Unionist Arlene Foster’s fall raises uncertainty in Ulster



Arlene Foster kept the match focused on compromise, but Brexit has taken its toll


© FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA / EFE
Arlene Foster kept the match focused on compromise, but Brexit has taken its toll

The voters of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – and Northern Irish Unionism in general – are like oil and water, a cocktail of socially ultra-conservative Presbyterian evangelists who interpret the Bible literally, for whom abortion and homosexuality are an aberration, and of young liberals disinterested in religion, ideologies and sectarian politics, who have grown up under the umbrella of peace and whose main objective is to live as well as possible. Even the best bartender in the world would have trouble making a moderately drinkable mojito, whiskey sour, or margarita with those elements.

Arlene Foster – who broke the glass ceiling to be the first woman to lead the DUP and head the autonomous government of Northern Ireland – has not succeeded either. His party, which was not the Titanic , has collided with the Brexit iceberg, the creation of a theoretical border in the Irish Sea, customs controls and supply problems in the province, and the Protestant fear that everything is leading towards the reunification of the island.

Sinn Fein has just one seat less than the DUP in the Stormont Assembly and is about to hold the ‘sorpasso’

There is a year to go before the next elections to the Stormont Assembly – where the DUP is the majority group, but with only one seat ahead of Sinn Fein – but panic has spread and Foster has had to jump overboard and get on board. a lifeboat (going to leave politics). Ultra voters are turning to a new party against the Good Friday deals called Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV, led by Jim Allister), and liberals are finding refuge in the non-sectarian, non-denominational Alliance Party. , the only one in the province that is above the religious and cultural fault.

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In the end, history has repeated itself. In 1998, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) of David Trimble (Nobel Peace Prize) signed the Good Friday accords, part of his followers felt betrayed by the creation of a joint government with the Republicans of Sinn Fein, and they went over to Reverend Ian Paisley’s DUP, averse to negotiating with the IRA heirs and accepting any role for Dublin in running the troubled province.

The UUP was relegated to a secondary role and the DUP took over. But the needs of the realpolitik inevitably they moderate, and the Reverend Paisley, once a troglodyte, ended up getting a taste for pacts and even becoming friends with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader. In public they made the paripé and threw the junk at their heads, in private they went out for drinks and in the meantime they governed together (the Good Friday agreements require that it must always be in coalition, between the Catholic and Protestant parties with the most votes).

Paisley passed the tackle on to Peter Robinson, and Robinson to Foster, and the DUP continued as the majority party in Northern Ireland. Until Brexit arrived, and his now-resigned leader made the crass mistake of supporting him believing that it was thus strengthening the monarchy and the Union (in fact, the opposite has happened), he trusted Johnson when he promised that there would never be a border. between Ulster and the rest of Britain, and helped carry Theresa May. He is not the first person, nor will he be the last, whom Boris has betrayed, but realized too late.

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The moderate candidate to succeed Foster is Jeffrey Donaldson, a former UUP deputy who went over to the DUP for political expediency and opposed the peace accords, but rides the wave of modernity to some extent and lacks the religious fanaticism of others. colleagues who would burn single mothers, gays, lesbians and trans people (now they are clamoring for the approval in the Assembly of a law that prohibits the “re-education” of homosexuals). But the favorite is Edwin Poots, current Minister of Agriculture, who wants to break the Brexit Protocol that establishes customs controls (anathema to loyalists), and the first thing he has done, to show his hostility to the EU and the reunification of the island, is to cancel a meeting he had planned with his Irish namesake.

The first choice of leader in the history of the DUP (before it was always on the hitch) will further destabilize the explosive politics of Ulster, the scene of clashes between young people and police in recent weeks, which are likely to resume when the season of Orange marches begins. The designation of an ultra as Poots at the head of the party and the province could have unexpected consequences, such as the fall of the Government (if it refuses to cooperate with the Republicans), the suspension again of the autonomic powers and the management from London. Or even anticipate an election that Sinn Fein could win and thus speed up the reunification process. Whoever succeeds Foster in the poorest corner of the UK is not going to have it easy.

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