Donaldson faces problems on all sides, and what he does next could spell doom for the DUP
Unionism has moved decisively to the right, ignoring warnings from the DUP that a Sinn Féin First Minister would vote in larger numbers than ever for Jim Allister’s no-holds-barred MOT.
n an election result that makes it exceedingly unlikely that decentralization will be restored in Stormont for months, if at all, the union movement has hardened at the very point where Sinn Féin has become the largest party – and as the Alliance is reaching unprecedented heights has consolidated its position as a political force.
The results fundamentally change Northern Ireland politics, making it clear that there are no longer two big blocs, but three: unionism, nationalism and the non-aligned (who are overwhelmingly the Alliance Party, with the Greens losing support).
While Nationalism’s total vote appears to have fallen slightly (based on most results yesterday at 6.30pm), Nationalism has far more reason to celebrate. This was a sobering result for unionism: not only has it lost far more support than nationalism, but a deep structural problem has been exposed.
For years, many unionists believed they needed a liberal party – a belief even shared by some in the more traditional DUP and TÜV. The most worrying aspect of this outcome for the unions is that if such a party has emerged, it has not stemmed the losses but has actually helped to hasten the decline of the unions.
Voters have left the UUP in its most liberal form. The party narrowly managed to retain most of its seats, but its votes have continued to decline. Doug Beattie’s party is now in a position where it is not even clear whether it will qualify for an executive ministry, potentially forcing it into opposition if decentralization can be restored.
The SDLP has similarly struggled to differentiate itself from its larger nationalist rivals and the Alliance, with the SDLP’s able Vice-President Nichola Mallon on the verge of losing her Belfast North seat. But there is more reason for hope for nationalism as an ideology. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, a nationalist party – indeed a republican party – will hold the majority of seats in Stormont.
The DUP has consistently refused to say whether it would rejoin the executive branch if it meant a Sinn Féin first minister. But regardless of whether that happens, this election was a triumph for Republicans.
In fact, their victory will almost certainly be greater in the long run if the DUP refuses to appoint a Deputy First Minister.
But Jeffrey Donaldson’s room for maneuver is limited here. This election was a bruise for the party, which has seen yet another loss of votes — and significantly. However, the quirks in the distribution of seats and the system of transferable individual votes mean it will likely come back with just a seat or two fewer.
But the changing mood of unionism, as reflected in this election, is clear. Even if Donaldson wants to return to government without removing the Irish Sea border, he is now vulnerable on his right flank – and the dwindling UUP vote does not suggest a large electoral pool going in the opposite direction.
The surging TUV vote – in which the party would likely take a seat in Strangford and win more than 3,000 votes in north Belfast, a traditionally inhospitable place for a party with rural roots – will unsettle the DUP because many of its members are concerned remembered how they suddenly rose up against the UUP in the years after 1998.
But the DUP also knows that the Union movement is losing votes to the Alliance – which had another startling result – and the move to Mr Jim Allister is likely to accelerate that trend.
All of the options Donaldson faces are problematic, but one of them is probably tempting. Refusing to re-enter government – and perhaps even refusing to allow the assembly to work by blocking the appointment of a speaker next week – would put pressure on the north minister to hold more elections later this year.
The DUP has been here before, although the choice was not in their hands at the time. After unions lost their majority in the 2017 general election, the party returned with a record vote in the unexpected general election, as exasperated union voters returned to the DUP.
That could happen here – but it is fraught with risks. With inflation rampant, a broken healthcare system and no executive branch, staying out of government for tactical reasons could backfire.
And if union sentiment hardens, a second election could result in a far larger shift to MOT – essentially a vote to forget about restoring decentralization in its current form.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/donaldson-is-facing-problems-on-all-sides-and-what-he-does-next-could-be-the-dups-undoing-41623772.html Donaldson faces problems on all sides, and what he does next could spell doom for the DUP