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The Democratic Unionist Party neurosis - dribbling while Northern Ireland burns

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DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
There are times when I look at the Northern Ireland I remember as a child and marvel at how far we’ve come, how in so many ways we’ve managed to look beyond old obstinacies and petty rivalries and create a more open, tolerant society.

This week was not one of those times.

Despite making great strides since their bogeymen days, to the point where they seemed positively reasonable during the last Assembly election, the DUP have managed to consolidate all their crazy into one manageable weekly repayment. Exhibit A: the ever-tiresome capital punishment debate.

A recent law in the UK means that if a public petition gets more than 100,000 signatures, it has to be debated in parliament. Inevitably, hang ‘em and flog ‘em got on the agenda, but among those most keen for the debate were DUP MP’s David Simpson, Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Jim Shannon and Sammy Wilson, who tabled a parliamentary motion on the matter.

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Never mind the fact there isn’t a shred of evidence that the death penalty does anything but regularly kill innocent people, never mind the fact that the state reflectively killing people is an inherently bad idea, not least in a state with its fair share of ruthless killings over the years, never even mind the fact that the death penalty is expressly against the rules for any country in the Council of Europe. Then again, if some of the DUP MPs weren’t known for being mad, they wouldn’t be known for anything at all.

One of those MP who’s never had a problem with notoriety is Jeffrey Donaldson, Enoch Powell’s apprentice and Daniel O’Donnell lookalike. For most of his career he’s been known as one of the great intransigents, although he’d mellowed somewhat in recent years. That was, at least, until he took issue with a new rule affecting the Royals and their marital choices. Basically, Jeffrey isn’t happy future monarchs can now marry Catholics, so much so that he and a group of other Orangemen delivered a letter to Downing Street about the matter on Remembrance Day. This is in the same week that a Spotlight documentary on Northern Ireland TV revealed that the Orange Order reprimanded two senior Ulster Unionists, leader Tom Elliot and Minister Danny Kennedy, for attending a Catholic requiem mass for murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.

And if that wasn’t enough Peter Robinson gave us a brief glimpse into the past by threatening his resignation this week. The reason? The Justice Minister David Ford is considering a new emblem for the prison service, one that may not have a crown on it or any reference to Her Majesty. That’s it. In an atmosphere of enormous social and economic problems, it’s good to know the biggest party in Northern Ireland have got it covered.

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