The Times reports that the DUP, emboldened by the clear desperation and lack of options of a weak and flailing Tory party, is pushing for the full slate of demands it prepared for a possible coalition agreement before the 2015 election. Several DUP MPs are also said to be queasy about the public backlash against them in Britain and party leader Arlene Foster wants to sweeten the pot to convince doubters.
But so weak is the Tories’ position that the DUP is understood to be pushing for even more – and the Orange Order has already demanded that DUP leader Arlene Foster include the resumption of its infamous ‘Drumcree march‘ in the requirements of any agreement with Theresa May:
But memories – at least outside Northern Ireland – are short. Many of us will not remember what happened less than 20 years ago – after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – at the height of the stand-off over the Drumcree March through Catholic areas of Portadown that had already seen an off-duty police officer beaten to death by loyalist bandsmen.
The community was to pay a yet more terrible price – one that led to the ending of the march whose resumption is now on the table.
Three young boys – Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn – were in their beds when their home was fire-bombed by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), a paramilitary group that recently expressed continued support for the DUP, at around four in the morning. A whiskey bottle filled with petrol was used by what are believed to be four masked men, but only one. Garfield Gilmour, was ever convicted.
The fire spread rapidly and the boys’ mother, Chrissie, was woken by their cries but they went silent and she thought they had escaped the house when she was unable to find them in the thick smoke.
Their bodies were found – two together in their mum’s bedroom and one in a different bedroom. A fourth brother, Lee, escaped only because he had stayed over at his grandmother’s house that night.
The outcry that the tragic deaths stirred up, both in Northern Ireland and worldwide, let to the banning of the march and contributed to a determination on all sides to make the peace agreement work.
The late US Senator Edward Kennedy, brother of the assassinated President, at the time condemned the attitude and intransigence of the Orange Order that is now pushing to resume their march:
The Orange Order must recognize that its refusal to abide by the decision of the Parades Commission led to the murder of the Quinn boys.
But it is using the Tories’ chaos and straw-grasping to push for the restoration of its ‘right’ to the Drumcree march.
Theresa May and her party appear perfectly ready to risk a return to such terrible days and events in her desperation to shore up her disastrous premiership and retain their grip on power.
But a Drumcree resumption is not the end of their reckless disregard for the safety of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, nor for the memory of the Quinn lads and others who died and suffered.
Alongside the Drumcree ‘green light’ at the core of the DUP’s demands are two measures specifically designed to strike at and weaken the nationalist, Catholic Sinn Fein party, which has seven MPs since last Thursday but maintains an ‘abstentionist’ policy – its MPs do not take their seats in Parliament as they would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarchy.
Those demands involve:
- the removal of funding from Sinn Fein MPs, who currently receive funds to run offices at Westminster to participate there as far as possible without swearing the oath to formally take their seat
- new laws banning parties from accepting donations from overseas, which would starve Sinn Fein of funds from Irish-Americans and other diaspora communities
Add to this the clear consequence that the British government could no longer be regarded as remotely impartial as a mediator and power broker between the nationalist and loyalist communities when it is ‘in bed’ with one of them – and the situation is untenable.
In the context of Northern Ireland, its histories and tensions, ‘untenable’ means that the resumption of hostilities and the loss of life and limb that goes with it, look very likely indeed.
If this toxic DUP-Tory collaboration is not prevented, Theresa May’s selfish attempt to salvage her destroyed reputation will be setting a clock ticking toward new tragedies like that of the innocent Quinn children.
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