The DUP, the Tories, and why we’re in trouble

Lewis Thomas 11 June 2017

So that’s it- the DUP are in the corridors of power. God help us.

When I saw that a deal was being floated on Friday, my first reaction was unprintable. So I rang a family member and asked if they’d seen it – their reaction was also unprintable. After a day of reflection, here is the printable reaction. The DUP’s admission to the corridors of power poses an existential threat to British life; they are are authoritarians with a dark past, who now find themselves holding the balance of power. Their appointment is a stinging rebuff to the Northern Irish peace process, and a two fingered salute at Dublin. They are set to be the glue in an unstable Westminster administration, relying on the desperation of an impotent leader to get their agenda across. They are, by any stretch of the imagination, a disaster.

And we need to hold them to account.

Over dinner on Friday, a friend argued that the DUP were simply “the Tories, but in Northern Ireland.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Northern Irish Tories were the Ulster Unionist Party, a party composed of moderate Protestants and Unionists, which was essentially the Scottish Conservatives transplanted to Lough Neagh. In the late 1960s, Iain Paisley (later the founder of the DUP) and his Protestant Unionist Party torpedoed the UUP, helping to fuel civil disorder in Northern Ireland which culminated with the introduction of Direct Rule from London and the British government sending in the troops. I don’t need to tell you the rest, because those years and the atrocities committed in them ought to be in our minds – Bloody Sunday; the Battle of the Bogside; Omagh; Bishopsgate; Guildford.

The troubles lasted for thirty years – their legacy still continues. In those thirty years, over four and a half thousand people were killed, and forty-seven thousand were injured. And where were the DUP during the troubles? They were on the front line. Their founder, Iain Paisley, helped bring down various peace agreements and founded the Ulster Resistance, a terrorist group whose founding rally was addressed by Sammy Wilson (one of the DUP MPs Theresa May now finds herself relying on). It is true that Sinn Féin had links with the IRA and Republican terrorist groups, but the DUP had corresponding links with Loyalist terrorist groups; in the 2015 election, it was reported by the BBC that one of their MPs was endorsed by the Ulster Defence Association. By signing this deal, Theresa May has made clear her willingness to work with the darkest wings of Ulster Loyalism.

Since the Good Friday and the St Andrews Agreements, the DUP has participated in the Power-Sharing executive at Stormont, where their record on other- in particular socialissues speaks for itself. They have campaigned against abortion; they appointed a climate change denier as Environment Minister; they used the Petition of Concern mechanism to block Equal Marriage, against the wishes of a majority both of the Stormont Assembly and the public. They are illiberal, they are authoritarian and, as the “Cash for Ash” scandal demonstrates, they are incompetents who, by campaigning against restrictions on Parading and meeting with Loyalist paramilitary leaders (Arlene Foster met with the leader of the UDA as recently as June 1st), have proven willing to cosy up to extremists.

And now Theresa May is relying on them to prop up her government.

For Northern Ireland, the DUP deal sends a signal that Mrs. May is prepared to back certain parties and communities, and is willing to engage in partisan politicking the Westminster Government has historically avoided. The careful balance struck by the Good Friday, St Andrews, and even the Anglo-Irish Agreements has been threatened, and we can expect to see Loyalist voices emboldened by May’s declaration that she is willing to work with her “friends and allies in the Democratic Unionist party.” The Westminster government should not be friends and allies with a single party, it should be friends and allies with any and all parties willing to participate in, and move forward, the peace process and Northern Irish constitutional settlement. The Nobel Peace Prize for bringing a measure of peace to Northern Ireland went to Trimble (UUP) and Hume (SDLP), not to Paisley and Adams- it rewarded peaceful progress, not armed conflict. By cutting deals with the DUP, May may have thrown the peace settlement up in the air. That’s the situation for Northern Ireland- for the Republic, Mrs. May has placed her own self-interest ahead of both the cross-border settlement, and in the preservation of the peace settlement. Regardless of which side of the border one looks at, the deal is a threat to a hard won peace settlement, and to the British government’s neutrality in Northern Ireland.

Finally, Mrs. May has abdicated her principles. She called the election to strengthen her mandate, and failed. Instead of owning her failure, she has clung on in No.10, acting as if she won by a landslide, continuing with her policy programme and cutting a deal with a party that was too right wing for Enoch Powell (who joined the UUP), and who once described DUP policy as an act of “criminal irresponsibility perpetrated against the Province by a small knot of men.” There are ten DUP MPs, but make no mistake- they intend to take this government for everything it has. If there are liberal voices within the Tory Party opposed to the DUP deal, they should start speaking up- to her credit, Ruth Davidson has already done so. If you value the rights of minorities; if you value a political system which does not accept corruption; if you value not being ruled by a coalition of chaos that sits down with terrorist sympathisers, you should start speaking up. The DUP espouse homophobia, sexism, and allegedly sympathise with terrorist organisations, and yet Mrs. May tells us that that they must have some say in our government.

We say, never, never, never, never.