Ian Cullen: DUP will pick pragmatism over dogmatism in deal

The DUP is no stranger to saying no and will not be afraid to say it to Theresa May in any negotiations.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (L) points to leader and Northern Ireland former First Minister Arlene Foster as they hold a photocall with their newly elected candidates. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Forged at the height of the Troubles on the ethos of protest, the DUP are notoriously hard to work with simply because they have traditionally refused to budge when not getting their way.

The DUP was founded on the principal of ‘No Surrender’ – vehemently expressed by the Reverend Ian Paisley, the leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, when he formed the Protestant party that included members of the Loyalist Ulster Resistance paramilitary group in 1971 – and that mentality remains.

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To get into government at Westminster is a dream come true for the dogmatic unionist party – a partnership not even entertained by former Tory leader John Major when he faced a shortfall in seats.

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The religiously fuelled DUP’s right wing beliefs are in most instances even more conservative than the Tories. And the ultra-right approach to the constitution - although accepted in the Christian bible-belt heartlands of Northern Ireland - has sparked revulsion among much of the population on increasingly regular occasions in recent years.

So many in Scotland may well worry for the future upon first glance of the DUP.

Entering into an informal ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with Theresa May’s party, the Tories will effectively be at the DUP’s beck and call.

There is likely to be a new deal bargained for by Arlene Foster’s party each and every time the Conservatives need support in Parliament.

The dogmatic DUP has strong track record in opposing gay marriage, abortion and even denying climate change. However, the party looks more likely to put morality issues aside and go after the purse strings first.

The party’s manifesto focusses heavily on the bigger picture for the Northern Ireland economy rather than on some DUP MP’s beliefs in the need for the teaching of creationism in schools and ignoring climate change warnings.

Pragmatism will come out over dogmatism but that won’t make it easy for the Tories and could be to the detriment of Scotland too.

The pragmatic approach will see the DUP demand even more money for Northern Ireland - the region which already takes the lion’s share from the Exchequer compared to Scotland, England and Wales.

Health, infrastructure, education, industry and other key economy drivers will be top of the list in any negotiations. There is potential for divisive issues such as parading to enter the conversation. The Orange Order – which has many members within the party – this week called publicly on the DUP to make parading a priority in any talks in London. However, it looks like pride of place will be given to achieving cash injections roads, hospitals, schools and more – much more.

The DUP manifesto prioritises spending the Health Service, job creation, increased incomes, the protection of family budgets, higher standards in education and investment in infrastructure.

It outlines a five-point plan to be achieved through ten elements, including: ‘1. More jobs and rising incomes 2. A world class health service 3. Education – every child the opportunity to succeed 4. Rebuilding Northern Ireland 5. Rewarding hard work 6. Safer streets and smarter justice 7. Creating stronger communities 8. A friend of the farmer and our natural heritage 9. Changing politics and government in Northern Ireland 10. Taking pride in Northern Ireland’

They are keen to continue the pensions triple lock and winter fuel payments and it is likely that these will have to be among the first deals secured with the Tories who had vowed to bin them.

The DUP manifesto also has a list of objectives and priorities for the imminent Brexit negotiations which include maintaining the Common Travel Area to ensure free movement on the Irish border and ease of trade throughout the European Union as the economy of NI depends so heavily on trade with the Republic. Although staunchly pro-union, to DUP is well aware of the damage that a hard Brexit would inflict on the pockets of the people and so want no hard border on the island.

A hard border would be detrimental to the Peace Process and even the DUP acknowledges this.

The Peace Process has transformed Northern Ireland and although antagonism among the political parties is never far away, the process regarded by the very vast majority as the only way to make progress.

The purpose of the Good Friday Agreement, which was endorsed by all of the people of Ireland, was to deliver a rights-based platform for partnership, equality, co-operation and reconciliation. That sense of purpose has been tested heavily in the years since 1998 with the polarisation of politics through the rise of the DUP and Sinn Fein and the erosion of the middle ground in the SDLP and UUP.

In the recent years of the power-sharing executive squabbling has threatened political crisis after political crisis with brinksmanship, vetoes and stalemate grinding Stormont business to a near halt on many occasions before finally collapsing the institutions.

However, the hope and prosperity created by the peace process is something the people and politicians of Northern Ireland remain steadfastly committed to. There has been a significant drift from the purpose in recent times with various political challenges, not least Brexit, but there is a realisation that everyone in Northern Ireland must keep moving forward and working together.

The DUP and all the political parties are well aware of this. To all but a handful of lawless paramilitary relics returning to the troubled days of the past is not an option.

• Ian Cullen is a former Communications Adviser to SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood. He is director at public relations agency PR Team.