Leading article

DUP cannot retreat to the past

THE DUP revolt which signalled the end of Arlene Foster's tenure as party leader and first minister was swift and ruthless.

It was personally wounding, too. "Politics is a very brutal game," she said during a visit to a Co Down primary school yesterday.

None of the colleagues who signed the letter of no confidence against her had spoken to her since, Mrs Foster revealed.

It was Mrs Foster's first public appearance since her defenestration as DUP leader. She cut a lonely figure.

In contrast, support is coalescing around Edwin Poots, the only DUP politician to so far declare his leadership ambitions.

To no-one's great surprise, Jim Wells, who was ostracised under Mrs Foster's leadership, has been firmly promoting Mr Poots's credentials all week.

What will hurt the outgoing first minister more is that Christopher Stalford, previously regarded as a Foster loyalist and on the party's more moderate wing, has generously endorsed Mr Poots.

If figures such as Mr Stalford are gravitating towards Mr Poots, it suggests that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson - who could position himself as a moderate in DUP terms - faces an uphill struggle were he to consider a leadership challenge.

Mrs Foster has indicated that she will leave the DUP altogether when she steps down as first minister, apparently because it is not the party she joined and that it is moving in a different - and presumably wrong, in her estimation - direction.

It is astonishing that someone who has been leader of a party for the past five years thinks it no longer feels like their political home.

Peter Robinson may have passed to Mrs Foster the baton of his attempts to modernise the party and broaden its appeal - and vote - but with her departure that faltering project is now over.

The alternative favoured by some in the party - not least because it distracts from its Brexit disaster - is to retrench in the past. This is familiar, comfortable ground for the DUP.

Yet this is impossible. Northern Ireland today is a very different place to when it was created 100 years ago.

A power-sharing government that meets the needs of all citizens is the present priority, and there is a lively debate around Ireland's future.

Whoever becomes DUP leader will have to engage constructively with these realities, and be honest with their party that the north of 2021 is a plural, socially and politically diverse society.

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Leading article