Undoubtedly the most intriguing aspect of the early post-election period has been how the British public has been introduced to the DUP by a mainstream media in Britain which clearly gave the party little or no attention in the past.
The underlying theme remains one of a party struggling to accept the legitimacy of Others, something of which we are very aware.
Stormont’s collapse earlier this year was the inevitable consequence of the DUP’s unwillingness to embrace a vision of a shared and equal society in the north of Ireland.
Coming to terms with Others or, rather, the party’s failure to so do, continues to be the primary impediment to progress.
The party’s approach to dealing with the past, its record in government in present times and visions for the future are at odds with the logical outworkings of a Good Friday Agreement which placed parity of esteem at the heart of the multi-stranded constitutional framework carefully crafted to begin to allow a stable, more normal society and body politic to gradually take root and flourish. Failing to accept that Northern Ireland’s only viable future is one which must fully recognise both the Irishness of their neighbours and the Britishness of themselves continues to be the primary obstacle holding us all back.
The opposition to an Irish Language Act agreed at St Andrews is but one example. The actions of the DUP Communities Minister in cynically shutting down the Liofa bursary whilst brazenly concocting a Communities Hall funding scheme to filter funds to the Loyal Orders illustrates a party steadfastly holding to a mindset that places the preservation of the British and Unionist identity and people as a privileged caste as the defining object of their endeavours. And that is before we mention the party’s ridiculously supremacist argument holding that Loyal Order parades must be permitted to proceed when and where requested by virtue of a universal freedom denied to the Other- and, on cue, Portadown LOL 1 have already been out to proclaim their expectation that the DUP use their leverage to reopen the toxic Drumcree parading dispute.
The announcement that Theresa May’s beleaguered Conservative Party has attached its wagon to the DUP is not a surprise. The numbers are far from ideal, and they do not appear likely to get the Tories to the point of a Brexit deal, but they are the best of a bad situation for now.
From a nationalist perspective, and that of many informed observers, there will be a sense of wariness that the deal that has been struck can only be one which involves the Tories acquiescing to DUP demands that will further an agenda incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement- and hence the strong sense of foreboding emanating from various political quarters, including Richard Haass and Shaun Woodward.
In the past, British Governments have been more than willing to indulge the DUP’s sectarian agenda. When the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was attempting to entice DUP Leader Ian Paisley into agreeing a deal with Sinn Fein in 2006, the British Government agreed to set up a cynical sectarian funding initiative aimed at addressing problems in working-class areas…with the proviso that they were protestant . It was about sectarianizing poverty, a mindset which continues to inform the DUP’s approach to governance.
Prior to the Westminster election in 2015, when there was a firm expectation that a hung parliament could be the outcome after polling, the DUP produced a document outlining their priorities, and this provides an insight into the party leadership’s thinking at this time.
The DUP’s ‘Past’ agenda includes seeking to impose a definition of ‘victim’ which is compatible exclusively with a unionist interpretation of our past, and the party is also supportive of highly contentious efforts by some Conservative backbenchers and others to provide an effective amnesty for former British Forces members involved in violence including murder during the conflict.
On the ‘Present’, the party is looking to impose statutory protection for the flying of British flags and symbols, whilst it also wants the British Armed Forces Covenant imposed on the north without agreement from nationalists. The notion that British armed forces members would have priority in accessing NHS healthcare, social housing and educational entitlements would simply be explosive in a society in which unionist politicians have stood accused of opposing or seeking to thwart attempts to address social housing waiting lists in nationalist communities for purely sectarian reasons.
The DUP document includes the removal of Westminster allowances funding for MPs refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the British Queen. However, given that this would now apply to all non-unionist MPs elected, it would be hard to see a British Government acceding to this request.
And yet, for all of that, Irish republicans will be quite comfortable with the idea that the notion of a British government acting as an independent arbitrator on Irish affairs has been erased with this move.
Republicans are well placed to argue for talks to be suspended until an independent, international chairperson can be appointed to fulfil the role that can not be undertaken by a British Secretary of State attached at the hip to the DUP.
Furthermore, any deal is likely to involve a public commitment that the British Government will not introduce as part of their arrangement with the DUP any measures which undermine the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
In the end, the public face of a Tory-DUP deal will major on a shared Brexit vision and fiscal measures for Northern Ireland. But the sense of what lies beneath will not go away. Whether that helps fix minds on working a deal in the short term or encourages a cautious approach moving resolution into the medium or long-term, we will find out.