Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Inside the DUP: More than third believe peace is not permanent

Day 3 of our exclusive look into the study that reveals what members of our most powerful party really think

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

Just a third of DUP members believe that Northern Ireland has secured a lasting peace process, it can be revealed.

A major new study of the party has also shown that party members feel closer to the Conservatives than Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

There has been speculation that, with a hung Parliament predicted by many pollsters after the General Election next year, the Tories may do a deal with the DUP's MPs to back them in crucial votes, such as the Budget.

Today the Belfast Telegraph concludes its series on the most extensive study ever undertaken of Peter Robinson's party.

The survey conducted for Professor Jon Tonge's book shows that half of DUP members feel closer to the Conservatives than any other British party, with 38% feeling close to no party, 7% closest to Labour, which has links with the SDLP, and only 3% aligning with the Liberal Democrats.

Those identifying themselves as right-wing and "very religious" feel closest to the Tories.

If it does turn out to have leverage, the DUP will push for economic concessions. However, the survey data also shows deep concerns about security and policing amongst the 75% of DUP members who took part. The party leadership will also want to address these in Stormont, and to push the Government for more economic support.

The majority (52.7%) don't want Westminster to have a say in Northern Ireland.

There is still an attachment to devolution: 91% see devolution of policing powers as important, while 84% think devolution generally is the best long-term policy for Northern Ireland.

The same number think a united Ireland is unlikely to ever occur. When asked if they believed there is a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, just 35.4% agreed or strongly agreed.

There is strong confidence in Mr Robinson as leader. Asked to score him on a scale of one to 10 for competence, members give him a nine, and on trust the score was nearly as high, 8.7%.

Yet power-sharing between unionists and nationalists is only accepted by just over half of members.

There is only a narrow majority of 54% who think it is important for the DUP and Sinn Fein to supply First and Deputy First Minsters.

There is an even narrower majority of 51% believing that nationalists and unionists should share ministries at all, though this is one of the basic building blocks of devolution. This shows through in attitudes towards Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, who is widely distrusted and is only rated one out of 10 on the scale.

"I wouldn't trust Sinn Fein from here to the window," one member says. Scarcely more than a third, 36%, think it is a good idea to have Sinn Fein on the Policing Board.

Besides distrusting Sinn Fein, the party faithful worry about dissident republican activity, with 61.9% believing the dissidents pose a major threat.

Mr Robinson is closer to the 36.9% who think it is minor.

He believes the dissidents are "well infiltrated" and "don't have the organisational capacity, numbers, equipment, and indeed strategic thinking to be anything close to what the Provos were doing".

Assembly speaker William Hay is concerned by dissident recruitment. "I do think the threat is growing, there is no doubt of that. It surprises me to see in court young men of 25-26 who weren't even around when the Troubles were in sight."

Other members take an even bleaker view and many are sceptical of the PSNI's ability to contain the threat.

One says: "With the police force as it is, I worry about the capability and capacity." Others suspect the Provisional IRA of holding back weapons from decommissioning to leak to the dissidents.

MP William McCrea recalls the "gallant and honoured RUC", claiming that since police reform "murderers and gangsters now lord it over the long-suffering, law-abiding people".

There is 78% support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but a very high level of dissatisfaction – 76% – with 50/50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants to the new force.

Some 61% believe that the reforms which transformed the RUC into the PSNI have "gone too far".

The launch of The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest To Power will take place in the Belfast campus of the University of Ulster on June 17 at 6.30pm. Speakers will include Belfast Telegraph political editor Liam Clarke, commentator Alex Kane and academic Dr Katy Hayward

Further reading

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