Leading article

DUP under increasing spotlight

As the Brexit talks move to a further and arguably even more complex stage, it is reasonable to specifically examine the role of the DUP in recent developments.

Whether the party yet realises it or not, its main achievement has been putting the issue of the border back to the top of the agenda not just in Ireland, north and south, but also across Europe.

It is fairly clear that the DUP initially embraced Brexit because it was a project which was quite literally wrapped in Union flags and saw it as an opportunity to ingratiate itself with the British establishment.

The DUP probably could not believe its luck when the prolonged upheaval after the narrow success of the leave campaign in the EU referendum in England and Wales, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland, eventually left it holding the balance of power after this year's Westminster election.

DUP negotiators felt they had secured a massive investment in our devolved structures as the price of their support for the Conservative government, but details of the payment arrangements have been noticeably vague in the continuing absence of a Stormont administration.

What the DUP plainly did not anticipate was that the focus of the entire Brexit debate across the EU would suddenly switch to all the contradictions and confusions associated with a line on the Irish map between Derry and Newry.

Nationalists never felt that the border question had been settled but were generally happy to put their faith in the institutions established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, endorse a power sharing executive and assess where it took us.

The right of the DUP – which is in a strong but certainly not a dominant position at Stormont, with 28 per cent of the vote in this year's Assembly election - to take a very different approach must be acknowledged.

However, the party's previous performance in ministerial office, with some limited exceptions, caused enormous concern on a range of fronts.

Nama sent many alarm bells ringing, the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal pushed events well beyond acceptable levels and the appalling attitudes displayed toward the Irish language and all that it signifies meant that nationalist consent for devolution became unsustainable.

All sides bear some responsibility for the disintegration of relationships at Stormont but the abusive comments which leading DUP figures have repeatedly directed at nationalists over recent months have had a particular impact.

It is striking that the DUP has extended its childish name-calling policy over the last week to include the Dublin government, again with negative consequences.

As the open letter to taoiseach Leo Varadkar from a broadly based group of prominent nationalists which we publish today points out, the link between the DUP and the Conservatives has become a major impediment to political progress.

The Good Friday Agreement essentially provided nationalists and unionists with the opportunity to move forward as equals in a spirit of mutual respect.

If the DUP is determined to follow a very different path, the prospects of reaching an accommodation at Stormont will become increasingly bleak.

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