Following on what has been reported here so many times over the past two months, all is not well in Northern Ireland.
Pro-British unionists who backed Brexit didn’t exactly get what they voted for in 2016 and when customs checks on goods entering NI from GB were unexpectedly imposed by the Conservative Government in London last January, angry alarm bells went off in Belfast.
This unwanted ‘reward’ for loyalty to the Crown and propping up Theresa May’s Government between 2016 and 2019 was seen as an act of betrayal by Boris Johnson.
Many unionists felt the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol has isolated the province further away from GB and inched it a step closer to a united Ireland!
With rioting on the streets and growing anger over fears of a sell-out, somebody in Northern Ireland unionism was going to have to take the blame.
The name in the firing line was First Minister and leader of the staunchly pro-British ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party, 50-year old Mrs. Arlene Foster!
When a motion by the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party to ban gay conversion therapy was voted on in the Stormont parliament last month, Arlene Foster’s decision to abstain was seen by the extreme hardliners in her Party as the final straw!
As the evangelical bible-gripping wing of her Party saw it, her time was up for being sympathetic and supportive of homosexuals!
A petition to oust her orchestrated by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots (55) was signed and backed by 80 per cent of her parliamentary colleagues forcing Arlene Foster to unexpectedly announce she plans to step down as Party Leader at the end of this month and as First Minister at the end of June. The move has caused much animosity within the DUP.
Her Party colleague Sammy Wilson said in a statement she had been “carrying the can for things which were beyond her control in the Covid restrictions and has been the lightning rod for criticism of the difficulties the Assembly had.”
Bar a shock, protestant zealot Edwin Poots will replace her as DUP Leader though speculation is rife he may appoint Assembly colleague Paul Givan to the position of First Minister.
However, if Poots’ dull persona and political positions in the past are anything to go by, Northern Ireland may be heading down a very uncertain road!
Poots, who doesn’t believe in climate change, is on record as saying the Earth is only 6,000 years old! As Health Minister in 2011, he opted to maintain a ban on gay men in Northern Ireland giving blood for fear of infecting the wider community with HIV!
Last year he caused uproar when he said in bigoted fashion that catholics were ‘super spreaders’ of Covid saying they infected others at a rate of 6 compared to one for every protestant!
In 2013, he caused something of a stir when he told David McCann of the ‘Sluggerotoole.com’ website that his greatest achievement as culture Minister “was burying the Irish Language Act.”
Those last words may come back to haunt him.
The belief is that in order to work with a new DUP First Minister, Sinn Féin is likely to insist on a deadline for introducing the Act which would see dual language displays on road signs, State paper, greater penetration in schools and usage in wider Northern Ireland society, promotion etc, backed with public money and legislation.
Any proposal to flourish the language would be seen by DUP hardliners as yet another step in the ‘Irish-isation’ of Northern Ireland which has been under British rule since 1921 and therefore would be a further unwelcome step towards unification with the Republic.
If Sinn Féin can’t get a commitment on commencing the Act with the new DUP First Minister, it’s highly likely they will walk away, the Assembly will collapse thus forcing an election.
With the pro-unification Sinn Fein Party tipped to win the most seats to the Assembly for the first time ever next time around due to changing demographics, the toppled DUP will likely look for someone to blame all over again for the expected loss of seats and this time the name in the frame is expected to be Edwin Poots!
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP at Westminster entered the leadership race earlier this week meaning there will be an actual contest to front the Party for the first time since its foundation in 1971.
Seen as a moderate conservative within the Party, Donaldson’s entry in to the leadership race is likely to split the unity that has prevailed within its ranks since the Party was founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley.
Paisley, who died in 2014 and had to be forcibly removed once from a sitting of the European Parliament in 1988 for insulting Pope John Paul, was seen by many observers as a man whose rhetoric and actions prolonged the Troubles in Northern Ireland which lasted 25 years.
He also established the Free Presbyterian Church many of whose members are staunch DUP.
However, the belief is that Poots will emerge winner. Whether he can bring unity to the divided DUP remains to be seen.
“Like all cults, sooner or later it self-destructs since by definition, it cannot adapt to a changing world.”
Looks like being an interesting Summer!