The DUP’s new leadership continues to rail against the modern world

Regardless of politics, die DUP’s Paul Givan might have gained a little bit of everybody’s sympathy on Tuesday when, just hours after being nominated first minister, he had to listen to his dad saying on the BBC that he was afraid his boy might be a bit young and inexperienced for the role. “We just hope and pray that he makes a job of it,” Alan Givan said. Egter, Givan Jr, who is 39, clearly has the full confidence of his political father figure, Edwin Poots. He started out as Poots’ constituency assistant when he was still a teenager, and has not been seen without a wide grin on his face since Poots became the DUP’s leader a few weeks ago.

Givan Sr was a prison officer; Givan Jr has said that at the age of 16 he had been “captured emotionally” by the Rev Ian Paisley. He has strong tastes – those were the years when Paisley was raving about bitter harvests and apocalypse if the Orange Order was not let walk through the Catholic part of Portadown, and vowing to “smash” the Good Friday agreement, which he depicted as a “partnership with the men of blood”. (The old sectarian warriors who took him literally at the time and killed Catholics to prove it are champing at the bit again these days. Noord-Ierland, we are told, is under the “jackboot” of the EU).

Rising with his mentor, deur 2016 Givan was communities minister in the Northern Ireland executive. Two days before Christmas that year, he delivered a letter to an Irish language group informing them that he was withdrawing a grant that would have allowed disadvantaged children to go to learn Irish in a Gaeltacht, where it is the first language. Givan signed off the letter with, “Happy Christmas, and Happy New Year.” When the then deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned soon afterwards citing the intolerable arrogance of the DUP, he mentioned Givan’s action, while the then president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, called the DUP minister “an ignoramus”. The executive collapsed and was not reinstated until last year.

In order to become first minister, Givan needs Sinn Féin approval. Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill says she wants more than “fluffy words”. He will have to implement the Irish language act, which was promised under the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored the institutions at Stormont, an act so resented by the DUP that Gregory Campbell MP said he would use it as toilet paper. Poots said in 2015 that his party would have to “hold their noses” against the stench of Sinn Féin when doing business with their partner in government. When people say that Poots is pragmatic, this sort of thing seems to be what they mean. He’ll work with Sinn Féin, and the other parties, because he has to.

To my mind, Poots as good as announced his intention to become party leader when, in the worst days of the pandemic, he falsely claimed that while his community was abiding by the rules, others were not, en Covid was spreading faster in nationalist areas. Instead of lockdowns, he favoured localised restrictions. The sectarianism echoed. His late father, Charlie, said in 1975 during the Troubles that he would “cut off all supplies” to Catholic areas: “It is the only way to deal with enemies of the state.”

In May Poots harked back to the old militant days with his inaugural speech as DUP leader, ook. There was no gracious talk of moving forward together as a united community. “When unionism’s back is against the wall,” hy het gesê “history has proven that we will come out fighting.” Givan is cut from the same cloth. He will encourage the deep sense of grievance that underlies unionist politics. He has described the Brexit protocol as “an instrument to punish the people”, and said it would be used by “our predatory neighbour in the Irish Republic” to advance reunification. Now the potential cutting off of Northern Ireland’s supply of British sausages is being spoken of as if it is a war crime. The intervention of US president, Joe Biden, will be resented. DUP MP Sammy Wilson has called him a “parrot for Irish nationalism”. Donald Trump was his eagle.

Deposed in an ugly coup, the former leader Arlene Foster is exiting in her own time and with some style. She stole the limelight when she strode out of the meeting at which Poots was about to be anointed as her replacement, flanked by women. When Poots appointed MLA Paula Bradley as his deputy, some thought it was an inclusive gesture. Bradley is deemed liberal in DUP terms – like Foster, she abstained on a vote to ban so-called conversion therapy, a brutal process of indoctrination designed to “cure” gay people. Poots and Givan opposed the ban. After a period of standing silently a few steps behind Poots, nodding and smiling, Bradley emerged earlier this week and spoke on Ulster Television. She called on her party to rethink its obstruction of the new law legalising abortion. She spoke of women facing “the most difficult decisions” and having to travel to England. Hours later, she issued a clarification. “Our stance is clear," sy het gese. “The DUP has not called for and will not call for the full commissioning of abortion services.”

Earlier this week, several women resigned from the party citing bullying and what one of them described as “shameful sexism”. Poots depicted the matter as “peripheral” and left it to Bradley to investigate. Women’s business. Givan, like Poots, is a Free Presbyterian. “When I walk into Stormont I don’t leave my values at the door. My religious beliefs seek to influence every aspect of my life,” he has said. He has presented a private member’s bill attempting to scupper the new abortion law, which the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, is required to implement in order to comply with international human rights standards. Most of Poots’ new team are men. Bradley, the deputy leader, has not been given a ministry. The new economy minister, Paul Frew, has said he is a daily reader of the Bible. Junior minister Gary Middleton thinks his rise in politics is part of “God’s plan”. Ian Paisley Junior MP appears to be playing a significant role in the background of the new regime. He has spoken emotionally about “Dad’s party”.

Behold the zealous new Ulster patriarchs. Their foe is the modern world.

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