The DUP and Ireland


A speech given by Nicki Jameson at a London RCG meeting on 28 June

After failing to secure an overall majority, the Conservatives have been negotiating with the DUP and have finally done a deal to secure the votes of its ten MPs on key questions. This deal will provide £1bn for state sector spending in the north of Ireland.

Everyone in Britain outside of Tory HQ is bristling with indignation of one sort or another. Regional governments in Scotland and Wales, which are already a poor relation, subsidy-wise compared to the north of Ireland, are incandescent; while Labour supporters point out that the DUP seems to have had no problem locating that magic money tree that Corbyn was ridiculed by Amber Rudd for relying on. Outraged commentators are asking if ‘cash for votes’ is legal (which it clearly is!) and, ever since the negotiations started, supporters of Corbyn have been going on about the hypocrisy of the government talking to the DUP - which has clear links to loyalist paramilitaries - while having made propaganda out of Corbyn’s earlier support for Sinn Fein, the IRA and Irish republicanism.

Much has been made in the press of the DUP’s reactionary politics – its stances against abortion and gay rights, and in favour of creationist education. But relatively little has been said about why the DUP exists at all. Why indeed the little statelet of ‘Northern Ireland’, which has been propped up by subsidies from Westminster for many a year, exists.


To understand this it we have to look at the historical context, which begins with the fact that Britain or England has occupied the neighbouring island of Ireland for 800 years. There is no time here to go over any of the history of this, but suffice to say the occupation was met both with determined resistance and with infighting between various vested interests within Ireland. The latter of which were exploited, as is always the case with colonial rulers, by the occupiers. The British used settlers to support their rule and employed divide and rule tactics between religious groups and between class interests.


100 years ago last year, nationalists and socialists fought the Dublin Easter Rising and, after the subsequent war of independence, Ireland was partitioned, with 26 counties forming the new Irish Free State and six remaining under British control.

James Connolly predicted that Partition would lead to '...a carnival of reaction...' and indeed this was the case.

Although at times Protestants have played a progressive role in fighting occupation (Legendary 18th century Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone and many other leaders of the United Irishmen were Protestants), a key part of British divide and rule has long been to use the Protestant population as proxies with which to control the island. A substantial Protestant, or more properly ‘Unionist’ or ‘loyalist’ section of the Irish population was against independence and Partition ensured both that they could remain part of the ‘United Kingdom’ – established by the 1800 Acts of Union – and that the British government could continue to rule over part of the island.

As we wrote in Ireland the Key to the British Revolution: ‘Repression and discrimination have been permanent features of the northern statelet from its foundation... These features are built into the system and are essential to maintain the loyalty of Protestant workers to British rule. The northern statelet was formed from six of the nine counties of Ulster, carefully chosen so that the Unionists would have a large majority. This meant the large Catholic minority, who would never be reconciled to a loyalist state, had to have it forced on them. And forced on them it certainly was. In a period of Unionist orchestrated terror between July 1920 and July 1922, 453 people were killed in Belfast, 37 members of the Crown Forces and 416 civilians, including 257 Catholics and 157 Protestants. Outside Belfast more than 100 died... Of 93,000 Catholics in Belfast almost 11,000 were driven from their jobs and 23,000 rendered homeless. Over 500 Catholic-owned shops and businesses were burnt, looted and wrecked.

‘The state set up a whole machinery of repression. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the loyalist state’s armed paramilitary police force, mainly recruited from the Orange Order and the Special Constabulary, with access to rifles, sub-machine guns, and armoured cars.... All were recruited from the Orange Order and formed a Protestant and loyalist militia.

‘Loyalist “law and order" was further strengthened by ... the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, which ... gave the civil authorities all the powers of a police state.’

The DUP – history

Until very recently, the dominant loyalist political party has been the Ulster Unionist Party, sometimes referred to as the Official Unionists. The UUP is a longstanding, ruling class unionist organisation, founded in its current form in 1905, but with roots going back centuries.

The DUP was founded in 1971 by the ‘Reverend’ Ian Paisley. Paisley was a ‘populist’ leader in the style of Trump or Hitler. He grew to prominence during the 1960s civil rights movement in the north of Ireland, which staged peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to anti-Catholic discrimination. Paisley argued that the UUP and other mainstream loyalists were far too soft on this nationalist scourge and, like such populists always do, made his pitch in the name of the section of the working class that is loyal to the oppressor. His rhetoric against Catholics is interchangeable with that of Hitler against Jews, Trump against Muslims or the EDL against immigrants.

This is the founder of the party which now holds the balance of power in British politics.

The DUP did indeed attract the loyalist working class to it, appealing to their fear that within the north they would become the minority community and be treated by the Catholic ruling class the way their ruling class had treated the Catholics.

In 1974 Paisley led a general strike of loyalist workers in protest against the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement, in which nationalist and loyalist parties would share power in the Six Counties, and the 26 Counties government would play a role in the governance of the north.

Good Friday agreement

In 1994 the war in the north of Ireland, though still not finally resolved, came to an end for the time being, resulting in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. The DUP opposed the GFA and is not a signatory.

However, ultimately it was among the winners of the so-called ‘peace dividend’ as it has grown to be the largest and most dominant political party in the Six Counties and therefore in charge – along with Sinn Fein, which similarly has seen off the more conservative nationalist SDLP – of the government and budget for the north.

The Stormont Northern Ireland government itself is of course currently in abeyance, due to a scandal caused by the DUP’s corruption.

The DUP today

So, the DUP hates Catholics and is not keen on other minority ethnic groups either. As is now very well known, it opposes gay marriage and abortion. (Though it must be said, other than the Greens and People before Profit, no mainstream political parties in the north of Ireland actually favour full legalisation of abortion, in line with the reactionary traditions of both the various Protestant churches and of the Catholic church.)

However, the DUP seeks to sure up support from its base by securing concessions and help pave the way for a return to Stormont, luring Sinn Fein back into the ‘power-sharing’ executive on the DUP’s terms. This was why the deal took so long and why the Tories have been backed into a strange corner in relation to some of their own austerity policies, and had to back away from the plans to change the ‘triple lock’ and winter fuel payments.



Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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