Fears of a side deal with the DUP on the peace agenda are exaggerated. It requires cross community consent

So the DUP confidence and supply deal with the minority government will be delayed out of respect for the victims of the horrific North Kensington fire.  Mark Devenport has a credible analysis of the state of play. This leaves out saying anything definite about legacy matters that so spooked the political class over here when someone showed them the DUP’s 2015 manifesto.   The Guardian’s Home editor Alan Travis first raised the hare.

The 12-page route map sets out a list of 45 DUP priorities including an increased budget for Stormont, further cuts in corporation tax toward matching the Republic’s 12.5% rate and real-terms increases in health and education spending.

The list goes beyond the economic, to a demand to “strengthen the union”, including national events to celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021, incorporating Northern Ireland prominently in UK branding, legal protection for displaying the union flag and new legislation on Orange Order parading.

But Henry McDonald who actually knows his beat, made the hare sit.

The DUP’s negotiating team will not be including demands regarding marching disputes such as Drumcree in their “shopping list” to support the Tories getting back into power. Instead these will be “parked” into the parallel talks at Stormont aimed at restoring a devolved power-sharing government to the region.

The DUP is seeking to exclude members of the IRA and other paramilitary groups who were killed in the Troubles being designated as “victims” in any deal on the legacy from the conflict. However, the party is not making it a precondition to back a new Tory government at Westminster.

In the election campaign the DUP will have been encouraged by the secretary of state’s artless complaint as long ago as January which they shared, that legal Troubles inquiries  were “ focusing too much on the army.”  Grist to that mill was added by the Commons defence committees’ report in March  favouring a virtual amnesty  for army cases. But this report went on to argue that a general amnesty to follow  might be considered and  so is doubly  too hot to handle

Thinking like this is very GB focused just like the alarm over the SoS’ impartiality after a DUP- Cons  deal.  None of the commentators noticed that before the election was even called, Gerry Adams had ruled out Brokenshire  as a mediator because he was a player  in legacy issues using the catch-all of national security to shield  the army from rigorous inquiry.

But the DUP know all too well what the extreme alarmists don’t, that most of legacy and peace process issues are in deadlock because they require cross community consent to solve. That automatically rules them out as part of a Westminster pact alone.   Hybrid Westminster and Stormont legislation would almost certainly be necessary to indemnify the army and the RUC.  Westminster I believe could proceed on its own account to fund the legacy inquests. This would be a good move to start trying to break the legacy deadlock after a return to Stormont .

Although it will be interesting to learn what if anything the final deal says in this area,  I don’t see how any of it  can be implemented as part of bilateral pact between the DUP and the government . The proper place for it is the Stormont talks because,  apart from anything else, law making powers are devolved. It looks as if Adams is now angling for a return to the Assembly,   avowedly  to examine the agenda of DUP –Cons deal.  Brokenshire should at last give a positive lead without looking for privileges for the army. If he does  that, Stormont is dead.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London