Saturday

31st Oct 2020

UK set for joint rule with Northern Irish zealots

  • Paisley (r), a former DUP chief, known for spreading sectarian hatred (Photo: PRODUP Photos)

The British government is preparing to share power with a Northern Irish party, that is known, if at all, for its anti-gay views and for its links with sectarian killers.

A coalition deal with the Democratic Unionists Party (DUP) is the only way for British prime minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party to stay in power after she haemorrhaged support in last Thursday’s (8 June) snap election.

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  • Foster's meeting with leader of UDA paramilitary group caused controversy (Photo: NH53)

But the DUP’s ultra-conservative views on same-sex marriage, abortion, and climate change stray far from the norms of British liberal democracy.

The DUP has consistently blocked motions for gay unions in Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament and its members have a history of making offensive anti-LGBT comments.

Its links with Northern Irish paramilitary groups are also controversial.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, faced criticism last May for meeting Jackie McDonald, the leader of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The UDA is a paramilitary and vigilante group responsible for the deaths of 400 people during the Northern Ireland conflict, the vast majority of them Catholic civilians.

Foster met McDonald just 48 hours after the UDA was involved in a feud which escalated into the murder of a man in front of his three-year old son.

Both of Foster’s predecessors, Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, wore paramilitary clothing and berets while attending the launch of another quasi-paramilitary group, the Ulster Resistance, in 1986.

Paisley’s anti-Catholic and anti-Irish demagoguery also contributed to the violent sectarianism that tore Northern Ireland apart for decades.

During the UK election, the Tories criticised Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, for his alleged sympathies with Irish nationalists.

He was attacked for meeting with Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party, several years ago.

He was also attacked for his “refusal to condemn the IRA”, an Irish paramilitary force, even though he did condemn terrorist attacks by both sides in the conflict. “I condemn all the bombings by both the loyalists and the IRA”, he told Sky news on 21 May.

The fact that the Tory party is seeking DUP support following those attacks on Corbyn smacks of hypocrisy.

Meanhwile, many people in Britain, let alone the EU, had never heard of the Democratic Unionists Party (DUP) until the elections.

That is why their website crashed several times on Friday, as people googled their name when it became clear that May needed DUP support.

“I don’t know very much about them other than they’re socially conservative”, Josh Hinton, a British voter, told EUobserver.

“I don't know anything about the DUP”, Kim, a Tory voter who did not give her family name, said.

“I was one of the many people googling them this morning. What happens with Brexit is my greatest concern,” she said, after having voted to remain in the EU in last year’s Brexit referendum.

Brexit talks

On the issue of Brexit, the DUP chose ideology over pragmatism and the greater good of Northern Ireland.

They are vehemently eurosceptic.

They campaigned for Brexit despite the fact that Northern Ireland has the most to lose if there is no amicable deal with the EU.

Eighty three percent of Northern Irish farmers rely on subsidies from the EU.

The Northern Irish economy, more broadly speaking, relies on tariff-free trade with Europe and with Ireland. It also relies on EU-linked foreign direct investment.

The situation has seen Irish leaders call for a “special status” for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

A joint committee on jobs, enterprise, and innovation in the Irish parliament has proposed that all citizens in the north should be entitled to remain as EU citizens with access to the single market as well as some EU funding, such as Intereg - the structural funding which address economic and social problems resulting from the existence of borders.

Failing the special status option, “the only alternative is a border poll”, asking citizens of Northern Ireland if they wish to reunite with the south, said Matt Carthy, a Sinn Fein MEP.

It is “coming our way anyway, and we’re putting together a strategy to win it”, he told EUobserver, referring to the future vote on reunification.

The DUP might have done well in the British election, but “unionist parties failed to get 50 percent of the vote” in Northern Ireland, meaning they lack a popular mandate to steer the future of the country, Carthy said.

A potential opportunity

With the DUP coalition deal in the air, concerns also exist over the independence of the British government in talks on re-establishing the Northern Irish Executive, the devolved government in Belfast.

Power-sharing talks failed following a snap election last March.

A deadline of 29 June has been set for the executive to return to governing in the north.

Incoming Irish prime minister (taoiseach) Leo Varadkar said he will be “emphasising” the importance of British independence in the process to May when he contacts her.

It was “very important" that May understood that her "role is to be co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement and not to be too close to any particular party in the north”, he told reporters on Monday, referring to the agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The fact that there is no government with a safe majority was not a good thing, he said of the UK election result.

“On the other hand, the fact that the government in Britain is now going to be strongly influenced by conservatives north of the border in Scotland and unionists in northern Ireland does potentially mean that more heed will be taken to issues such as the need to ensure that there is no economic border and that trade continues as normal between Britain and Ireland”, he said.

“I think that is a potential opportunity.”

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.

EU leaders closing in on May

From warning about a delay for Brexit talks to calls for resignation, EU political leaders are putting pressure on the British prime minister.

Voting record belies DUP's radical EU image

Northern Irish unionists are called "nuts" in the EU parliament, but the DUP's voting record is close to that of the Conservatives, as the UK tries to forge its Brexit coalition.

EU tells UK its door still 'open'

France and Germany have said the UK could still stay in the EU, as Britain confirmed that Brexit talks would start on Monday.

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