Prime Minister Theresa May struck a deal Monday with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to support her minority government and ensure passage of her legislative agenda later this week.
The Democratic Unionist Party is a pro-British, largely Protestant party that wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1971 by the Rev. Ian Paisley, a rabble-rousing advocate of keeping Northern Ireland part of the union rather than being united with the rest of Ireland. In the past the party has had links to paramilitary groups backing the loyalist cause.
After the Good Friday agreement in 1998 put an end to the decades of violence known as “The Troubles,” Paisley mended fences with his Catholic opponents and eventually served as first minister of the power-sharing government. The party has long played a central role in Northern Ireland and now stands to gain more influence in Parliament as well.
The agreement will not sit well with rivals Sinn Fein and its leader, Gerry Adams, who maintains the deal would break the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Opponents of the deal say the British government would no longer be acting as a neutral party with regards to Northern Ireland if the DUP has an active role in government.
DUP’s DIFFERENCES WITH THE CONSERVATIVES
The DUP generally takes a sterner line on social issues. It opposes the right to abortion, which was legalized in England, Scotland and Wales in 1967. It also opposes same-sex marriage, which has been possible in the rest of the United Kingdom since 2014. The DUP does agree with the Conservative Party in favoring leaving the European Union. The party is particularly keen on keeping open the border with the Irish Republic, a member of the European Union.
As part of the deal, the government will provide funds to boost Northern Ireland’s economy, while investing in infrastructure, health and education. The package includes 1 billion pounds ($1.27 billion) of new funding and 500 million pounds ($638 million) of previously announced funds.
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said the agreement would “address the unique circumstances” of Northern Ireland. May said the two parties “share many values.”
“We also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its program and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues,” May said. “So the agreement we have come to is a very, very good one.”
May needs the deal to ensure the survival of her government after a disastrous election that left her Conservative Party without a majority in the House of Commons. But the money for Northern Ireland is certain to raise questions amid budget shortages.
Lawmakers are seeking additional funding for the police and security services after recent extremist attacks, as well as more and better public housing following a high-rise apartment fire that killed at least 79 people.
Foster’s party had demanded tangible benefits in terms of jobs and investment for Northern Ireland before she would agree to support May’s government. The DUP has 10 seats in Parliament, enough to guarantee passage of the government’s agenda.
The June 8 election gave May’s Conservatives the most seats, but not enough to automatically carry legislation, notably the thorny choices to come concerning Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The leaders of Wales and Scotland were quick with their fury following the announcement about the Democratic Unionist Party partnership, wondering aloud why one part of the United Kingdom should get special treatment at the expense of the rest.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that any sense of fairness was “sacrificed on the altar of grubby DUP deal.” Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones tweeted that the deal “flies in the face of the commitment to build a more united country.”
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the agreement might suit May’s wish to stay in power, but would do little for the country.
“Where is the money for the Tory-DUP deal coming from?” the Labour leader asked. “And, will all parts of the U.K. receive the much-needed additional funding that Northern Ireland will get as part of the deal?”
The money is going to address issues near and dear to the 1.8 million people of Northern Ireland. As part of the arrangement, funds will be earmarked to address a major traffic bottleneck involving three busy roads, as well as improving high-speed internet services.
It also provides 200 million pounds ($255 million) over two years to transform Northern Ireland’s health service, 100 million pounds ($127 million) for immediate needs health and education. There will be 100 million pounds over five years for poverty programs and 50 million ($64 million) for mental health.
The Conservatives said the agreement “recognizes that Northern Ireland has unique circumstances within the United Kingdom, not least as a consequence of responding to challenges of the past.”
But critics, including some Conservatives, have objected to any kind of alliance with the Democratic Unionists because of some of the party’s views, including its opposition to same-sex marriage and to abortion.
Northern Ireland’s other political parties also have objected to a Conservative alliance with the DUP, as it jeopardizes the government’s pledge to be a neutral arbiter as part of the Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian strife.
The Conservatives said the government would continue to make decisions in the interest of all parties in Northern Ireland and work closely with the government of Ireland in implementing the Good Friday agreement.
Story by the Associated Press