The DUP is “a party of devolution” according to every unionist commentator gracing the airwaves over the last few days. The party has a chance to prove it over the next 48 hours as they conclude their ‘confidence and supply’ negotiations with the
Conservative and Unionist Party. Tory
There’s a suspicion that while the ‘asks’ will be “in the interest of the UK as a whole”, the wish list may be culturally slanted towards unionism (as well being of financial benefit to NI government departments).
Popular perception is building that DUP cooperation with the Conservatives jeopardises the UK government’s supposed neutrality in NI negotiations and protection of the Good Friday Agreement. (Though it’s easy to counter-argue that Sinn Féin willingness to enter a coalition to be a junior partner in a future Irish Government would be even more problematic. And elsewhere on Slugger we’re reminded that Labour reached out to the DUP.)
This could easily pull up the handbrake on the NI political talks that resume today, and could leave a power-grabbing DUP being blamed for collapsing devolution at future elections.
Given that the next elections are likely to be only around the corner rather than in a few years time, the DUP need to manage short and longer term perceptions.
So we should watch out for a more intelligent approach in this cunning game of political poker.
The DUP’s 2015 General Election manifesto and Northern Ireland Plan offer an insight into their priorities from the last Westminster election when a hung parliament was predicted but ultimately did not come to pass.
Infrastructure spending for roads across Northern Ireland can be argued as necessary to make the region as efficient as possible in a post-Brexit Europe. Funding for the A6 and even the A5, as well as money to restart the York Street Interchange work would spread the political jam across the six counties.
Holding out for local extensions to NI’s welfare reform mitigations, as well as defending the triple lock on pensions and the winter fuel allowance – or calling for a UK-wide removal of the bedroom tax – will be appreciated by their devolved government partners. Who could criticise fighting austerity?
A boost of money to speed the much-reported but oft-delayed health service reforms would meet the DUP’s 2015 demand for a budget settlement to protect health and avoid decimating other services. As the former health minister, Michelle O’Neill is all too aware of the need and impact of this work. The DUP and Sinn Féin had previously both agreed on the sum required to fund the NHS over new Assembly term.
Steering away from moral issues is a no-brainer if the party want to be taken seriously in GB. Not mentioning flags and parades will avoid playing into the hands of their local partners and partners.
Back bench Conservative MPs were already pursuing a statute of limitations for soldiers and police officers who face the prospect of prosecution in relation to killings and deaths that occurred before 1998. So that need not be explicitly part of the DUP’s agreement – though it doesn’t help the awkward legacy negotiations that will follow.
Some back room consultation with Sinn Féin, a generosity of spirit and careful wording, the DUP’s pragmatic support for the mortally wounded Theresa May premiership need not delay the restoration of the Executive and would go some way to counter Sinn Féin’s claims of DUP arrogance.