I’m just off The Nolan Show (BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster) where I was talking to William Crawley (Nolan’s in the US) along with Alex Kane about the fractious relationship between the DUP and their partners in government, Sinn Féin.
There are a lot of traps we can fall into when talking about political opponents. The most popular trap here in the north is to say in so many words “They’re both to blame”. On the law of averages that occasionally will be the case but it’s far from the norm. Either William or Alex compared the bad blood between the parties to partners in a marriage. If it is, then it’s a marriage where one partner wishes it didn't have to be in the marriage and the other is rather keen on making a go of it.
Take the DUP. Have you ever seen a DUP politician on TV alongside a Sinn Féin politician? Everything about their body language and often their words suggest that they find the present company odious in the extreme. They may be in the marriage but they don’t mind holding their nose when they have to appear beside their republican spouse. Not so Sinn Féin - or, to their credit, members of the UUP (or ex-members like Basil McCrea or John McAllister).
Arlene Foster of the DUP has been busy doing her M Thatcher impersonation, lecturing the Sinn Féin leadership about saying one thing while their Ard Fheis grassroots say something else. Oh dear. That’s because some Ard Fheis delegates (around 12 I think) said they weren’t inextricably de-linked from physical force. Maybe best pass lightly over the numbers giving this answer and the choice of sample, and instead wonder, as someone on Sluggerotoole did the other day, what answer might come from members attending a DUP annual conference, if asked would they reject the use of physical force should a democratic majority in the north voted for the end of partition? Come to think of it, that might be an interesting question for some enterprising journalists to put to leading DUP politicians. How about it, guys?
The fact is, the leading people in the DUP are more worried about their core base than Sinn Féin are about theirs. Like it or lump it, the DUP is in bed with republicans. When you hear these anti- Sinn Féin outbursts, always remember that the DUP is saddled with one overwhelming concern: East Belfast. If they’re going to win back the leader’s lost seat there, they must periodically remind the electorate that while they may have been forced into bed with the Shinners, they’re definitely not taking sinful pleasure in it. Never, never, never, never.