You’re playing senior hurling now lads
Those were the words uttered by Fianna Fail Minister, Seamus Brennan to the Green Party in 2007 as they formed a coalition with Fianna Fail.
The DUP are currently in talks with the Conservative Party about forming a minority government. So far, things have gone well for the party with the confusion from Number 10 about whether a deal had been reached and then the DUP’s statement that talks were ongoing but that no deal had been agreed put them on the front foot, making May’s administration look chaotic.
But now that they’re in prime time, what can we expect from the DUP?
I would be surprised if we see any movement on social issues and if they did move, it shows they have little interest in making this arrangement last. The DUP whilst indifferent to press reactions in the rest of the UK are not ignorant of wider political realities. The DUP are (as is blindingly obvious locally) a very socially conservative party, but economically they are pragmatic & populist in their approach. Look out for issues around welfare and pensions as key issues that I would bet they will seek a deal on. Also look out for the local projects on infrastructure that might come with a confidence & supply arrangement. But more importantly, should the party get concessions around welfare that frees up money locally for Stormont, then you can see they are intent on getting devolution back up and running.
I know there are fears about what the DUP will push around issues such as abortion rights, a key difference between Westminster and here is that conscience issues tend to be free votes that the main parties never whip their MPs on. To this observer it would be waste of time to ask the Tories for something that is not in their gift to deliver and would reopen was are generally regarded as settled issues.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Tory manifesto contained some hope for the DUP, so there will be some indication on the direction of travel. Expect things about boosting the Union and legacy issues to come to the fore.
Here’s another thing to consider, the DUP will want this to last for as long as they possibly can. An arrangement that folds within a few months is little use to them. They will want at least one budget cycle and a Queens Speech to get an agenda in place. The party have two targets for the next election, namely North Down and some way of winning Fermanagh/South Tyrone, they will also want to get something a would help them regain lost ground at an Assembly Election.
The DUP are playing senior hurling now and with the intransigence from the other main opposition parties in the House of Commons they are the Conservatives only port of call. Will it last for the DUP to get bankable gains? That remains to be seen and will the DUP play their cards right to get issues through that can deliver for Northern Ireland? Time will tell….