Monday 12 June 2017

Things that are and are not true about a Tory-DUP coalition deal

So, it seems that as of writing the coalition deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that Theresa May wishes to conclude in order to stay in government is still up in the air, however much has already been written about its possible effect on the Northern Irish peace process and UK political scene in general. Some of it, though, seems particularly dubious, and potentially dangerous (or at least deeply misleading) if taken seriously. Let's take the common points in turn:

1) The DUP is linked to terrorist organisations and therefore a coalition deal with them is unconscionable.

Some members of the DUP have informal, non-official links to Loyalist paramilitaries, DUP officials certainly has "winked" at Loyalist paramilitaries by, for example, thanking their friends in certain strongly-loyalist neighbourhoods, as is noted by the BBC here. At the same time officially they do not accept endorsements from paramilitaries and condemn the attacks that Loyalist paramilitaries have carried out.

The connection between the DUP and the Loyalists paramilitaries is therefore not even nearly the kind of official relationship that exists between the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein. DUP politicians do not praise the UVF or the UDA the way Sinn Fein politicians do the IRA. DUP politicians do not accept the endorsement of former "Prisoners of War" (that is, men jailed for acts of heroism like, say, leaving a bomb with a timer set in a busy highstreet, or kidnapping and murdering a single mother of ten) as Sinn Fein do.

The idea that the DUP is simply the protestant, Loyalist mirror-image of Sinn Fein, and that a deal with them is just as unacceptable as a deal with Sinn Fein would be, does not hold water.

2) A deal with the DUP would be illegal under the Good Friday Agreement since that requires that the Westminster government be neutral in Northern Irish affairs.

As the legal comentator David Allen Green pointed out, this is clearly a political issue on which no court would pass judgement even if a breach of the agreement could be clearly identified (which it hasn't been). This hasn't stopped Sinn Fein from making this claim, however.

There is plenty of reason, though, for being highly dubious about Sinn Fein's claim. The biggest one from my point of view is that when the Good Friday Agreement was concluded the government of the time was in what amounted to an informal coalition with a Northern Irish party  (SDLP's MPs take the Labour party whip), and was for years after that, and neither Sinn Fein nor any other Northern Irish party thought this worth objecting to or impacted on the UK government's neutrality.

Moreover, taking Sinn Fein's stance on this at face-value, it would seem to preclude them ever being involved in the government in Dublin (which has a similar role under the Good Friday Agreement), which given their efforts to take power there cannot possibly be their position. 

3) The DUP's positions on abortion and gay rights put them beyond the pale in modern British politics.

The DUP's position on abortion is the same as that of the SDLP (and for that matter, Sinn Fein). As has already been noted above, the Labour party were in what amounted to a coalition with the SDLP for years and this point was never raised. Perhaps it should have been?

The DUP's position on gay rights is just as reprehensible, in my view, as its position on abortion, but again Labour did not see this as a barrier when they approached the DUP to form a coalition in 2010.

Tu quoque arguments are tiresome and illogical, but if you had to judge what is acceptable in British politics by past form, there is no reason to believe that a deal with the DUP is unacceptable simply because of their positions on gay rights and abortion. The real point of contention should be whether the DUP demands an erosion of gay rights and abortion rights in return for the coalition deal, and it is here that we should be wary.

4) This endangers the Peace Process at a serious juncture.

This is, I think, the biggest and best reason to object to a coalition with the DUP. Power-sharing in Northern Ireland has collapsed after the last Northern Irish elections and talks are currently ongoing to re-start it. Why would anyone wish to upset the balance of these talks?

The problem here is that for the UK government to be absent from these talks would also endanger them, and without this deal there cannot be a stable UK government - instead, if no deal were made and the government lost a no-confidence vote, there would be another election which is no more likely to return a majority government than the last one. The Tory-DUP deal represents the only viable deal that is ever likely to happen.

As I said above, we should be very wary of allowing the Conservatives to make a deal that would make unacceptable concessions. The idea of allowing marches to go ahead again, after they repeatedly led to violent stand-offs, in return for a coalition deal, cannot be given credence. Ruth Davidson is entirely correct to hint that she and her new batch of Scottish Conservative MPs will not tolerate an erosion of LGBTI rights in the UK as a result of this deal.

There are indeed reasons to be positive about a deal with the DUP. The DUP is committed to not accepting any special status vis-à-vis the EU for Northern Ireland, and to not accepting a return to a "Hard Border" there, commitments which, taken together, would seem to preclude a Hard Brexit.

[Picture: DUP founder Ian Paisley - more than any single man except perhaps Gerry Adams, to blame for the Troubles carrying on for as long as they did. Via Wiki]

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