Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Voting record belies DUP's radical EU image

  • MEP Diane Dodds seen on a tv screen (Photo: European Parliament)

Two MEPs from the British Liberal Democrat and Labour parties did not mince their words when asked their opinion of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the wake of the UK election.

Labour MEP Seb Dance was short but clear.

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  • The MEP for the DUP often votes similar to the Tories (Photo: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari)

“The DUP are nuts. You can quote me on that,” he told EUobserver in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Catherine Bearder, an MEP for the Liberal Democrats who is fiercely opposed to Brexit, said the DUP had a history of homophobia and misogyny.

“She's so far right, she can't sit with the Conservatives,” Bearder said of Diane Dodds, the sole DUP member in the EU parliament.

The MEPs spoke amid DUP talks with the Conservative Party on a UK coalition designed to keep prime minister Theresa May in power.

But a look at Dodds’ voting records showed that she was not too different from the Conservatives in years gone by.

Dodds is a so-called non-attached member, which means that she is not in any of the parliament’s eight political groups.

The website It's Your Parliament compares MEPs’ aggregate voting behaviour. Dodds has been in the EU assembly since 2009, but the site’s data has not been updated since 2011.

Comparing Dodds to all groups, she had most in common with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the group in which the Conservatives sit.

EUobserver also used the online tool Votewatch to look at some key votes in EU parliament plenary sessions in recent months and found that Dodds often voted along Tory lines.

Like the Conservatives, she voted last month against a non-binding resolution that condemned the political situation in Hungary.

She also voted against the adoption of an annual report about the protection of the EU's financial interests and a non-binding resolution on Brexit - just like the Tories.

Unlike France’s far-right National Front party, Dodds does not try to soften declarations on Russia.

In April, she supported a text that condemned the arrest of Russian opposition members. The month before that, she backed a text that voiced concern about the situation in Russian-occupied Crimea in Ukraine.

Not blocking climate action

The DUP and the Conservatives did not see eye to eye on the DUP’s anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage policies, but these issues are up to member states to legislate on.

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace has highlighted that the words “environment” and “climate change” did not appear in the DUP’s manifesto.

But any claim that the DUP were climate change sceptics would not square with Dodds' voting in Strasbourg.

She supported a reform of the Emissions Trading System, the EU's most important climate action tool.

She abstained on several other climate-related votes, but, like most MEPs, she supported new rules on reducing waste and a system aimed at preventing another Dieselgate-type car emissions scandal.

Dodds has also voted in favour of the use of genetically modified organisms and so-called novel foods.

Forgettable member

She is a member of the agriculture and the fisheries committee - two topics that are important to the economy in Northern Ireland.

But one MEP on the committee, who asked to remain anonymous, said that they hardly ever worked with her.

“As an independent, she is not allowed at shadow meetings,” the MEP said.

When asked if they recalled any recent statements by Dodds in the agriculture committee, the MEP said Dodds did not voice memorable opinions.

“If she says something, it's a conservative point of view. She doesn't stand out,” the MEP said.

Paisley legacy

That is very different from the party's first member of the European Parliament: the late DUP founder, Ian Paisley.

Paisley was an MEP from the first time the EU parliament had elections, in 1979, and remained a member until 2004.

He styled himself as the first-ever eurosceptic and as an enfant terrible, giving the DUP the radical reputation it still has today.

Paisley was a Protestant cleric accused of inciting sectarian hatred in the Northern Ireland conflict.

He once said the EU was a Catholic conspiracy and heckled the late pope John Paul II as the “anti-Christ”.

The DUP is expected to press May to seek a softer Brexit in order to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, in what amounted to an “ironic” reversal of its anti-EU origins, another MEP, who did not want to give their name, noted.

Dodds was not available for an interview.

May clings to power with Northern Irish unionists

May announced the formation of a minority government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party. She might not be in power for too long, and the clock keeps ticking for Brexit negotiations.

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