DUP’s chicanery is an insult to the electorate
Creating the bogey man of Martin McGuinness as First Minister was a cynical ploy to frighten unionists. But will the voters play the DUP’s game, asks Jim Allister
If there was a single occasion when I realised my days in the DUP were probably numbered it was November 17, 2006.
That day the Belfast Telegraph had quoted me vigorously attacking Clause 8 of the St Andrews Bill, which had just been published and which provided for the change in the law to permit Sinn Fein to take the First Minister’s post.
I had described the change to the office being filled by the biggest party, instead of the biggest tradition, as “a ticking time-bomb” for unionism and expressed the view that no unionist could, or should, assent to it.
To my surprise, my comments unleashed an avalanche of fury against me from the DUP leadership. That same afternoon I attended a DUP party officers’ meeting to find its start delayed by an hour because Paisley and Robinson were locked with the party chairman demanding immediate discipline against me because of my ‘outburst’ against the Bill. To his credit, Lord Morrow withstood them and I lived to fight another day.
As events unfolded, I came to understand why the DUP leadership was so touchy over the Bill. They had loco parentis status.
Days earlier, the shape and content of the Bill had been negotiated at secret proximity talks in London between the Government, the DUP and Sinn Fein.
The day before those secret talks — also kept secret from half the DUP officer team — DUP officers were discussing what needed to be in the Bill. Yet neither Paisley nor Robinson breathed to their colleagues that all these issues would be thrashed out the very next day.
It was through these talks, I believe, that assent was given to change the law and change what was actually in the St Andrews Agreement, so that henceforth the First Minister would come from the biggest party.
I have no doubt this shameful surrender of the unionist title-deeds to the Office of First Minister was made because the DUP leadership thought the threat of McGuinness as First Minister would be a tremendously ‘clever device’ whereby unionists could be coerced into voting DUP. Thus, in spite of its nefarious origins, it will be the DUP’s main plank in the upcoming Assembly election.
DUP ownership of the change explains the party’s telling behaviour when the Bill was debated in Parliament on November 26, 2006. Actions do indeed speak louder than words.
The Commons debate was severely guillotined, with no DUP objection. Not one DUP MP tabled a single amendment to remove the offensive change permitting McGuinness to become First Minister, not one DUP MP forced any vote in the Commons, including a vote at second reading on the principle of a Bill containing such an obnoxious clause.
Though every DUP MP spoke in the debate, not one spoke against, or even mentioned, the proposed empowerment of Sinn Fein — not even to protest the change from what the St Andrews Agreement had said. Why?
When the Bill moved to the Lords, whereas UUP peers voted against Clause 8, which made the iniquitous change, DUP peers voted for Clause 8, after an unsuccessful UUP attempt to amend it.
A calculated decision was taken that creating the threat of McGuinness as First Minister would be a useful electoral tool to duress unionists into voting DUP.
Will unionists — double-crossed by those they expected to resist such chicanery — play the DUP game and vote for those that not only gave us Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister, but who paved the way for him lording it over us as First Minister?
The battle had been won at St Andrews on this issue, the Agreement expressly said the First Minister would come from the largest designation.
Yet, for the sake of selfish political manoeuvring, defeat was grasped from the jaws of victory.
In a disingenuous attempt to wash their hands of the change they facilitated, the DUP now pathetically say, ‘Oh, the Government didn’t faithfully implement what was agreed at St Andrews.’ If the DUP had said ‘if this change is in, we’re out’, the change could not have been made and McGuinness could never be First Minister.
Allowing McGuinness to be put upon a unionist majority in the Assembly is not an outworking of democracy, it is an outrage of monumental proportions.
I am glad that, in spite of the anger which it brought upon me from the DUP leadership, I exposed and publicly opposed, from the moment the Bill was published, this monstrous clause which empowers an IRA commander to be First Minister.
Finally, if the DUP does not support the change in the St Andrews Bill, why in the four years since have they taken no step to try and amend it, applied no pressure to HMG and remained tellingly silent when other unionists have called for such change? The answer is obvious.
For anyone wishing to read the facts on this vital issue I recommend this web document: http://www.jimallister.org/uploads/Fact_sheet_on_how_McGuinness_could_become_First_Minister_308.pdf
Jim Allister is leader of Traditional Unionist Voice