Ex-DUP MLA: Arlene Foster has undermined the Union and NI is in a dangerous place – but a united Ireland could work

A former DUP MLA has savaged Arlene Foster’s “spectacularly poor” judgment, saying that it has undermined the Union.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 9:07 am

Sammy Douglas, who was close to former first minister Peter Robinson, made the comments in an interview prior to the overthrow of Mrs Foster as DUP leader a month ago.

The former East Belfast MLA was interviewed by the journalist Susan McKay for her new book, ‘Northern Protestants on Shifting Ground’.

Mr Douglas, who remains a member of the DUP, also suggested that a united Ireland would not be as bad as the instability preceding that outcome.

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Sammy Douglas, far left, pictured with Arlene Foster during the 2016 Assembly election campaign

Tonight the DUP’s ruling executive will meet to formally ratify Edwin Poots as Mrs Foster’s successor.

Mr Douglas, who retired as an MLA just before the 2017 Assembly election, highlighted Mrs Foster’s infamous “crocodile” remark in that campaign in which she referred to Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish language act by saying: “If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more”.

Mr Douglas said: “A woman I know from a nationalist background – she’s a civil servant – said to me shortly after the crocodile remark: ‘You know my politics, Sammy. I was never a supporter of republicanism, but see when I heard that I just thought ‘f**k the DUP’.”

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He went on: “I know people who wouldn’t have been out waving a Union Jack but they were happy enough to try and make this place work – they have got more aggressive.”

“I think we’re in a very dangerous place. My fear is the whole thing could collapse tomorrow. If it’s in the interests of the parties they will walk away from it.

“The loyalist paramilitaries said their war was over because they believed the Union was safe. Thing is now, there is the potential break-up of the Union.”

The former East Belfast MLA’s comments are significant because they reinforce how Mrs Foster had not just lost the support of old-school DUP traditionalists, but also of many on the party’s modernising wing.

Mr Douglas said he agreed with Mr Robinson that “when you take out insurance on your house it’s not because you think it’s going to burn down, but to protect yourself from the future.

“Unionism needs to sit down and come together and have a discussion about where we go from here.

“I know a lot of people fear a united Ireland. But it is a bit like death. Most people don’t fear being dead, they fear the process of dying.

“Irish unity wouldn’t be as bad as the process of getting Irish unity. You could actually probably live quite peacefully in a united Ireland; it is just that the ten years of it becoming a united Ireland would probably be pretty awful.”

Mr Douglas said that he was still a DUP member – although he was not in the party at the time of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and said that unlike the DUP he voted for that deal, “and to be honest one of the reasons was the prisoners getting out”.

The former MLA went on to set out an unusually explicit summary of how public money is given to paramilitaries in return for “peace”, but said this was breaking down as paramilitaries lost control.

He said: “One of the biggest successes was that paramilitary groups were funded and they kept the peace at the interfaces.

“The flags protest brought in a batch of young people, people you couldn’t control.

“There’s a lack of leadership in loyalism now and the danger I see is some charismatic figure coming to the fore: a Johnny Adair of his world, or a Billy Wright, who can attract that sense of loyalty.”

Mr Douglas said that he recalled a meeting of the DUP Assembly group where they discussed same-sex marriage and he told them “‘I have a daughter, and I love her to bits, and she’s gay...I would prefer that she’s straight. And you know why? Because we’re living in a homophobic society’. And there was silence.”

Mr Douglas’s interview is one of almost 100 in the book which range from ultra-conservative Christians to an alleged paramilitary boss, politicians and a drag queen.

Former DUP spad Tim Cairns said that he was unimpressed by Mrs Foster and said that Mr Robinson had wanted her to succeed him because she was “anyone but Sammy Wilson”.

Former PUP leader Dawn Purvis said: “As far as I am concerned, for Northern Ireland to be safe and prosperous, unionism has to disappear and so does nationalism”.

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