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Brian Feeney: Gutless unionism can't do the decent thing

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson with party leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds outside 10 Downing Street last month. Picture by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

LEO Varadkar's visit here ruffled unionist feathers but he wasn't addressing unionists.

His target was the British government and its failure to offer any details about what they intend to do about the problems they have caused for Ireland.

As he said in his speech at Queen's he is going to be sitting with other EU leaders in October assessing whether enough progress has been made to begin trade negotiations.

At the moment the answer is no. Sir Simon Fraser, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office until 2015 said on Monday: "We haven't put much on the table."

Actually Britain has put absolutely nothing on the table about Ireland, one of the three priority items where progress needs to be made.

There's another reason Varadkar's remarks weren't addressed to the DUP. Michel Barnier had made clear he will only negotiate with sovereign states, not devolved administrations.

As Varadkar's colleague Neale Richmond, who speaks for Fine Gael on European Affairs, said last week, the DUP is "politically impotent" in the matter.

There is no evidence they have had any influence on the British government.

On the contrary, the waffle Jeffrey Donaldson spouts is proof the DUP has no policy until they know what the British government's policy is, a perfect example of the root of our current problem here - lack of unionist leadership.

Varadkar intoned the usual clichés about getting the executive up and running but privately the Irish government believes there is no chance of that happening in the near future and the main reason is that the DUP has no policy for reinstating the executive.

They do know one item that is necessary. They have to change their attitude and behaviour, something the DUP have found impossible.

Let's be clear about this fact. The DUP went into an executive with Sinn Féin only because they believed that was the best way to prevent any change in the north.

Their fear was greater Dublin involvement looking like joint authority if they didn't.

Remember, all the senior figures in the party opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

Arlene Foster and Donaldson left the UUP because Trimble was not hard line enough.

The DUP opposed devolving policing and justice. They agreed but reneged as they do, then wouldn't implement it until forced in 2010.

The party has opposed any change on flags, emblems, Orange marches, the past, victims, you name it. Their participation in the executive was never enthusiastic.

It's a unionist trope. In the words of the historian E.H. Carr unionists can't see change "as achievement, as opportunity, as progress, but as an object of fear".

They can't see that the world is in perpetual motion. For unionist 'leaders', for want of a better word, change means inevitable decline, loss, defeat.

They don't seem to realise that change itself is inexorable so when an event such as the loss of their majority in the assembly election happens it's proof that change is bad, not that new ideas and policies have to be devised to cope with inevitable change.

Instead they look for a way to claw back to where they were. Hence the frantic resurrection of the oul' alliance with the UDA and UVF to get out the vote for them in June's election.

All so they could say, "See, there are still more Prods". No thought of the horrible price they pay for that deal.

Endorsed by the men who are an incubus on their own community. Undermining their own public representatives. Supported by convicted extortionists, drug dealers, thieves and gangsters whose nefarious activities are reported luridly every Sunday in a local paper. But, hey, that's OK if it gets you elected.

The price was immediately visible to all in the disgraceful twists and turns unionists made around the bonfires which threatened the homes of people who'd just voted for them.

Did you ever see such a gutless performance by politicians? Yes, obviously you did. The last time unionists were called upon to do the decent thing for their electorate.

They can't stand up to the UDA because they might need them again soon to prevent change.

The DUP's fundamental policy is, "Stop the world, I want to get off."

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