Fionnuala O Connor: DUP feuding a summer psychodrama

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gets a selfie with some of the candidates at the party manifesto launch for the local government election earlier this year. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson gets a selfie with some of the candidates at the party manifesto launch for the local government election earlier this year. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A feuding DUP; in a very sluggish summer would that be one of those modern yokes, a ‘psychodrama’?

Let us guess the outcome swiftly, without fear of correction from the anonymous feuders. How about leader slides away, to be replaced by MP more than twice his physical size but equally indecisive?

Or leader stays put to repeat endless nothings as a holding mechanism, because his glibness commended him for the job.

We are obliged to treat turmoil in the leading unionist party as reality, because word of it emerged from an internal party newsletter.

Written in classic peevish Donaldsonian, complaining that DUP-on-DUP aggro is all over the place and all over the shop. No names nor details but traditional pack-drill; essentially that the party and the wider cause of unionism is divided and damaged by criticism of the leadership.

Read more:

  • Newton Emerson: Donaldson's 'Kinnock moment' more like a howl of frustration
  • Alex Kane: Unionism must stop holding out for a hero and sit down and talk
  • John Manley: Dithering Donaldson is unlikely to face down the DUP dissenters

Not a few will have looked for roosting chickens and spluttered about a short Donaldson memory.

One obstacle to taking this seriously is his own history. Sir Jeff whingeing about his party trying to do him down has further improved the posthumous appreciation of Lord David Trimble, who kept being dragged back to ill-tempered Ulster Unionist Council meetings – four of them inside seven months in 2000.

Supposedly policy-making, by more than 800 members and, like wider unionism, perpetually divided against the agreement Trimble had signed; by the Paisley-tocsin against any compromise, and by cavillers inside the party voiced most articulately by Jeffrey, who belatedly took himself over to Paisley and a party dedicated to destroying the UU. And now the party-switcher leads Paisley’s creation, feebly: as well as they deserve.

MLAs on shrunken pay may be the spine of today’s feuding. The nameless ones who inspire them may include Lord Dodds, repeat-rejecter of the top job, still respected for brain-power.

DUP feuding has gone through several lives in this century having kicked off in the heave that took out Big Daddy, who made his party in his own image to match his church. (Best pol cor clichés entirely intended in the spirit of August doldrums.)

There was never a man less likely to be defenestrated with a single yell. Lord Bannside went into retirement noisily, as who could be surprised.

His creatures outlived him and their own strength to make occasional comebacks, decreasingly real though there is little spiritual in the Lord B’s son.

Someone the other day wrapped up Westminster’s loudest DUPpers as ‘comic turns who know their limits’, therefore unworthy of serious consideration among those hostile to the Donaldson leadership. But the Paisley formerly known as Junior and the MP for East Antrim cannot see where their own significance stops and a bigger world begins.

Being un-embarrassable has meant, among other absurdities, laughing off man-made climate change. From the same source comes this ostensibly serious argument: "The lessons we have learnt from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the ending of the Troubles can... help to find a political resolution to the ongoing Cyprus issue." Whence this thought? It comes from Sammy Wilson, in The House, Westminster’s trade magazine.

Shameless Sammy is shameful; what else is new. That the East Antrim DUP MP will be among the last to deny that burning earth and simmering seas have anything to do with human pollution makes it all the harder to read him being respectful in the House of Commons trade mag about the GFA as a model for ending conflict. Some kind of humourless joke, somehow part of the feud? Feuding in political parties is never a joke.

But thinking of the DUP again at war with itself amuses Lord Reg Empey who stuck with Trimble, more or less, while Jeff brewed betrayal.

Maybe renewed feuding is merely a summer play-scheme, distraction from the dopiest ever boycott. Part of the mess that according to Reg "leaves Sinn Féin laughing all the way to the political bank".

That’s a psychodrama for another day.