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8 September 2017

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Tory/DUP deal is damaging the political process

● DUP seal their deal with the Tories at Westminster

‘Some in the DUP have begun to politically and psychologically abandon our political institutions and seek refuge in that party’s alliance with the Tories in Westminster’ – Declan Kearney MLA

EARLIER THIS WEEK, the British Government directly challenged the Irish Government’s co-equal status and responsibility for oversight of the peace and political processes.

Following Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney’s statement that “there can be no British-only direct rule” on behalf of the Irish Government, British Prime Minister Theresa May bluntly rejected any joint authority or joint Irish/British rule options.

This exchange arose due to the recent discussion about the return of direct rule if the new round of Stormont talks fail to achieve agreement on restoring the political institutions in the North.

Public interventions by DUP MPs in the last two weeks have pushed the issue of direct rule back onto the political agenda.

Ian Paisley on devolution

They said the potential to re-establish the Executive did not exist and direct rule was the only option.

These interventions reflect disunity within the DUP over direct rule. 

A significant section of that party remains hostile to power-sharing, parity of esteem, equality and rights.

This is nothing new.  

Those previously known as ‘The 12 Apostles’ were central to opposing the peace process itself, the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), government with Sinn Féin, the transfer of policing and justice powers, and ultimately Ian Paisley’s political leadership.

The negative thrall once held over the DUP by this significant caucus now finds expression in part through many of its MPs.

The question which obviously arises is the extent to which those most opposed to power sharing and partnership are setting the agenda for the overall DUP leadership, and whether the party will be willing to join with Sinn Féin and other parties in putting the equality and rights agenda at the heart of a new Executive.

Put simply, that means an Executive which adheres to proper power-sharing is committed to equality and anti-sectarianism and accepts that objective need should be the key determinant of public policy and expenditure.

That framework is the only basis upon which to future-proof the political institutions and ensure they do not drift back to the politically corrupted status quo of institutionalised bigotry or inequality towards any section of society in the North.

Failure to re-establish the political institutions on the right basis means the future of politics here will be subject to permanent political instability. And that is in no one’s interests.

However, make no mistake – the alternative is not direct rule as advocated by several DUP and UUP politicians.

That scenario would undo all the political progress made to date.

Michelle O'Neill speaking to the media at Stormont this week.

Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Féin are clear – equality is not a negotiation

Similar to their joint pursuit of Brexit, the Tory/DUP alliance is politically destabilising.

Their Westminster deal is quite obviously, what motivated the British decision to publicly rebuke Simon Coveney this week and contradict the Irish Government on direct rule.

The British Government is wrong.

Both governments are co-equal.  

They have a joint and equal responsibility for managing the political process, implementation of the GFA and other agreements, and upholding and entrenching the rights of citizens.

Any attempt to reimpose direct rule by the British would represent an anti-democratic retreat from the GFA and run counter to the will of the majority, North and South.

The fact is the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 ended the ability of the British Government to suspend the political institutions here and introduce direct rule.  

In the event of no agreement within the political process, it requires a new British and Irish partnership to implement the Good Friday Agreement.

The British Government statements this week renege on those obligations. 

Its public comments are in conflict with the democratic basis of the GFA and St Andrews Agreement.  

The British administration has subordinated its co-equal role as guarantor for the GFA alongside the Irish Government to the whim of the side deal struck with the DUP. 

The Irish Government needs to disassociate itself from that policy position. Failure to do so makes it complicit in a form of retrograde political bipartisanship being dictated by the Tory/DUP deal.

Any attempt to reintroduce direct rule would deepen the nature of the political crisis with international implications.

The next round of talks can be successful if the political will exists within political unionism and on the part of the two governments.

However, Sinn Féin is also clear: equality is not a negotiation; rights will not be compromised; there will be no return to the status quo.  

Good Friday Agreement

If the political institutions cannot be re-established on a credible, clean and sustainable basis then the British and Irish governments must jointly bring forward a comprehensive plan which fully implements the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, ensures the rights of all citizens are upheld and protected, and which also secures Special Designated Status for the North Within the European Union.

Anything less than that will represent a serious violation by both governments – not only the British – of the GFA and St Andrews Agreement.

Political progress and stability should not be hostage to trade-offs and side deals in Westminster. 

The Irish Government must assert its own independence and impartiality. It should ensure that its own responsibility for the implementation of the GFA is not compromised.

That means the Irish Government must decide that it is not going to be compromised by the Tory/DUP deal and instead stand up for the equality agenda and rights of citizens in the North.

The Irish Government has big decisions to make.

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