As the Parliamentary Standards Committee recommends Ian Paisley Junior be suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days, Eamonn McCann looks at the flurry of allegations circling the DUP and asks who benefits from the party’s apparent greed.
Day after day after day, the truth comes dropping slowly. But also relentlessly.
We knew already that the DUP was a dodgy outfit. Now it looks like corruption is marbled right through it. And not just on account of it reputedly creaming off vast sums of public money through the RHI scam and splashing it around its wealthier supporters.
No sign of any of the RHI dosh making its way down to community offices, sports centres or any other facility to be found in working-class areas. Nobody on the Shankill pocketed a penny. But pals of party big-wigs and multi-million agri-businesses like Moy Park were raking it in.
“The money just isn’t there”
If they were suspected of defrauding a private company, there would by now be so many of them up before the bench that it’s doubtful there’s a court in the land with a big enough dock to accommodate them. But it’s only public money, so who cares? Apart from patients on trolleys in hospital corridors because “the money just isn’t there.” And right enough, it isn’t. If suspicions are to be believed, it’s in the back pockets of DUP crooks.
Like the mafia, the DUP likes to keep it in the family. One of the latest names to surface from the sludge is Councillor Luke Poots, son of DUP MLA Edwin Poots and former chairman of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s planning committee. He has denied being the potential beneficiary of a planning application to build three houses on land at his home. This would have seen the price of his property rocket by an estimated £200,000.
But the application was not made in Luke Poots’s name but on behalf of Rachel M. Gracy – the oul’ Edwin’s wife’s maiden name. All the Poots insist there was nothing shady going on here. The hunt is still on for a citizen who believes them.
As DUP-related scandals go, this isn’t in the RHI league. But it perfectly typifies the party’s apparent attitude to public assets – now that we have our hands on the levers of power, we are entitled to have our fingers in the pie.
Then there’s Ian Paisley Junior, the subject of a newly announced 30 day ban from the House of Commons. Compared with him, Paisley senior was a gentleman. He took a hundred grand from the government of Sri Lanka for two all-expenses-paid family holidays to the lush Indian Ocean island – which actually can’t have been particularly memorable since he clean forget to mention it in the Commons register of interests. Now that he’s remembered, he claims it was only £50 grand and only for first class facilities.
Under the rules, he is required to register any subsidised travel outside the UK costing more than £300. But – rules? What rules? This is the DUP.
Sleaziest party in Europe
Meanwhile, former leader Peter Robinson remains under scrutiny for having allegedly tried to enriched himself from the massive sell-off of Nama assets in the North, the biggest property deal in the history of the State. Of course, we are not supposed to mention anything vice-versa about Robinson now that he’s become a professor of some sort at Queens and is respectfully quoted when he makes banal speeches about power-sharing, the border question and other weighty matters.
And so on and on. The DUP has been the most sleazy party in Europe since Silvio Berlusconi gave up organising bunga-bunga sessions with young women provided as arm-candy and anything else for his sweaty associates.
So why is it, it’s worth asking again, that the conventional wisdom holds that another Assembly election would make no difference, that the DUP and the Shinners would sail back with undiminished support? The obvious answer is that the voters will plump for parties based on the interests of one community vis-a-vis the other.
The cash-for-ash RHI scandal was the ostensible reason Sinn Fein walked out of the Executive 18 months ago and brought the Assembly down. They wouldn’t go back until an inquiry had established all the facts and/or Arlene Foster had resigned as First Minister. She had been the relevant Minister – for Finance and Personnel – throughout the RHI saga.
But when an election was called in the wake of the collapse of the institutions, the RHI issue faded. Outrage over RHI had been the last straw, they’d said. But a few weeks later, it wasn’t a red line. Now, the most vivid red line was the refusal of the DUP for reasons of outright bigotry to accept an Irish Language Act.
People Before Profit supported an Irish Language Act from the outset it was in our manifesto at the last Stormont election in 2016. But that doesn’t mean we don’t recognise SF’s sheer opportunism.
The RHI scandal hadn’t arisen from sectarianism but from greed, dishonesty and rotten political ideas. What SF needed, on the other hand, was an issue on which they could maintain a high level of indignation in the Catholic community, so as to mobilise voters on the basis of communal identity. They used the Irish language to fuel a campaign along these lines.
Not once in their 10 years in office had SF threatened to pull the institutions down if the DUP didn’t agree to an Irish Language Act. But it became the most important issue of all once the election was called.
No appeal to working-class Protestants to withdraw support from the DUP because of their corruption and commitment to the interests of bent business operators rather than Protestants at the bottom of the pile whom they endlessly claim as “our people.”
No progressive citizen would want to touch the DUP. But we should also keep in mind that there’s pair of them in it.