Jeffrey Donaldson didn’t mention it in his leadership address, but an Irish language act still plays on his party’s sectarian fears
And so it was that on the centenary of the day on which George V came to Belfast to open the first parliament in Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson became the leader of the DUP, pledging to return from Westminster to reveal his “vision to lead unionism into its second century”. In 1921, the King urged that the new regime should usher in “a new era of peace, contentment and good will”. Donaldson won’t be thinking in eras. He knows he will be doing well if he manages to achieve a brief ceasefire within his own warring party. When he spoke on Tuesday about the need to “heal the divisions of the past”, we knew he wasn’t just talking about the country.
“What a fool I was. I was only a puppet.” The words used by unionism’s founding father, Lord Edward Carson, to describe his realisation that he had been used by the British Conservative party in its own bid for power were widely quoted when Boris Johnson exploited the DUP’s gullibility to get through his Brexit deal. Edwin Poots must have felt yesterday as Carson did 100 years ago, as he reflected on the “support” he got for his hapless bid to lead the DUP. On his night of glory in May, when he defeated Donaldson by the narrowest of margins, it was not him but Ian Paisley Jr MP who went on television and spoke lugubriously about “Dad’s party”. His father was, of course, the party’s founder, the Rev Ian Paisley.