What has emerged in the aftermath of the British general election could be described as a perfect storm; a challenge to the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement the likes of which we haven’t seen and what some nationalists might describe as a huge step towards a united Ireland.
Due to Sinn Féin not taking their seats in the House of Commons and the SDLP failing to retain any of the three seats which they had, there will not be any nationalist representation when Westminster sits again, there will also be no pro-remain MPs representing Northern Ireland, a region which voted to remain and which has a border with the European Union. Furthermore, there will be no MPs representing Irish border constituencies. This is compounded by the fact that there is currently no devolved government in Northern Ireland due to Sinn Féin pulling out of the executive as a result of the “Cash for Ash” corruption scandal involving the DUP. There is a strong possibility that direct rule (from Westminster) may be enforced as well. The British government is also currently playing, what must be, a neutral role of mediator between the two parties in an attempt to get a government back up and running in Northern Ireland. In this context, Theresa May’s courtship of the fiercely proud colonialists, the DUP, in an attempt to keep the Tories in government and save face could see the DUP hold all the cards in relation to Northern Ireland and, historically, this makes for a dangerous situation.
On Question Time, Tony Blair’s former spokesman, Alastair Campbell claimed that May was putting the peace process at risk with a “sordid, disgraceful, dangerous deal.”
An important factor in the peace process achieved by John Major and Tony Blair’s governments was the fact that the British and Irish government were able to play mediator between the two warring factions. With the DUP in the British government, this undermines the government’s impartiality and makes any agreement about power-sharing, or anything else for that matter, unlikely.
Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff to Blair, has stated that their are inherent dangers in relying on DUP support and has stated, “since 1991, the British government has made it clear that it is neutral in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t take sides between unionists, nationalists and republicans. To change that, would be a catastrophic mistake. It would really undermine the entire basis of the peace agreement and furthermore, it will make it extremely difficult to set up a new executive in Northern Ireland.”
A Northern Ireland where unionism is dominant, as could happen under a Tory-DUP government, is also dangerous for the peace process. The Unionist State governed Northern Ireland for much of its existence in the 20th Century and this led to widespread discrimination against Catholic nationalists. This raises the question of the likelihood of there being any provisions at all to safeguard the rights and interests of the nationalist community. Nationalists will also consider the power that the DUP now hold as particularly unjust given that unionism has recently lost its majority in Stormont. If Irish nationalism ever had a mandate for a united Ireland, it’s now.
Direct rule by a neutral British government is likely to have ramifications in itself, however direct rule by a Conservative government who are answerable to unionist extremism is quite another thing and would be contrary to the idea of power-sharing embodied in the Good Friday Agreement.
As with past decisions made by the likes of Andrew Bonar Law and Margaret Thatcher, May’s agreement with the DUP is further proof that the Conservative party is still the most dangerous political party in regards to Ireland. With the unpopularity of the Conservatives in Scotland and the ignorance they continue to show towards Northern Ireland, perhaps it is time to accept that you cannot have a Tory government and a United Kingdom.