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Buckle up for the DUP Rollercoaster

10th June 2017

Well, what a turn of events. Finally the speculation that NI parties may have a role to play on the Westminster stage has come to pass. The drastic losses of the Conservative party in what was frankly an unnecessary election, have ensured that the DUP, with a record 10 seats, has emerged blinking into the spotlight of the inquisitive UK press and public.

And what a rollercoaster few years it has been for Arlene Foster’s party. In May 2016 Arlene Foster’s first election as DUP leader was one of their most successful, taking 38 seats in the NI Assembly and supposedly heralding a new dawn for the DUP locally. But just a few weeks later their unwavering support for Brexit put them at odds with 56% of the NI electorate.

Then, just months into the new two-party dominated NI Executive with Sinn Fein, the wheels started to come off the DUP juggernaut, with the RHI scandal leading to a media and public outrage and political stand off that was intensified when, just days before Christmas the Culture Minister, Paul Givan, removed Irish language funding.

The start of 2017 saw SF's Martin McGuinness resign and Stormont come tumbling down.

Facing another Assembly election less than 10 months after her victory was not something Arlene Foster had expected, and, while the DUP was still the biggest party, the election saw Sinn Fein come closer than ever in terms of votes cast and seats won in the NI Assembly. Calls for the leader’s head on a plate were starting to sneak out from some within the DUP, while demands from other parties that she stand aside were all roundly ignored by the Fermanagh woman.

The protracted talks bought Arlene time, and the snap General Election threw politics across NI into yet seven weeks of electioneering. This time, in contrast to the last few election campaigns, Arlene notably took a backseat, not participating in any debates or interviews (sound familiar?), leaving most of the heavy lifting to Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson. Even the usually omnipresent and opinionated Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson were kept off the airwaves in a carefully managed campaign.

Clearly the DUP saw their mistakes of March and were not for repeating them. Quietly, on the doorsteps of unionist voters they delivered the message - get out and vote or SF will take over. This strategy gave them their biggest election success, 10 Westminster seats, almost 300,000 votes and a significant role to play in propping up Theresa May’s minority government.

The striking of an agreement with the Conservatives, if indeed it is a deal, happened very quickly, and the DUP have been at best vague about what this will mean in practice or what price they have extracted for their loyalty. Only hours before this was announced Arlene was stating of May that it would be "difficult for her to survive”.

The DUPs views on a number of social issues may not sit well with many Tories, which may make for an uncomfortable relationship at times, where the enthusiasm for this marriage of convenience could be stretched to breaking point.

‘Who are the DUP?’ is a question which is gaining currency with every remarkable minute of this remarkable week of politics. That question will get louder, the DUP may not be comfortable in dealing with the GB media and from whatever angle you look at this, it is hard to imagine we are seeing the beginning of a strong and stable 5 year Westminster term. Buckle up.

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