The Westminster deal has a confidence building effect which should allow the DUP and SF to confront their differences honestly – and soon, in the Assembly

The DUP deal at Westminster is reasonably secure. The prospects for a Stormont deal seem up in the air and due for postponement until the autumn. The best hope for today is that Sinn Fein may feel they’ve got just enough to continue the negotiations back in the Assembly pending the creation of an Executive in the autumn. This looks like requiring a period of temporary direct rule.

.On Nolan I’ve just heard Malachi O’Doherty opining that Sinn Fein might expect to exploit inevitable strains in the Westminster deal.  I see no grounds for that. In spite of the “toxic” talk, in terms of Westminster politics no one has identified a crunch issue for either party to the two year deal which would prevent Theresa May surviving through to the conclusion of the Article 50 negotiations in 2019. The Times gives a cool and balanced verdict.

The “confidence and supply” agreement signed yesterday will secure the support of the party’s ten MPs for the Queen’s Speech, confidence motions, finance bills and legislation on Brexit and national security. It should give Mrs May no false comfort, however, that her vision of a hard Brexit commands public support or serves the national interest. She should use the breathing space the DUP has given her to govern pragmatically and to acknowledge the necessity of maintaining close economic links with the European Union.

On other issues the DUP will retain its independence.

The deal with the DUP raises questions about the government’s neutrality in dealing across the parties represented in the devolved administration at Stormont. The DUP stands far outside the mores of modern Britain on homosexual equality and the availability of abortion. No deal has been done on these issues with the DUP but such stances will hardly be the way to cement support for the Tories among young and urban voters.

.For the government this is a recipe for survival but hardly for stability. Mrs May has a series of dilemmas. A hard Brexit, taking Britain out of the European single market and customs union, will have big economic costs. Moreover, the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland would be subject to customs control. This would raise the salience of partition and risk inflaming sectarianism some 20 years after the Good Friday agreement damped down a historic conflict.

The Irish Times is positively favourable.

The deal struck by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to keep the Conservative government in power in the United Kingdom is a good one for Northern Ireland and by extension the whole island of Ireland..

While the DUP remains committed to Brexit, the reference in the confidence and supply agreement to the importance of the farming sector in Northern Ireland is an indication that the party will be supporting the softest possible exit.

An encouraging aspect of the deal is that far from getting in the way of the restoration of the power-sharing institutions at Stormont it should provide an incentive for all the parties in the North to get involved in deciding in detail how some of the extra funding is allocated.

.

No one as far as I can see  who has even a fleeting knowledge  of the place sees a threat to peace in this deal.  The DUP  and Sinn Fein will soon have to stop playing games over Brexit. The DUP  will have to reconcile its support for a hard Brexit with their wish to make  a  “frictionless” border work in cooperation with the Republic and deal with cross border priorities like agriculture and harmonising corporation tax.  Sinn Fein may never get a reply to their call for special status.

For the DUP there is on no hook on which to hang themselves equivalent to the Lib Dems  in 2010 over going back on their promise of no tuition fees  or facing certain defeat in a referendum over electoral reform. Both parties were careful not to link the deal to issues neither of them can control like the restoration of the Assembly or a ban on a border poll. There is a whiff of danger over treatment of ex-security forces, over legal inquiries and the application of the military covenant to Northern Ireland.   But here the deal is sufficiently vague and reassuring and looking forward to continuing negotiations, presumably via the Assembly. It states in “Legacy”, a paragraph oddly located in “ Financial Arrangements”

The next phase is a public consultation on implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies. These are to be established so as to operate in ways that are fair, balanced and proportionate and which do not unfairly focus on former members of the armed forces or police. Both parties reiterate their admiration for the courage and sacrifice of the police and armed forces in upholding democracy and the rule of law and will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe them.

Malachi if I understood him  right also seems to think that the  impartiality requirements of the GFA are not much of an obstacle to a Stormont deal. He can’t be reading the same GFA as I.

Paragraph v “Constitutional Issues” states:

 ( The parties to the Agreement) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities;

This is the framework for Sinn Fein’s insistence on the totemic issues such as the Language Act and more problematic social reforms.  A system of government relying uncompromisingly on rights without room for proportionality and compromise  barely requires  an Assembly at all.  If compromise is envisaged – requiring  for example, a more sparing use of the blocking effect of the petition of concern  –  it surely should be agreed without further delay.  The issues won’t change.

 

 

 

T

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