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3 July 2017 Edition

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We live in interesting times

Northern nationalists ‘have turned their backs on Westminster and see solutions being found on an all-Ireland basis’, Gerry Adams said

“MAY YOU LIVE in interesting times” is reputed to be an ancient Chinese curse that has been adapted in modern times by figures such as Robert F. Kennedy.

Like it or not, we certainly live in interesting times after the disastrous election call by British Prime Minister and Tory leader Theresa May.

Desperate to stay in power after the shock resurgence of the Labour Party under the much-vilified Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May’s Tories are wooing the DUP’s 10 MPs and negotiating behind closed doors for the DUP’s support in a “confidence and supply” agreement for her minority government.

Even before the DUP had arrived in Downing Street to begin their bartering with the Tories, the Orange Order in Portadown issued a statement pressing the DUP (including “fellow Bro David Simpson and all the other unionist representatives” who are members of the loyal orders) to push for the controversial Orange Order parade to be allowed down the nationalist Garvaghy Road after being banned in 1998.

Then there are the legacy issues, including immunity in the guise of a statute of limitations for members of the British crown forces responsible for killing people in the North and a redefinition of a ‘victim’ to exclude certain categories of people killed in the conflict.

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• Breaking news from Derry! Elisha McCallion taking the SDLP seat cheers ex-POWs Sinéad Moore, Mary Doyle, Shauneen Baker and Síle Darragh

For republicans, the task of bringing creative energy to the political struggle is a challenge the Sinn Féin leadership will relish and, perhaps more than at any other time in our history, we have the political potential to end partition.

Gerry Adams, reflecting on Sinn Féin’s phenomenal results from the election confirmed that Northern nationalists “have turned their backs on Westminster and see solutions being found on an all-Ireland basis”.

That the SDLP lost its three Westminster seats (with the “SDLP citadel” of Foyle and South Down going to Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion and Chris Hazzard) reinforces opinion within nationalism that the only long-term answer to issues such as Brexit, Tory austerity and the DUP’s Old Testament undercurrents in its social attitudes and policies lies in a reunited Ireland.

That penny began to drop with the SDLP just before the election – but by then it was too late.

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• Gerry Adams tells the media (for the umpteenth time) that Sinn Féin MPs will not be taking seats in the Westminster Parliament

Shine wearing off ‘New Iron Lady’ Theresa May

“IT’S A GOOD DAY for the DUP nationally.”

These were the first words uttered by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds when he strode into the Titanic Exhibition Centre where the count for Belfast’s four parliamentary constituencies was taking place on Friday 9 June. Polling had closed just a few hours earlier.

It was just after midnight and already the first results were confirming what the exit polls were predicting – that there would likely be a hung parliament at Westminster.

As the early indications from across the North were showing that both the DUP and Sinn Féin had polled well, it was obvious that Dodds was, at this early stage, flexing DUP muscles: his party was going to be in a position to hold Theresa May and the Tories to ransom.

The bombast and arrogance that oozed from every pore of Dodds’s skin was evident by the bucket full when, an hour or so later, Arlene Foster – with her large jewelled-crown broach shining from her black jacket – descended upon the count centre á la Margaret Thatcher in her heyday.

It was all in sharp contrast to the assembly election in March when a chastened Foster locked herself away from scrutiny in the Omagh count centre as her party took a hammering at the polls.

From a Democratic Unionist Party point of view, the shoe was now on the other foot and they were lining up to do some serious kicking.

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The acceptance speeches of their successful candidates reinforced the notion that the DUP’s brand of politics is about insult, arrogance and domination.

Now as the dust is beginning to settle on the results of the election the focus is turning on to the horse trading between the DUP and a beleaguered Tory leader Theresa May.

The British Prime Minister was hailed a hero when she called a snap election as the Tory fan press (particularly the Daily Mail and Daily Express) gushed about “The New Iron Lady”.

The Tories were riding high, Labour looked out on its feet despite the acclaim on the streets for its leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairite right of the party worked to undermine his leadership at every opportunity, not just behind the scenes but publicly and unashamedly too.

That May got it so catastrophically wrong and is now beholden to a DUP that is home to right-wing religious zealots, homophobes, misogynists and Islamophobes (as well as her mishandling of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy) has seen Tory faith in the Iron Lady swept away.

Former Tory Finance Minister George Osborne, now editor of London’s only evening newspaper, described her as “a dead woman walking”. 

The horrified reaction to the “#DUPdeal” is summed up by the front page of the English edition of the Daily Mirror on Saturday 10 June. The front-page headline was “Coalition of Crackpots”. To illustrate the point, there was a photo of Theresa May alongside insets of Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell in loyal order regalia and Peter Robinson wearing his unionist paramilitary Ulster Resistance red beret from the 1980s.

England has gotten a wake-up call about the sort of ‘British values’ unionists have been inflicting on nationalists in Ireland with London facilitating if not actively encouraging this bigotry  with ‘the Orange Card’ for centuries.

The DUP’s links to loyalist death squads and the party’s willingness to have the active support of the UDA in south Belfast to get Emma Little-Pengelly elected in the middle of a UDA feud has echoed in England when it normally would be ignored. The Fleet Street and BBC chimera of the ‘good unionists’ is becoming a bit tattered.

So it might not be all plain sailing in the new DUP/Tory pact.

Already the forthright Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davison, who is openly gay (and soon to marry her Irish partner), expressed her unhappiness at the DUP’s homophobia. Sammy Wilson has publicly referred to gay men as “poofs” and the DUP has consistently blocked attempts to enact marriage equality laws in the North.

A spokesperson for the influential Tory Party 1922 Committee believes the DUP could block major legislation set out in the Tory manifesto.

Conservative Chief Whip Gavin Williamson told the media on Saturday evening, 10 June, that a “confidence and supply” deal – where the DUP would back a Tory government on confidence and budget votes to provide “certainty and stability” – was agreed.

How much stability there is left in Theresa May’s rickety regime is, of course, seriously in doubt.

SDLP flounders in Sinn Féin tide

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•  A deflated SDLP ex-leader Alasdair McDonnell looks glum after losing his seat

ON the morning after the election count, the radio weather forecast warned of heavy, dark clouds over the Mountains of Mourne.

The image of a scowling one-time leader and now ex-MP Margaret Ritchie came to mind as the Mournes are the signature geographical and tourist attraction of the South Down constituency where the SDLP’s electoral writ ran for almost four decades.

Now it is represented by Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard. With Elisha McCallion’s victory over former leader Mark Durkan MP in Foyle – the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the SDLP – it is clear that the tide of history is washing over a party that was more about style than substance.

Dolores Kelly, SDLP MLA for Upper Bann, confided: “If we lose Foyle, we may pack it in.” She was at some level recognising that the party has reached the point of irrelevancy.

With another ex-leader and sitting MP, Alasdair McDonnell, falling to the DUP challenge in South Belfast, the SDLP has no Westminster seats.

All three SDLP MPs lost their seats – two of them to Sinn Féin, which went from four to seven MPs.

What is striking about this is that party leader Colum Eastwood attacked Sinn Féin over and over again over its refusal to take seats in Westminster. It was a theme of his manifesto launch when he talked about “progress made by MPs who turn up for work, not just wine receptions and lobbying lunches”.

Irish News columnist Tom Kelly (former Vice-Chair of the SDLP and Seamus Mallon adviser as well as SDLP Communications Director) recycled Eastwood’s soundbites, saying: “Sinn Féin has boycotted Westminster except, it would appear, for the Expenses Office.”

Kelly championed Mark Durkan’s “outstanding” contributions on the “floor of the House” against Tory Brexit Minister David Davis as an example of SDLP effectiveness – but we still got Brexit and the electorate delivered its verdict on abstentionism by voting Sinn Féin.

The immediate challenge is to ensure that, as Theresa May struggles with a new minority government with the DUP pulling her strings, the structures of the Good Friday Agreement are not pulled down with her.

The Irish Government has to stand up and be counted as co-guarantors of the international agreement with Britain, as does the European Union.

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•  Hugs all round as the successful Paul Maskey MP is cheered by brother Alex as wife Patricia (left) and daughter Aoife applaud

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