It is sufficing to say that I am no expert in Northern Irish politics, hell, I’m no expert in English politics. Like many British people who did not live through the height of the troubles in Ireland, my education on the issues began and ended in secondary school, only spending a couple months learning about it in history class. However, with the current deal between the Conservatives and the DUP on the horizon, it is important to consider what this means for Ireland, especially concerning the Black Friday Agreement. I have thus researched the topic; however, it is important to note that I am by no means well-versed in the politics of Northern Ireland.
The Belfast Agreement, most commonly known as the Black Friday Agreement, was reach on 10th April 1998, on Good Friday of that year, hence the given name. The contract, as it were, came into force in December 1998, and consisted of various laws that would keep the rule of Northern Ireland fair and impartial. The creation of a Northern Ireland Assembly with a power-sharing executive was extremely important in doing this. Both the Nationalists and the Unionists must work side by side in the assembly, with decisions made based on parallel consent. This, ultimately meant that, the running of the country was based on gaining endorsement from a majority of both nationalists and unionists. When this agreement was first drawn up, it was opposed by the DUP, along with the UKUP, a small unionist party of which is no longer an active party. However, when the referendum was held on 22nd May 1998, the support for the Agreement was overwhelming. Voting was not compulsory, nevertheless, the turnout was extremely high at 81.1% in Northern Ireland. Of those who voted here, a staggering 71.12% favoured of the settlement. In the Republic of Ireland support was even more potent, with just over 94% backing the political agreement.
There are various other aspects of the agreement that are paramount to the continuing peace and stability in Ireland, such as the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and new cross-border institutions with the Republic of Ireland Assembly. However, in terms of the newly proposed ‘confidence and supply’ deal, the most crucial issue that challenges the Good Friday Agreement here, is the issue of impartiality that both the UK and Irish governments are supposed to demonstrate. The agreement clearly points out that the governments must not align with either of the differing political traditions, whether that be Unionist, the DUP, or nationalist, most prominently at this moment Sinn Fein. However, with Theresa May in talks to use the DUP to prop her up in government, questions must be raised as to whether this challenges the rules set out in the Belfast Agreement. This is especially an issue as Sinn Fein abstain from taking their seats in Westminster. Moreover, whereas previously the SDLP, another nationalist party, did indeed take up their 3 seats in UK parliament, they have lost them. All this means is that nationalists will no longer have a presence in Westminster which is worrying enough in itself in terms of impartiality of the two political stances. What is even more worrying, however, is the fact that as it stands the British Prime Minister is in reliance of one of these parties.
Sinn Fein themselves have stated that this unofficial ‘coalition’, as it were, “betrayed the interests of the people” and would only “end in tears”. Indeed, it appears that if the deal made by the Conservative party and the DUP allows for a great deal of power to be put into the hands of the Unionist party, then a betrayal of the treaty would have occurred. Although the DUP have stated that they would not raise their opinions and stances on social issues in the talks of the deal with May, the issue of the power they would then have is worrying for the agreement as it stands. Indeed, as I detailed in my previous blog post on what the ‘coalition’ would mean for the Conservatives, May’s speech outside Downing Street on Friday may cause great issues. In the speech, she outlined the power that the DUP could truly have over her. It is now clear that without the DUP, May and the Conservatives would no longer possess the power to rule over Parliament. By explicitly expressing that, May has put herself in a weakened position, once again, concerning talks. The DUP know what is at stake, and although they may argue that they won’t use that to their advantage right now, it seems rather unlikely that they would never attempt to in the future. This is especially likely as there are various issues that the DUP and Conservatives do not agree with, and therefore, in order to keep their majority, the Tories may have to resort to appeasement as to not jeopardise their claim to power. It is important to note, moreover, that this ‘coalition’ is no official coalition at all, instead it relies on ‘confidence and supply’, meaning that the DUP are able to remove themselves from it at any time, making the Conservatives, ultimately at their feet. Despite being such a small party, the DUP are at this moment in time, one of the most important in regards to who has power.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see why so many are so wary of this alliance between the two parties. As outlined in my previous post, the DUP possess various regressive ideas surrounding social issues. Now, as I just stated, the party have stated that these will not appear in the talks of a deal with the Conservatives, however, how long will it be until they are? Moreover, the longer and more the Tories rely on them, the more bias, it seems, the UK parliament will appear. With the DUP holding strings to the Tories, and no nationalists apparent in Westminster, it is easy to see why there is worry of an undermining of the agreement taking place. While I do not claim to know enough to predict what this will ultimately cause in Northern Ireland, what I do believe is that if the deal does not adhere to the rules of the agreement then chaos may also ensue in Northern Ireland once again. It is one thing to deplore unnecessary chaos in her own Parliament, but to potentially undermine the government of Northern Ireland also is an irresponsible and unjust move on Mrs. May’s part. While at this moment in time we do not have a clear understanding of what the Conservative-DUP deal consists of, what is extremely clear is that the power of the Conservative party relies on it. Therefore, if this deal is to go underway, it is difficult to see how it will not have a profound and damaging effect on the agreements made back in 1998. It seems rather likely, especially considering the extent of reliance that May has on the backing of the DUP, that impartiality and bias are bound to occur in Westminster. What this means in practical terms I do not know. Fundamentally, however, it appears that a breach may occur in accordance to the Black Friday Agreement, meaning that chaos would now not only be apparent in Westminster, but also have a dire extension into Northern Irish politics.