As the current polls are pointing to the Conservatives being returned to office with an enhanced majority and the DUP’s influence is likely to evaporate. However, reading the Conservative Manifesto I wondered whether some of this might be premature as I focused on the Northern Ireland section. Here is where I must put the health warning that proof will be in the eating. But I have highlighted some key passages from the manifesto.
Let’s start off with Devolution as the Tories hint at a more proactive approach towards the regions;
This positive evolution of our constitution has given a voice to people who felt distant from the centre of power, and responsibility to people for their own part of our great country. We will continue to work in partnership with the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, in a relationship underpinned by pooling and sharing resources through the Barnett Formula. We will respect the devolution settlements: no decision-making that has been devolved will be taken back to Westminster. Indeed, we envisage that the powers of the devolved administrations will increase as we leave the EU. However, we can still do more for the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’. This Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country.
Commitment to the Union and Good Friday institutions;
Our steadfast belief remains that Northern Ireland’s future is best served within a stronger United Kingdom.
Our commitment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement and its successors, together with the institutions they establish, is undiminished. The next Conservative government will therefore work to re-establish a strong, stable and inclusive executive at the earliest opportunity. We will uphold the essential principle that Northern Ireland’s future should only ever be determined by democracy and consent.
On the economy;
A Conservative government will work closely with an incoming executive to strengthen the economy even further, to improve productivity, reduce public sector dependency and promote Northern Ireland as a location for inward investment. We remain committed to the devolution of Corporation Tax powers subject to the executive demonstrating fiscal stability.
On security and the past;
A Conservative government will continue to work for the full implementation of the 2014 Stormont House and 2015 Fresh Start Agreements. This includes new bodies for addressing the legacy of the past in fair, balanced and proportionate ways which do not unfairly focus on former members of the Armed Forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The immense contribution of the security forces during the troubles should never be forgotten. We will reject any attempts to rewrite history which seek to justify or legitimise terrorism.
United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund;
We will use the structural fund money that comes back to the UK following Brexit to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations. The money that is spent will help deliver sustainable, inclusive growth based on our modern industrial strategy. We will consult widely on the design of the fund, including with the devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and public bodies. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be cheap to administer, low in bureaucracy and targeted where it is needed most.
Reading through the pages there is a lot in here from the economy, strengthening the Union, to the Past that would bring a smile to a DUP face. As the talks take place after the election about restoring the Executive, it does seem that the Conservative view of devolution proceeding is very much in line with the DUP’s with Northern Ireland playing a fuller role in the UK and great bodies after Brexit to enhance a One Nation approach.
As UK politics continues in a state flux it will be interesting to see how this approach works in reality and how much of it is properly implemented. There is the Thatcher example of Northern Ireland being as British as Finchley which ended up the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 to Unionist condemnation.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs