From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP Leader Arlene Foster at government buildings last Summer; Derek Mooney

Though I did a bit of leaflet dropping for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election, the first election campaign in which I really canvassed was the 1979 European and Local elections.There I learned the skill of marking the register.

This involved writing a letter after the voter’s name as it appears on the electoral indicating, after you had canvassed them whether you thought they were for Fianna Fáil (F), against us (A), doubtful (D) or where you got no reply (NR) or CB for call back.

In 1979 there a lot of ‘A’s to mark on my sheet. These fell into two categories, the first were the people who voted FF two years earlier and were now very angry at how the country was going. The second were the group who had never and would never stoop to vote for “your shower”.

When encountering a person from this second group, usually after walking up a long gravel driveway and climbing a flight of granite steps to reach the ornate front door, one of fellow canvassers, a very nice woman, several years my senior, would call out “NOCD”.

This was a canvassing code with which I was not familiar, but I dutifully noted it down. When we finished later than evening to complete our canvassing returns, I set out totting up the F’s, the A’s, the D/k’s and the N/R’s.

“What about the NOCDs?” I enquired. It hadn’t occurred to her that I would be so naïve as to write it down.

“Count those as A’s” she said.

“But, what does NOCD” mean, I asked.

“They are the ‘not our class, dahling’ who still look down their nose at us”, she laughed.

They were the Fine Gaelers who still saw Fianna Fáil as a great unwashed, dinner in the middle of the day, hoard of cute-hoors who had the temerity to think they were up to the job of government. Though that generation of Fine Gaelers has now passed the NOCD attitude still soldiers on within the party.

It plays some small part in colouring its view of Sinn Féin, but it is not just limited to them. Ivan Yates gave a hyped-up version of the outlook on his Newstalk programme last week, having a go at all Northerners across the board.

Though his intent was probably more about winding up his listeners, Yates still struck a chord with some in his audience with his observation that “we don’t actually like the Nordies”.

It is not a new thing, we have seen it before, but this time around it seems to be a much stronger factor in how the DUP is perceived, not least by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Though I know the dangers in overstretching the comparison, there are some echoes of how Fine Gael viewed Fianna Fáil in the past with how they now view the DUP.

Fine Gael, especially its leadership, seems to have a stereotypical view of the DUP seeing them as intransigent hardliners, stuck in the past and mouthing old slogans. They see Sammy Wilson or Ian Paisley Jr on the TV and think, how could you ever deal with them? But the political reality is that you have to.

Like it or not the DUP is the biggest party in Northern Ireland. A poll conducted by Lucid Talks (commissioned by Sinn Féin’s EU Parliament grouping GUE/NGL) puts the DUP on 33.7% support, just under 1% ahead of Sinn Féin. Its nearest unionist party rival is just on 9%.

While we may not like it, the DUP speaks for the bulk of Unionism, though the Lucid Talks poll, and a survey from Profs Coakley and Garry in QUB, does show that Unionism is not nearly as hardline on Brexit as the DUP.

Cue the chorus that the DUP is simply out of touch with its voters and is playing political games with Brexit. There is definitely some evidence for this view, not least the boorish heckling and barracking of the sole moderate independent unionist MP lady Sylvia Hermon in last week’s House of Commons debates, but there is also a bigger picture.

There are two other factors at play – factors that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste appear not to have… ehh, factored in.

Though the polls and surveys show a sophisticated and nuanced public response to Brexit and its consequences for the border, Northern Ireland politics remains stubbornly binary – it is a zero-sum game. If them’uns is winning, I must be losing.

If Simon Coveney is gleeful on Monday, then I must be unhappy – and not only that, then I must act quickly to re-establish the equilibrium. The Irish government should know this by now, and should realise that the DUP is following the Dublin media far more closely than the Irish government appears to be following the Belfast ones.

Varadkar and Coveney also need to learn the crucial importance of having solid and reliable back channels of communications with parties in the North both as part of the government and as a political party. This includes the DUP.

Indeed it is vitally that important that it does so Fine Gael can get beyond the stereotype and grasp that the DUP is a far more sophisticated political operation than it likes to portray itself and has a much stronger and progressive backroom team than you might suspect.

The other factor is that Northern Irish politicians are invariably protected from the consequences of their own actions. When something goes awry the cry goes up for an international mediator to step in or for the two governments to intervene.

Politics in the North is broken. In the classic Northern Ireland binary/zero sum tradition, the beneficiaries of this breakage are the DUP and Sinn Féin. The only way to reduce the power of one is to reduce the power of both.

There is now a generation, or two, of political leaders in the North who have never had to pick up the pieces of the crockery they smashed. They have, instead, thrived on crisis and learned how to leverage more out of it.

We saw an example of that skill last week with the DUP. Though they are clearly not prepared to do anything that puts Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, the DUP still managed to come out of last week’s chaos ahead of where they went into it.

While keeping the DUP apart and having them as NOCDs may politically suit Varadkar and Coveney just now, it does not benefit the rest of us in the long term.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010.  Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


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21 thoughts on “Is The DUP An NOCD?

      1. Killian G

        And let me tell you something – “a class apart” is an anagram for “A PASCAL TSAR”. And I think we all know where that is going. Hmmmm????

      1. Kolmo

        The “upper classes ” are very class conscious. they pretend like they are not interested in class,
        – but it’s what keeps them awake at to protect their poo from the tracksuited hoardes, even though they’re only 2 or 3 generations from bog ditch people themselves..class is a massive issue here, the semi-literate cost of everything and value of nothing culture.

  1. Sean

    The sad thing is that Southern voters know so little about the DUP that they don’t appreciate the massive gaps that exist within the party. Paisley represented the cudgels in our hands and clay on our boots strain of grassroots unionist sentiment. Peter Robinson can be seen to encapsulate the transition going from the time he invaded Monaghan in 1987 – do you still remember that, when the future leader of the DUP led an invasion of Ireland yea? – to a party fitted out for the modern age complete with university (well UU) educated business and politics graduates, a bunch of lobbyists in their phonebook, and friends both of the calibre to spot the loopholes in RHI and of the calibre that they’d have an empty shed to exploit it. The generation of Foster and Robinson were the transformation generation in urbanising, affluentising, and polishing up the post GFA DUP. To fully understand the party, one has to realise that both wings still very much exist within and in a symbiotic equilibrium.

    This is true of all parties of course but many Southern voters think of the DUP as Paisley’s party and see the Fermanagh background of Foster and believe the party is still a bastion of flag waving farmers. That it most certainly is not and, despite their fondness for flat earth theory, they have all the suave tricksters around them that modern political parties need to buy up youtube ads and fix meetings with drinks lobby representatives.

    The bulk of the DUP electorate may very well be NOCD but their upper echelons have long gravel driveways and granite steps and would fit in quite well among their lingering counterparts in FG today.

    1. The Old Boy

      The DUP did very well to capture the “long gravel driveways” electorate while at the same time successfully vilifying the UUP as the party of comfortable, big house, Church of Ireland, Tory Unionists who were quite happy to sell the working-class Presbyterians of the ship-yards, linen mills and small farms down the river.

    2. scottser

      quite a balanced article on arlene in yesterday’s guardian. i never realised her da was shot in the head by the ra when she was young. it goes some ways to explain her convictions, for sure.

  2. bisted

    …the last time I heard something like this was Anne-Marie McNally on this site…she always referred to ‘our demographic’…

  3. Juniper Blue

    wot no ‘ah ahh FFGLab shurrup’ comment at the top of a Derek Mooney article? wat has happned to BS???

  4. Warden of the Snort

    Yes, not a bad article Derek, a step up from your usual reductive pro FF drivel at least, but not sure I agree with large parts of it. No evidence is presented for the statement that the DUP has a sophisticated background team for example, if that’s the case I see precious little previous evidence of it.

    As for Ivan Yates, I disagree with you there as well Derek, I think he inadvertently and truthfully hit the nail on the actual head, who among us can admit to having a lot of Nordie friends or finding them even remotely bearable for the most part?

  5. some old queen

    I think you are giving the DUP way to much credit there Derek. Take away the British money teat and they will implode. They are despised by younger people from Protestant backgrounds because of their outdated social view. Note that I did not say young Protestants; or Catholics for that matter.

    I also think your assessment of FG is wrong. FG was historically the most pro British party in Ireland but also the most pro European. Now they have been forced to choose, and the British have lost out. This probably explains why all of a sudden they are outflanking SF and FF with their straight speaking.

    1. Cu Cullan

      It’s like listening to the argument of a 14 year old.. sight is light leaving the eye.. but, you have to actually open your heart to realise that..

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