Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Why the DUP wouldn’t merge with the Tories

One-time Ulster Unionist MLA, Arlene Foster, who is now a member of the DUP and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, hits out at her former party’s plans to forge even closer links with the Tories. She says people will see straight through the gimmickry

The Democratic Unionist Party believes in using devolution to bring the maximum possible benefits to the community. Our record in government shows that we are delivering on a wide range of issues of concern to ordinary people and their families.

Innovations such as freezing the Regional Rate, free travel for our older people, the establishment of a Victims’ Commission and the most pro-business budget in the history of Northern Ireland show that devolution is delivering.

When it comes to the conduct of our party representatives in Westminster we believe that it is best not to be tied in with any single political party and that unionism is best served through establishing good contacts in all parties.

After all, politics is cyclical and while the Tories may be up in the polls today, they could be down tomorrow and the same applies to Labour. We believe unionism can be all-encompassing — it is possible to be a right-wing unionist, a centrist unionist or a left-wing unionist.

The DUP believes that Northern Ireland is best served by its MPs having the scope and capacity to adopt a free stance on issues as they arise.

Of course, we as a party lean politically towards the Conservatives, but there are times when we disagree profoundly with them. Becoming part of their organisation, as David Cameron has advocated for the UUP, would mean sacrificing that independence at Westminster.

What, for example, would the Ulster Tories, ie the UUP once it abolishes itself, do if Prime Minister Cameron wants to rip up the Barnett Formula (as he has hinted publicly he wants to) because it discriminates against England in favour of Scotland and Ulster?

The UUP will find themselves in the bizarre situation of having to vote for huge cuts in money coming to Ulster in the Treasury block grant — money that goes to health, roads and education — at the behest of their London HQ. Good luck selling that on the doorsteps Reg!

What is also clear, despite the protestations of the leader of the UUP, is that his party is fundamentally divided over this issue. Here's what Ken Robinson, UUP MLA for East Antrim, had to say about the Conservatives: “The Tory Party is going nowhere fast and is rapidly becoming an irrelevance in British politics. I believe the Tory Party has done little or nothing for Northern Ireland apart from selling us out at Sunningdale and foisting the Anglo-Irish Agreement upon us.”

Meanwhile, Lord Laird has made his views known on where he thinks unionism’s best interests lie when he said: “The cause of the Union in Northern Ireland is best served by winning friends for the Union in all the parties at Westminster, not aligning our fortunes to any one party.”

Senior Northern Ireland Tories haven't been backward either in expressing their opinions on a key constituency that makes up the Unionist family. Jeffrey Peel, the deputy chairman of the Northern Ireland Tories with responsibility for policy, said in an email to a member of Reg Empey's own party: “I'd suggest you go and take refuge in an Orange Hall somewhere and console yourself that you have faith and there won't be any Catholics in your midst. Because that's your choice and as a Conservative I'm all for choice. Although it's not a choice I'd take. If, on the other hand, you want to move beyond the tribal swamp that masquerades as Ulster/Protestant culture we'd be happy to welcome you as an active member of the Conservative Party.”

It is for Reg Empey to justify to the Orangemen and their families within his party just why he thinks linking up with people who hold such views is a good idea. David McNarry has called for an apology for the remarks while Reg Empey has thus far refused to do so — again highlighting the splits inside the UUP over the issue.

The reality is that this initiative has more to do with Reg Empey desperately attempting to provide some purpose to his failing leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and his comprehensive inability to turn things around for them than any high-flown desire to bring so-called “real politics” to Ulster. People can see through such gimmickry just as they can see straight through Reg Empey.

For our part, the DUP will continue to work with all parties — Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat — to get the best deal for Northern Ireland. That is what people expect.

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