THE BLOG

A Deeply Divisive Alliance

12/06/2017 13:14 BST | Updated 12/06/2017 13:15 BST
Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Quite a lot has been said in the last few days about the results of the General Election. From the moment the exit poll was released, GE2017 has been edge-of-your-seat electoral politics, which prior to 2015 seemed a rare thing. Those of us who threw in the towel in the wee hours of 9 June woke up to a hung parliament, a galvanised Labour electorate, and the name of a political party some had never heard. Google searches for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were tapped out as many tried to piece together what they had missed in the night. And while some celebrated the surprise gains of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, some of us felt a (now familiar) icy block growing in our stomachs as it seemed that Theresa May was ready to forge ahead with the backing of the DUP in order to cling to a small majority.

An alliance with the DUP could be disastrous, not only for the people of Northern Ireland but the rest of the United Kingdom. Almost instantly, voters in the rest of the UK learned what many in Northern Ireland had already known - the DUP has a shocking record on social issues and human rights, from reproductive rights to the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community to the denial of climate science. Almost instantly, there were questions: what would the future of reproductive rights in Northern Ireland be if the anti-choice DUP became Mrs. May's queenmakers? How could the Tories claim to support the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community while jumping into bed with a virulently bigoted party? What did any of this mean for the already delicate situation in Northern Ireland?

Ideally, power-sharing arrangements ensure that communities within deeply divided societies are able to participate in governance on more or less equal footing. On the whole, power-sharing solutions, while difficult and often fragile, are a solid way of managing civil conflict. The arrangement in Northern Ireland has been lauded in the scholarship on deeply divided societies as a success and deservedly so, but it is by no means a perfect peace. Power-sharing agreements are by nature delicate, fraught arrangements, and Northern Ireland is in no way an exception.

In Northern Ireland, the political climate is tense enough without a Conservative Party- DUP alliance. Power-sharing talks between the two major parties broke down early this year, with the deadline for an agreement requiring extension to save it. Only two months ago the Guardian reported the possibility of a return to direct rule - although direct rule by a Parliament propped up by the DUP is certainly not what anyone had in mind as a viable solution. If in a few months' time direct rule is instated, the DUP is sure to be favoured in some capacity - how could they not be, when they prop up Mrs. May's small majority? There have been calls for Sinn Féin to take their seats in Westminster in order for nationalist interests to have some kind of voice, breaking with their abstentionist practices. But relying on Sinn Féin to appear at Westminster unduly places the burden of responsibility on a party that as a matter of course does not appear at Parliament, and demanding this demonstrates a lack of consideration and care for the very real principles that inform abstention. A neutral arbiter cannot afford to ignore the road to abstention and in good faith retain claim to its neutrality by knowingly putting nationalist politicians on the back foot, and no one would blame the nationalist community for fearing political exclusion.

For a prime minister seeking election on a much-maligned mantra of "strong and stable", Mrs. May needs to consider that her sought alliance with the DUP threatens outright the security of Northern Ireland and indeed the whole of the UK. The UK can be neither strong nor stable when the peace process in Northern Ireland is so blatantly snubbed. It would be naïve to believe that the DUP can participate equally in governance agreements with Sinn Féin while doubling as the queenmakers of the ruling party, and a breakdown in the peace brought about by power-sharing threatens everyone when it destabilises Northern Ireland. An alliance with the DUP suggests that Mrs. May is more interested in consolidating her power via a small majority in Parliament than she is with the security and stability of the country she is trying to lead.