IT’S sometimes hard to tell a drunk man from one who’s taken a blow to the head. They both tend to stagger from side to side, saying things that don’t make much sense and sometimes doing things that make less sense. Given that the DUP’s founder, Ian Paisley, spoke of drink as “the devil’s buttermilk”,  it’s probably fairer to assume that his party has taken a blow to the head.
It all happened so quickly. One minute Arlene Foster was comparing people who wanted an Irish Language Act to crocodiles and being cheered on; the next she’d been handed her P45. That was Lurch No.1. Lurch  No.2 followed swiftly, with Edwin Poots grabbing Arlene’s crown and doing his best to impress with his leadership qualities. The horrified party took a second look at him and promptly chopped off his political head. Edwin’s solemn features were replaced by the smooth charm of Jeffrey Donaldson, with Paul Givan as his smiling First Minister mud-guard.
But then came the Withdrawal Bill and the Protocol, which induced a pain deep in the party’s guts,  a stomach stab to match the head blow. Something creepy and counter-intuitive was happening: voters were leaking to Jim Allister’s right-wing TUV and at the same time to Doug Beattie’s slightly-left UUP. Groggy and  watery-eyed, the DUP found itself staring at opinion polls showing the UUP at 16 per cdent, the TUV at 14 per cent and the DUP at… 13 per cent.  Eek! Worse again, Sinn Féin were sitting on  25 per cent. Double eek! It was August and the DUP’s room was spinning.
But then November came, and the DUP’s woes lessened a little. The Shinners were down a point – still well ahead with 24 per cent, but at least the UUP had slipped back up to 14 per cent and the TUV back down to 11 per cent, leaving the DUP once again leading the unionist field with 18 per cent. But the Shinners, with just six months to go before that dreaded May election, were still well ahead.
And when you’ve been stunned once, even a light tap on the noggin is enough to send you face down the carpet. That light tap has come in the form of news that as many as eight DUP MLAs will be standing down come the May election. Politicians don’t hand in their notice if their party is in rude health; replacement candidates may have youth on their side but they don’t have experience and loyalty that’s built up over the years.
The grim truth is that Jeffrey Donaldson, the civilised unionist voter’s civilized voice, isn’t cutting the mustard. He may have led his wobbly party from the cliff-edge, but he’s still vulnerable on the left and on the right. Jeffrey Donaldson may have served in the UDR, but Doug Beattie was out in Afghanistan. Why settle for toy soldier Jeffrey when you can have the real deal with Doug?
These are dark days for the DUP. No matter which way Jeffrey turns, there’s ruin and desolation waiting for him and his party. Who’s to say the DUP won’t start leaking votes again, to left and/or right?
And even if that problem was solved, there’s the appalling vista of having the Shinners become the dominant force at Stormont and the First Minister of Northern Ireland spot. And even that’s not counting the better-than-even chance that Mary Lou McDonald is on her way to becoming Taoiseach in the south.
What to do? Get a prescription for some soothing head medication? Buy a bottle of whiskey and forget bitter reality?
Right now the DUP are in the unhappy state of the Kerry donkey.  When asked why he whacked it over the head with a post, the Kerry farmer explained he needed to get its attention. The DUP, we can safely say, is seeing the same stars as that donkey.