving Dublin an important say in Northern Ireland affairs, and stuck to the accord despite many months of unionist street protests. A later Thatcher government, with her personal approval and despite repeated official denials, went much further by entering into extensive secret contacts with republicans while the IRA was still bombing.
The final days of the election in pictures:
When Labour took office Tony Blair spent many hours closeted with McGuinness and Gerry Adams at Chequers, confiding later in his memoirs: “I came to like both greatly, probably more than I should have, if truth be told.” McGuinness recalled: “Chequers is a fairly amazing place. The…