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Suzanne Breen: DUP's fall from grace is not the result of a Sinn Fein plot... these wounds have been self-inflicted


Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Kevin Scott

Arlene Foster

The DUP is conducting a post-mortem into what went wrong in an election which saw it lose two MPs and fail to win a seat it believed was in the bag.

All the party leadership needs to do is hold up the mirror.

But there was no sign yesterday that self-examination was high on the agenda.

The significance of losing Nigel Dodds can't be over-estimated. The party would have given up a brace of MPs just to keep him.

So why did Arlene Foster think he lost? It was a "gang-up against Nigel", she told UTV. His opponents had called him an "arch-Brexiteer" and talked about the "toxic DUP". That sounded like school-yard stuff rather than serious political analysis.

It was the same in South Belfast where "you had pan-nationalism and the Greens coming out against Emma (Little-Pengelly)", Arlene opined.

That's shorthand for 'it was all them'uns fault.' Of course there was an anti-DUP coalition in some constituencies. But the blame for creating it lies firmly at the feet of the DUP leader and some of her colleagues.

Middle-class nationalists in North Belfast who dislike Sinn Fein came out and voted for John Finucane because they loathe the DUP even more.

Arlene Foster's party is now denounced as vehemently on those doorsteps as it is in hardline republican areas.

DUP members who, in cahoots with loyalist figures, cooked up the idea of posters attacking John Finucane, his murdered father and other family members made a monster for themselves. This was North Belfast's crocodile moment, and it came back and bit them.

In South Belfast, Little-Pengelly secured a strong loyalist working-class vote but many moderate unionists deserted her.

Claire Hanna's whooping majority is testimony to the DUP's failure to build bridges with nationalists and 'others' in that constituency.

The party's antics in Belfast show it has failed utterly to come to terms with the city's changing demographics. The unionist majority is no more.

If the DUP put a fraction of the effort into considering why people vote for Alliance as it does into bashing Naomi Long's party, it mightn't be in the mess it's in.

Linking Alliance to the IRA just doesn't cut it anymore. Naomi Long is not seen as a closet Provo. She's regarded by more and more people in unionist areas as a politician who talks sense.

Droves of disillusioned DUP votes didn't switch to the Ulster Unionists. They leap-frogged Steve Aiken's party and opted for Alliance.

The DUP rages about the "pan-nationalist front" but when you're in a pan-unionist front in North Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, you're not in a position to throw stones.

The DUP's own decision to enter government with Sinn Fein - and to stay there despite the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan - makes its criticism of the SDLP's de facto pact with Sinn Fein illogical.

Unlike John Finucane, the late Martin McGuinness had blood on his hands.

But it's not just at home that the DUP has made strategic blunders. It's handling of Brexit at Westminster leaves it looking incompetent. Those months and months of meetings with first Theresa May and then Boris Johnson only to be shafted by both.

The party's confidence-and-supply agreement with the Tories poisoned politics here.

And the £1.5bn the DUP secured for keeping the government in power didn't translate into any electoral advantage no matter how many times it reminded us about the money. Unionism is in trouble and not because of some sophisticated Sinn Fein plot. These are all self-inflicted wounds.

Every now and then Mrs Foster makes a keynote speech about the need for a progressive, dynamic, inclusive unionism.

She refers to the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021 and being forward-looking.

The problem is that the party never travels beyond the rhetoric. The answer to the DUP's difficulties won't be found beating the tribal drum in Ulster Hall meetings.

The party desperately needs a strategy. Its problem is that there doesn't seem to be another Peter Robinson in its ranks.

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