DUP accused of dragging unionism ‘into the gutter’
UUP chief says Northern politics ‘deeply broken’ with no return of devolution in sight
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire.
Politics is “deeply broken” in Northern Ireland and it is clear there is no possibility of the restoration of Stormont anytime soon, the Ulster Unionist Party leader has told his party’s annual conference.
Robin Swann accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of running Northern Ireland into the ground and said that if the British government believed there was no prospect of reinstating powersharing, it should step in and appoint direct rule ministers.
“Stop letting the people of Northern Ireland wither on the vine because you’re either too busy looking over your shoulder at the DUP and frozen in fear at the thought of upsetting Sinn Féin sensitivities,” he told the conference in the Armagh City Hotel on Saturday.
“Stop telling us that you’re the ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ like that’s enough. It’s time to prove you are,” he added.
Mr Swann said the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry demonstrated just how “shambolic” the last Northern Executive was.
He said coverage of the inquiry was “not a political farce on television, but rather an insight into the inner workings of the Sinn Féin/DUP Executive who operated in a state of almost permanent paranoia and self-interest”.
When he reflected on “how unionism has been dragged into the gutter by the DUP” he felt angry.
“It’s grim that the DUP have created a situation where Sinn Féin of all people are able to call for ‘integrity in government’ and gifted them the opportunity to pull down the institutions,” he added.
“Sinn Féin, whose main game-plan after all these years still seems to be to run the place into the ground in a hope that people will submit and limp into a united Ireland.”
He added: “For two parties that now quote the Belfast Agreement when it suits them, I sometimes wonder if they’ve ever got past the front cover. Because over the last 10 years we’ve watched their own warped interpretation lead to a race to the bottom as they ran Northern Ireland into the ground.”
He said Sinn Féin lacked any “self-awareness when it comes to their own role in the current political paralysis here” and also seemed “utterly incapable of showing any sensitivity towards the victims of IRA violence”.
“You cannot preach reconciliation while in the next breath lauding sectarian killers and shouting ‘up the rebels’,” he added.
Mr Swann said politics was “deeply broken” and was pessimistic about the prospects of bringing back the Assembly and Executive. “I am not a man given to extravagant language so let me be straight with you: listening to the rhetoric of Sinn Féin and some within the DUP it is clear that we are not going to see the restoration of devolution anytime soon.”
On Brexit, Mr Swann was critical of the Irish Government and said there could be no toleration of a resolution that would weaken the United Kingdom.
“We want a good relationship with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, but it`s very hard to maintain that when you continually poke us in the eye. Work with us, not against us,” he said.
The current Brussels proposals would make Northern Ireland a “protectorate” of an unaccountable EU, he added.
Mr Swann said it would be “economic vandalism to impose a border on our most important trading route which is between Northern Ireland and Great Britain”.
He added that he had a message for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Irish ministers: “Every day that you trample over the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent, you do further damage to relationships across these islands. Breaking the Belfast Agreement to facilitate the backstop risks destroying what has taken decades to build.”
On the past, Mr Swann said the UUP “will not allow history to be rewritten so that the murders of our party members, our elected representatives, our friends are portrayed as anything other than the barbaric, bloodthirsty, sectarian murders that they were”.
Mr Swann was scathing of the DUP and sought to draw distinction between it and his party on social and other issues.
“Let me be very clear,” he said to unionists generally, “if you somehow have become confused and think that sectarianism, racism or homophobia are tenets of unionism, then I am not at all sorry to say that the Ulster Unionist Party is not the party for you.”
“Nigel Dodds says there’s a battle for the union. I’m inclined to think it’s a battle to save the union from the DUP,” added Mr Swann.