Newton Emerson: Sounds like DUP voters are fed up with sea border spoofing

Desperation two weeks before election suggests negative feedback on the doorsteps

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Irish News and is a regular commentator on current affairs on radio and television.

DUP's Gavin Robinson and Emma Little Pengelly during the Launch of the DUP's General election campaign launch at the Castlereigh Hills Golf in east Belfast ahead of the election on June 8. Picture by Hugh Russell
Gavin Robinson pictured with Emma Little Pengelly during the launch of the DUP's general election campaign in 2017. As party leader this time, is he coming under pressure on the doorsteps over the sea border?

The DUP is not getting a good reception on the doorsteps, judging by its panic over the sea border.

New leader Gavin Robinson had adopted a careful position of admitting his party’s January ‘Safeguarding the Union’ deal is not perfect, while still defending it as a basis for improvement. This got the DUP off the hook for unsustainable claims of success by his predecessor Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

But strategic withdrawal is becoming a headlong retreat. In the Assembly on Tuesday, DUP MLA Deborah Erskine said her party wants current arrangements replaced with “mutual enforcement” when the UK-EU trade deal is reviewed next year.

This is the TUV’s position, the DUP’s previous position and pie in the sky. Such desperation two weeks before polling suggests negative feedback from unionist voters, although that does not necessarily mean they will abandon the DUP.

It could just mean they are fed up with sea border spoofing. Even more spoofing is not going to make this better.

The DUP is not getting a good reception on the doorsteps, judging by its panic over the sea border


Election jitters will not help the DUP calm parading tensions in north Belfast, although Gavin Robinson has played down fears of trouble, suggesting efforts are underway behind the scenes.

Members of a Ligoniel Orange lodge have applied for a parade that would breach the 2016 deal with Ardoyne residents. Spencer Beattie, the most senior Orangeman in Belfast, says the deal has suffered “a collapse”.

Some reports suggest the applicants are testing the new chair and board members of the Parades Commission, who were appointed in December.

PACEMAKER BELFAST  12.07.13. PICTURE BY DAVID FITZGERALD.Riots kick off at Woodvale as the parades are not allowed to pass Ardoyne. A man on top of a police landrover gets blown off by the water cannon.Please Byline DAVID FITZGERALD/PACEMAKER PRESS.
A man is blown from a police Land Rover by water cannon during disturbances in the Woodvale area as an Orange Order parade is refused permission to pass Ardoyne. PICTURE: DAVID FITZGERALD/PACEMAKER

Last June, a similar application from another north Belfast lodge was rejected by the commission for “wanton disregard for the efforts made to achieve a local agreement and an egregious disregard for the six years of peace it secured”.

The only difference new chair Evelyn Collins and her board are likely to make would be changing that “six” to a “seven”.

With terrible timing, the commission’s ruling is due on July 3, the day before the election.


Sinn Féin has launched a contemptuously short election manifesto. At under 2,000 words it is barely more than a leaflet. Among its vague promises is promoting a united Ireland as “an opportunity to create an efficient all-Ireland national health service”.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy speak during the party  Manifesto launch in Belfast on Wednesday.
Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy with party candidates during its manifesto launch this week. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

Yet the Sinn Féin benches were almost deserted on Tuesday when the SDLP held a Stormont debate on cross-border healthcare, with a motion calling on UUP health minister Mike Nesbitt to work more closely with his Irish counterpart.

Sinn Féin and the DUP are both effectively boycotting SDLP opposition debates, then magically appearing in the division lobbies to vote motions down.

At least the motion in this case was waved through without objection.

Abstentionist republicans might justify their contempt for Westminster but their contempt for Stormont is simply arrogance. While boycotting the opposition breaks no assembly rules, the speaker’s office ought to be taking a dim view of it.


Pat Cullen, Sinn Féin’s general election candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, was asked by UUP candidate Diana Armstrong to condemn the murder of nurses by the Enniskillen and Omagh bombs. Cullen, outgoing head of the Royal College of Nursing, responded with the standard regret for all deaths. The standard row then ensued.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy speak during the party  Manifesto launch in Belfast on Wednesday.
Sinn Féin Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate Pat Cullen and North Belfast candidate John Finucane during the party's manifesto launch in Belfast on Wednesday. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

It is regrettable for everyone that Sinn Féin’s fresh faces are required to parrot stale republican rhetoric. Cullen would make a significant impact if she found the words to move her party beyond evasive generalities on the Troubles, as she presumably has the ability to do.

Sinn Féin may not lose votes when unionists demand condemnation but nor is it winning converts or healing wounds with its cynicism on the past.


Campaigners against the Larne gas caverns project have won a case at the Court of Appeal but it is not the type of victory that might be presumed.

All environmental objections were thrown out by Belfast’s High Court last year and none were appealed. The appeal was based on the 2021 decision by then DUP environment minister Edwin Poots to grant a licence to the project without referring it to rest of the Executive as significant, controversial or cross-cutting.

Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk        17-6-2024 
Lisa Dobbie, and delighted campaigners from a local crowdfunded community group in County Antrim backed by ‘Friends of the Earth, leave the Court of Appeal after overturning an earlier judgement in favour of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. 
The granting of a ‘Marine Discharge’ license for development of seven huge fossil fuel gas storage caverns under Larne Lough that was given the go-ahead by the former DAERA minister Edwin Poots, have been halted.  
The ’No Gas Caverns’ group  argued that such a development would produce a hypersaline solution poisonous to sea life and result in it being discharged into a marine protected area near Islandmagee creating a “dead zone where no plants or animals could survive.    
This decision to approve, they successfully argued, should have been referred to the Stormont Executive Committee . 
Lisa Dobbie, No Gas Caverns, said :  “We are a group of ordinary people forced to take extraordinary action.”
Delighted campaigners leave the Court of Appeal after a judgment that approval for a plan for gas caverns under Larne Lough should have been referred to the full Executive (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

Last year’s High Court ruling noted no other ministers had raised the decision, so they had clearly judged it not to be significant, controversial or cross-cutting and it was not for a court to disagree. The Court of Appeal declared this “irrational” because Sinn Féin, Alliance, the Greens and one UUP assembly member had publicly objected to the project.

The political rationale of posturing against something for local consumption while quietly nodding it through to keep the lights on has now been deemed “unlawful” and Executive consensus is required for anything even one MLA has complained about. If this ruling stands, nothing will ever get done in Northern Ireland again.


An annual loyalist memorial parade in east Belfast was transformed into an enormous UVF show of strength, with hundreds of ‘black and whites’ bussed in to line the route. The PSNI watched on while recording evidence but further action is unlikely.

Hundreds of men in white shirts and black ties lined the route of a memorial parade for murdered UVF man Robert Seymour on the Newtownards Road
Hundreds of men in white shirts and black ties lined the route of a memorial parade for murdered UVF man Robert Seymour on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast

The parade was a show of strength by the Good UVF against the Bad UVF – a demonstration by the ‘transitioning’ leadership that errant east Belfast figures are no longer in charge.

All those asking why the authorities will not act fail to realise that as far as the authorities are concerned, this is what progress looks like.


Northern Regional College has cancelled its year one electrical installation course for the 2024-25 academic year due to staffing and recruitment issues.

DUP MLA Paul Frew has noted this “will badly damage not only the electrical industry but the wider construction industry”. He has asked Sinn Féin economy minister Conor Murphy to “look into the matter and step in if need be”.

DUP MLA for North Antrim Paul Frew. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
DUP MLA for North Antrim Paul Frew

Many industries, businesses and public sector organisations in Northern Ireland depend on college courses to recruit and train staff and to meet numerous other requirements. Contracts, grants, licences and insurance can all depend on obtaining relevant qualifications.

Yet delivery of these courses can be haphazard at the best of times. They deserve at least a fraction of attention spent fretting over the management of schools and universities.