Since John Major, I feel that the UK Government has tried to act as an independent arbitrator in Northern Irish matters. I believe that this position was reinforced by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. My fear is that I now think Theresa May has tossed an entire box of lit matches into an inflammatory situation by breaking with these long held protocols. Her desperate search for an ally after the disaster of the recent election has seen not only the Democratic Unionist Party becoming a power broker, but the removal of any label the British Government could claim as an independent broker in discussion between the different parties.
If the UK government is reliant upon the DUP for its political survival, the question is now whether such impartiality is possible given the unionists’ stake both in the domestic politics of Northern Ireland and the national government at Westminster. In my opinion, there is now no credibility for the Tory government as an independent chair, putting the entire process in real danger of collapsing.
The Northern Irish Good Friday Agreement only works on the basis of sharing and interdependence. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 at a landmark moment in the Northern Irish peace process. It ended 30 years of what we call ‘The Troubles’ by finding common ground over issues including sovereignty, the decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing. But crucially it promised neutrality from the UK government. It says;
"The power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities".
Theresa May and the Tories are breaching this requirement in the most selfish and despicable way.
I declare openly that the DUP is not my kind of politics and as an Irish republican my views and biases maybe questioned in some quarters. I am embarrassed by its policies, including its pro-Brexit stance (counter to the wider Northern Irish vote), its anti-gay marriage views and its long-held opposition to women’s rights. I fully understand that in lacking an absolute majority, the Tories had no choice but to try to form some kind of alliance with another party. Their previous coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats - whose fingers are still badly burned from last time with Nick Clegg, their previous leader, still carrying the can - are not of a mind to partner this time.
I am not sure though that John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron would have compromised their leadership and values with what many in Ireland would consider a betrayal of the need for the greater good in order to address a short term fix for the Tory Party. I am deeply concerned at the role the DUP is being given to share power in Westminster when it could not even strike a power-sharing deal on home turf. The only good thing about this coalition is that the DUP’s policies will finally make it into the mainstream media, and be subject to greater scrutiny. I think people will be surprised and shocked by many of their policies and politics.
This is all happening against a rise in popularity for hard-line sectarian parties in Northern Ireland at the expense of more moderate parties. It amazes me how this has gone largely unnoticed and unreported by an astonishingly negligent British press who have been fixated by Brexit and its impact primarily on England. As a UK resident I have noticed that in the last decade or so, Northern Irish affairs have seldom made the front page of any British newspaper. In my opinion the present situation in Northern Ireland deserves much more attention than it is getting. It should scare anyone who remembers ‘The Troubles’.
In reading the Irish papers I notice that there are serious concerns in Dublin that a Tory-DUP national deal would undermine the neutrality of the co-chair of the Belfast talks. Sinn Féin unsurprisingly has criticised the decision by the DUP to consider propping up a minority Conservative government that they said “betrayed the interests of the people”. The party said the arrangement would “end in tears”. I am sure it too will try to play politics with this very unpleasant arrangement. To some the DUP are misogynistic, climate change-deniers, and paramilitary endorsed. To others they are a duly elected democratic party. I will leave you to make your own minds on this. To me Theresa May, in her desperation to cling to power when she announced on the steps of No. 10 that she intends to lead a government “over the next five years” with “our friends and allies” the DUP, exposes Northern Ireland to a time of potential turbulence that I really and truly hope does not take us back to the past.