Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why the Conservative-DUP deal is so dangerous

It has been confirmed that Theresa May will stay as Prime Minister, thanks to a confidence and supply deal made by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to keep in power a Conservative minority government. Even then, there are only 10 DUP MPs and 317 Conservative MPs, so this deal is not stable by any means and has a majority of only 4 (working majority of 10 when 7 Sinn Fein MPs and Speaker are discounted).

So what exactly is the Democratic Unionist Party?

The DUP, originally called the Protestant Unionist Party, was founded by fundamentalist minister Rev. Ian Paisley Sr. (1926-2014) in 1969 on his belief that the Ulster Unionist Party was not anti-Catholic enough for his extremist tastes. He founded his own Free Presbyterian Church to further his aims, which ended up overtaking the Methodists as the third-largest denomination in Northern Ireland. He was the first such politician elected under this label, winning North Antrim in 1970; he was MP for North Antrim from 1970 to 2010, and was ennobled Baron Bannside for the last four years of his life. His son, Ian Paisley Jr, is the current MP for North Antrim.

The DUP stand out from the moderate UUP in their more extensive appeal to working-class Ulsterfolk, their extremely socially conservative views, their more fervent opposition to republicanism and Irish nationalism, and their anti-European stance. They also have indirect links to terrorist organisations like the Ulster Defence Association, which the UUP does not. They are fervently opposed to any support for or recognition of Irish language teaching anywhere in Northern Ireland, and are the only party of any significance in UK politics to have any support for the return of capital punishment.

The DUP have done their best, especially with the use of the 'petition of concern' power, to keep Northern Ireland as religiously conservative as possible, to the point where fundamental human rights are being violated. Unlike in Great Britain, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Northern Ireland and nor are abortions, except in cases where the mother's life is threatened. Sectarianism still pervades so strongly in Northern Ireland because of them, although younger people are turning away from the old Protestant-Catholic divides slowly but surely. The DUP most recently came to the fore during the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal, which forced an early Stormont Assembly election alongside calls for direct rule to be re-imposed, even though direct rule has not worked in the past.

Why is this pact bad news?

Before the snap election of 2017, Theresa May repeatedly stated her desire to repeal the Human Rights Act and potentially withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights; these important things are also opposed by the DUP especially regarding LGBTIQA+ rights. Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives' leader in the Scottish Parliament, has already publicly criticised Theresa May as a result, as have other moderates like Sarah Wollaston (MP for Totnes since 2010). Many nationalists have stated such a pact breaks the Good Friday Agreement (which the DUP have never supported) and could endanger the continuation of the vital Northern Ireland peace process.

More importantly, however, it allows the Conservatives to cling onto power they do not deserve, especially given their hardline mantra on Brexit (NB: only one county in Northern Ireland, Antrim, which is the DUP's best stronghold, voted for Brexit last year; the other five and also the city of Belfast voted Remain), and it will worsen their stance on social and human rights matters more than ever before.

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