So, the Tories have – finally – reached an agreement with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). It’s a deal that costs us – British taxpayers – a billion pounds.
The biggest involuntary party-political donation in history.
It’s also a deal that breaks the 20-year-old Good Friday Agreement, threatening the increasingly fragile Northern Irish peace process, because of the centrality to that agreement of ‘rigorous impartiality’ on the part of the British government.
The so-called Good Friday Agreement (officially titled The Belfast Agreement) includes a firm and unequivocal commitment from all participants, including the British government:
‘rigorous impartiality‘, ‘just and equal treatment of the identity and ethos‘ of both nationalist and loyalist communities.
Not only does the mere fact of the existence of an agreement between the Tory government and the DUP breach the agreement (a legal challenge is already in preparation) – but the DUP (who also signed the commitment) has already been attacking and denigrating Sinn Fein’s practice of not taking their parliamentary seats because this would involve taking an oath to the British monarchy.
An intrinsic part of their ‘ethos and identity’.
DUP spokesman Sir Geoffrey Donaldson told BBC News on Monday that the £1 billion ‘bung’ to be paid for the DUP’s support (plus £500m additional cash to be paid earlier than previously agreed) will be paid even if the devolved government is not resumed – and that if Sinn Fein didn’t like it, they ought to take their parliamentary seats.
This is a clear disrespect of Sinn Fein’s ‘ethos and identity’, as well as an indisputable disregard on the part of the Tories for the commitment to rigorous impartiality in the exercise of ‘sovereign government’ in Northern Ireland.
For those who might not be familiar with it, a little background is in order – and makes the fundamental problem with any Tory-DUP agreement even clearer.
The renewable energy debacle
Northern Ireland’s Assembly collapsed in January because of DUP mismanagement of a renewable energy scheme that will cost taxpayers half a billion. Since then, there has been no government in Northern Ireland. Talks are ongoing to re-establish power sharing.
Theresa May’s deal will release £1.5bn to Northern Ireland. She did not make it a precondition that power sharing should be re-established before the cash could be released. This is crucial.
Two years ago, during welfare reform talks, David Cameron made cross-party agreement a requirement before he would release cash to mitigate against the Bedroom Tax in Northern Ireland.
There are at least two major consequences to Theresa May’s actions today.
First, May has incentivised the break up of Stormont for the DUP, since the cash will be given anyway. The DUP may have warmed to power sharing in recent years but historically they have been opposed to it.
May has gifted them an opening.
Second, she has weakened the negotiating hand of all the other Northern Irish Parties in the current peace talks. Demands they could have insisted upon before will now have to
be watered down or set aside altogether.
One such demand was the full implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrews
Agreements. An entirely reasonable demand, but the DUP has been stalling on full
implementation because it entails compromises they are reluctant to make.
Additionally, other parties are now unlikely to be able to insist that the DUP leader and First Minister, Arlene Foster, accepts responsibility for the £500m wasted on the renewable energy fiasco mentioned above.
By signing a deal for their own narrow party interests, the Tories have just violated the Good Friday Agreement. This is not even close to the rigorous impartiality the UK government are legally obliged to pursue.
Even Tory supporters should be hoping that May fails to get her Queen’s Speech through Parliament.
Because any other outcome threatens the very fabric of peace in Northern Ireland and is likely to cost lives – all for the sake of what is almost certain to be only a brief reprieve for a chaotic and incompetent Tory government.
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