SOAPBOX – The NI peace process is under threat: here’s how we save it

Scott Moore is an activist for a secular society with an interest in politics and institutional reform. He is currently a sixth former at Strabane Academy and is writing in a personal capacity.

There can only be one way to allow a Northern Ireland party to enter a coalition at Westminster. At least, while protecting the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement.

Accession to such a coalition must surely depend on cross-party approval, and require a cross-community vote in the NI Assembly. A vote the parties can repeat if the DUP acts out of individual party self-interest.

This measure would ensure that any NI party in a Westminster coalition has to serve the interests of everyone in NI. Moreover, it protects the GFA at a time when it is already weak. It would help guarantee the British government’s status as an impartial chair of any talks.

Of course, no such cross-community vote is going to happen, never mind pass. The DUP might prop up a Tory government. But Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, the Greens and PBP will not. (I haven’t asked Claire Sugden!)

But that’s the way it should be.

This isn’t worth wrecking the peace process.

I would prefer a fresh election where Corbyn becomes prime minister … even though I don’t agree with him on everything. I’d like the chance of a reduced Brexit, even if it isn’t stopped outright. But anything is preferable to the monumental farce that faces us.

To me, it’s a no-brainer to say that the Good Friday Agreement is under threat right now.

Theresa May is seeking a deal with Arlene Foster to prop up the Tories’ numbers in the House of Commons. Jonathan Powell – the British government’s GFA negotiator – has warned of the consequences. The Tories may be “The Conservative and Unionist Party”, but mainstream British Unionism is a different kettle of fish to Ulster Unionism.

The principle of consent underpins Northern Ireland politics.

If a majority of people (as represented by our MLAs) want something here – a law or policy – then it happens. If not, it doesn’t. And in addition, if one community wants it but the other doesn’t, it doesn’t happen.

This deal could mean Theresa May grants the contents of the DUP’s wishlist. This would be in return for support in no confidence motions, Queen’s speeches, budgets and a hard Brexit.

There are items on the DUP wishlist that every other party here opposes. But if they’re still granted anyway, then that violates the principle of consent, and the spirit of the GFA.

You need only a history book to see the nationalist reaction to unionist favouritism. And vice versa. In our own context it will, in my view, guarantee that Sinn Féin will be the largest party at the next Assembly election. If not, it will certainly give nationalism a majority, both in terms of the number of seats and the number of votes. And when that happens, they will have a mandate for a united Ireland.

That is when we will have a serious question to deal with. The DUP have the word ‘Unionist’ in their name. If they cannot protect the Union, then as far as it concerns many people there is no point in them existing.

But the GFA obliges the Secretary of State to grant a Border Poll “when it has a reasonable chance of success”. There is no exact figure, like “a majority of Assembly seats”. They have worded it in a way which allows the British government to avoid calling a Border Poll. This is useful if, for any reason, they don’t want to do it – like if it’s inconvenient to do so.

If the Tories go ahead and call a Border Poll, the DUP’s position in government will be untenable for them. They will have to resign. The Tories will then have to call another general election. Both the Lib Dems and SNP have ruled themselves out of any deal with the Tories.

The Lib Dems lost the vast majority of their seats in 2015 for ‘getting into bed with the Tories’. Many English people are now discovering who the DUP are. The DUP’s seeming extreme, right-wing nature has shocked English voters. As has its endorsement by active paramilitaries in the weeks leading up to the election.

This comes when much of the press criticised Jeremy Corbyn for purported IRA links. The Lib Dems lost seats for ‘getting into bed with the Tories’. The Tories cannot expect it will turn out well for them after getting into bed with the DUP. I predict a Labour majority.

The other option is if the Tories don’t call a Border Poll. That action, more than any other, would amount to throwing the GFA out the window. Sinn Féin would be NI’s largest party at this stage. They signed up to the Agreement because it was a route to a united Ireland. They deemed the tools of the GFA more effective than the use of violence.

I am sceptical that the Republic of Ireland, as co-guarantors of the GFA, can save us from the Tory-DUP deal. As far as I’m concerned, forcing any Brexit on NI contravenes the principle of consent. The Irish government have been very pro-active in dealing with Brexit. But they have not called for the outright exclusion of NI – which is what we need.

It’s true that the Irish government may prove me wrong. They may kick up a fuss within the next week or two. But recently, they have proven ineffectual in my eyes. At least in challenging the British government for their failings in NI.

I generally do not engage in scaremongering. But it doesn’t take a genius to see civil unrest will ensue if the Tories don’t call a Border Poll if this gets too far. The focus of many will shift from saving Stormont to saving the peace process.