Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Northern Ireland - Loony DUP Leader Already Looking for Martyrdom

Edwin Poots, made a brief statement to the press but refused to answer questions
Ian Paisley accuses BBC of mocking Edwin Poots' faith - The Irish News

Taking offence and playing the martyr seems to come naturally to religious fundamentalist and Creationists like the new leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, Edwin Poots.

Poot's long-time political ally on the extreme right of the party, Ian Paisley Jnr. has already started complaining that the BBC mocked Poots for his fundamentalist beliefs when it told viewers that Poots is a Free Presbyterian Young-Earth Creationist, who believes Earth is only 6000 years old. Apparently, telling the truth about the bible-literalist beliefs of fundamentalist Christians is a form of mockery. But perhaps Paisley is sensitive about the matter, realising as he must, how ludicrous those beliefs sound in the rest of the UK, where they are regarded as more than a little deranged and the opinions of loopy religious nut-jobs and people with whom you wouldn't want your children left alone.

With so many questions following from his election, his refusal to answer them from the assembled journalists outside Stormont can only attract more ridicule. What is he running away from? What about his opinions is he ashamed of or embarrassed by?

But, as the saying goes: If you don't want your opinions ridiculed then don't hold ridiculous opinions. The reason Creationism seems ridiculous to most people in the UK is because it is so obviously contrary to the observable evidence and based essentially on the childish notion that what mummy and daddy believed must be right because mummies and daddies are never wrong. No one is forcing Poots to hold views that are so readily mockable, but, as a religious fundamentalist he will no doubt use any ridiculing he gets as confirmation that somehow he must be right.

'The Chuckle Brothers'
Ian Paisley Snr. (left) and Martin McGinness
Ian Paisley Jnr. is the son and once-presumed heir to the late Ian Paisley Snr, the firebrand founder of the DUP and former implacable opponent of Irish nationalism and Catholicism who, in later life, as First Minister of the power-sharing Executive, reached more than a simple pragmatic, working accommodation with former IRA Chief of Staff, the late Martin McGuinness, leader of Sinn Féin and Deputy First Minister under the Good Friday power-sharing Agreement. The pair become good friends and were known as the chuckle brothers, in an example of what can be achieved when people look forward not backward. This partnership was largely responsible for the success of the Good Friday Agreement which has now brought a generation of peace and stability to the province that many people once thought impossible.

Like so many Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley Jnr. is no stranger to controversy and charges of corruption and self-aggrandizement. As a Westminster MP he was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days in September 2018 for failure to declare gifts of free holidays from the Sri Lankan government, contrary to the Commons rules on paid advocacy. He was subsequently suspended from the DUP for two months while the party held an internal investigation into his behaviour.

An idea of the extent to which casual corruption amongst elected Unionist politicians had quickly become normalised in Carson's 'Protestant State for a Protestant People' can be got from Tim Pat Cooghan's book, The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966–1996 and the Search for Peace in which he describes how a Catholic enlisting the help of a Unionist councellor for matters such as housing, involved an expected donation of about a week's wages for a working man, 'to help with any expenses incurred'. The size of the bribe (for that's what it was) was taken as a measure of the man's worthiness for assistance and his obsequious deference to the ruling class. Absolute power had quickly corrupted, absolutely.

But, Ian Paisley Jnr. managed to hold on to his Westminster seat by surviving a 'Recall' vote in his North Antrim constituency - the first time the Recall of MPs Act, 2015 had been used. Although he was cleared of any criminal activity he was forever tainted by the affair and his behaviour probably cost him the leadership of the DUP that many people had assumed he would inherit from his father, after Paisley Snr's deputy DUP leader, Peter Robinson, has served a suitable term in the office.

However, Robison himself became embroiled in scandal when it was revealed that his fundamentalist Christian wife, Iris, herself both an MLA and a Westminster MP, had been having an adulterous relationship with a much younger man and had been doing him political favours as well as sexual ones. Iris Robinson subsequently resigned her Assembly and Westminster seats and was expelled from the DUP. While this was being investigated by the police, Peter Robinson stood aside as First Minister and handed over to his DUP deputy, Arlene Foster, who eventually succeeded him when he decided to retire from frontline politics altogether. Foster's time in the post of acting First Minister, together with the whiff of scandal surrounding him, effectively ended Ian Paisley Jnr's political ambitions in that regard.

Poots now has the unenviable task of trying to bring both wings of his party together, following the divisive leadership election which he won by 19-17 against Sir Jeffrey Donaldson - the first time the DUP has held a formal leadership election. The DUP now has a leader from the lunatic fringes of the party just at a time when the people of Northern Ireland are turning their backs on sectarian politics in increasing numbers and union with the Republic is looking more attractive as the ROI is still an EU member state and a majority in Northern Ireland voted Remain in 2016.

A measure of the task facing him can be seen in the result of the last Westminster election where, in Poot's own constituency of Lagan Valley, the strictly secular Alliance Party had a 16% swing to it from the DUP. Poot's election is likely to hasten that flood of support away from Protestant extremism such that it is entirely possible that Unionists could lose their once-impregnable majority at Stormont to a Sinn Féin led coalition with Alliance as a junior partner, and Sinn Féin's leader could become First Minister in the power-sharing Executive with a majority in the Legislative Assembly. As one Donaldson-supporting MLA said:
Edwin's fundamental views are niche and the real winners today will be the Alliance Party.
Sectarian division was always the raison d'être of Unionism in Ulster. After a generation of peace under the power-sharing of the Good Friday Agreement, the losers have been, and will continue to be, Unionism. Brexit, which is driving a wedge between the people who voted Remain and the DUP which supports Leave, and between Ulster and the rest of the UK led by a government which signed up to a de facto customs border between the whole island of Ireland and the other three home countries of the UK, is making the Irish nationalism and political moderation of the modern Sinn Féin much more attractive to Ulster voters, compared to the extremism of the DUP led by a religious crank and the increasingly secular Republic.

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