The removal of Edwin Poots as DUP leader has plunged politics into a crisis. We do not yet know how deep this is.
The crisis, though, reflects the extreme limitations of Northern Ireland’s vaunted ‘peace process’, based on a sectarian carve-up and acceptance of a neo-liberal economic model. Nearly quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement we are threatened with the Executive falling yet again.
The crisis in the DUP is not just a bitter personal dispute between individuals. It reflects, however unclearly, the actions of social forces. The party developed in the early 1970s reflecting the determination of a section of working-class and small and middling farmer Protestants to resist any concessions to Catholics, a fear that they would be forced into a United Ireland, and also resentment at the way ‘Big House’ Unionism had neglected them. It also reflected the more religiously fundamentalist sections of those social groups.
DUP reinventing itself
Then it reinvented itself by becoming a party of sectarian power-sharing with Sinn Féin. It also became the party which most consciously reflected the interests of business in the North.
However, there are forces in the party pulling in conflicting directions. It is an increasingly uneasy combination of secular Unionists and religious fundamentalists. The fundamentalist section which backed Poots is out of step with an increasingly secular Protestant community. The DUP supported Brexit, despite business being overwhelmingly pro-European Union. It has opposed the Irish Sea Protocol, which again business supports.
Thus business found the former radical nationalists of Sinn Féin best reflected their interests. It enthusiastically both supports European Union membership, and the Protocol.
Additionally, the DUP has found itself caught up in a whole series of scandals.
Now, having been at the centre of Northern Ireland politics for half a century, the DUP seems, at least temporarily, to be In decline.
All this political instability means an increase in tension on the ground. People in working class areas are worried there may be street disorder. They know those who will suffer most are working class people, living in the most deprived area, who bear no responsibility for the crisis.
The tragedy is that the disintegration of the political establishment has proceeded far faster than the development of a political alternative, based on the common needs of working people. Militant Left will contribute to all efforts to build one.