After a propaganda war that announced the Tories would return with a bigger majority, despite all the polling evidence pointing to a resurgent Labour, May’s Tories found themselves in a difficult spot. They won the vote but lost their overall majority, the Liberal Democrats couldn’t support them as they continue to receive a kicking for the leg work they provided the Tories from 2010 to 2015. Turns out having a leader who passes off questions of Homophobia by stating “We’re all sinners” doesn’t turn your luck around.
The Democratic Unionist Party made gains in our wee corner of the world, squeezing the Ulster Unionists and getting their vote out to ensure they returned with 10 MPs. An expected resurgence after the drum beating following Sinn Fein’s increased vote share in March’s Assembly vote. May’s chaos stricken government didn’t have anyone else to turn to, Tory EU rebels and Corbyn’s rise rule out a Minority run. So May turns to the DUP and after a protracted period of negotiation, a deal was struck to the tune of £1.5bn, £1bn of which is ‘new money’ and the rest is a loan.
After an election campaign that was marked by many reminders that there is no money tree, May’s ability to gain the support of 10 MPs for a mere £100bn each certainly grated in the minds of others. The deal shone a rare spotlight on both Northern Ireland and just how little the media and the left across the water know about us, or care for that matter.
The DUP suddenly became the hot topic of every Guardian columnist, and with poor knowledge of what actually goes on in our wee corner – hot takes stating May was in bed with terrorists, the political wing of the UDA and more, started to surface and suddenly the largest pro Union party in Northern Ireland was faced with a wall of opposition from the very Union it supported.
Cartoons were plastered across London newspapers, Jon Snow even mistakenly took an Orange Lodge statement as a DUP statement of intent to make parading a negotiating issue, something which was fundamentally untrue but representative of a fear some here may have had at the time.
Resistance to this deal spread from the tabloids and broadsheets, it even made its way into the House of Commons when Green Party MP Caroline Lucas referred to the DUP as “Dinosaurs”. Jeffrey Donaldson tried to defend his party colleagues by attempting to make a point of order to the speaker, John Bercow refused the point and stated that the comment referred to creatures who “survived for millions of years” – a clear shot across the DUP bow.
“The DUP deal is something I think should be universally celebrated. £1.5bn for all our people, our catholic people, our protestant people, our people of no religion.”
Ian Paisley Junior
Regardless, the deal went ahead and the Queen’s speech passed by a comfortable margin, comfortable by May’s standards anyway. As dust settled on May’s first run across the hot coals, after an unexpected announcement that NI Women can access Abortion under the NHS in the UK, another challenge to May’s rule arose.
The Legal Challenge
Shortly after the deal was announced, Tyrone man Ciaran McClean stated his intention to take the Government to court as he felt that the deal made between the Tories and the DUP, made at a time when Stormont is still in stasis over yet another crisis, threatens the peace process here and even contravenes the Good Friday Agreement. McClean has since lodged an official challenge after an “inadequate reply” from the Government.
For those interested, McClean’s legal challenge refers to this section of the Agreement:
“(v) 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;”
In a statement released earlier this month, McClean called the agreement between the Tories and DUP an example of “straight bribery” and further stated that “my claim is that as a citizen I expect my Government to honour its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and not to bribe others with money so that it can stay in power.”
The legal challenge has crowdfunded over £57,000 at time of writing, and has a target of raising £100,000 in the next 27 days, you can donate to it here.
Given that the legal challenge against the implementation of Article 50 wasn’t successful, some may have reservations as to whether or not this legal challenge is the ‘ultimate test’ that The Canary has made it out to be. The challenges for re-establishing working institutions in Northern Ireland are still very real.
What About Our Wee Country?!
After a prolonged period of crisis which opened up following the revelations surrounding the RHI Scandal, Sinn Fein collapsed the Assembly after DUP Leader Arlene Foster repeatedly refused to resign as First Minister, over her role in keeping the Renewable Heating Initiative open, despite all the evidence pointing to the scheme being abused to the tune of millions of taxpayers’ money.
Since the collapse, Sinn Fein have started to talk about rights as being the red line issue – namely rights for LGBTQ people and the Irish language, but continue to refuse to hold reproductive rights in same regard. At the same dinner, after Ian Paisley Jr made his now infamous “I’ve got the money, we’ve cashed the check” comment, Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff went on to talk about rights and listed off a list of rights he told the room “are taken for granted in Britain” – he didn’t mention the lack of Abortion rights here at all, despite women being criminalised here for something that is available across the water.
Following March’s election to the Assembly, a period of talks was held but to no avail. We currently have no devolved body to oversee the people of Northern Ireland, with no budget created by Sinn Fein (who held the Finance Ministry) this has led to a period of financial uncertainty for public services as publicly accountable MLAs are replaced by faceless, high ranking civil servants as key financial decision makers.
It is the responsibility of the current Secretary of State, the aptly named James Brokenshire, to negotiate a return to devolution and the running of the Assembly. It is incredibly difficult to see how the Tories can revive the institutions when a key player in the talks, the DUP, is also the crucial crutch for the Tories to maintain power in Westminster. Something that Sinn Fein representatives have alluded to repeatedly as the crisis continues. With an election in the South just around the corner, is it safe to say that if Sinn Fein join the Irish government as a coalition partner, that the neutrality required in negotiations can be assured? After all, these stipulations are in place to ease the fears of both communities here and Sinn Fein as part of a coalition in Dublin will certainly do little to elate the fears of protestants here.
The lack of an Assembly hasn’t just led to unaccountable cuts to public services, the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance (NIPSA) are currently battling attacks on facility time that have erupted since the institutions collapsed. Facility time allows trade union officials to carry out union work in what would normally be their contracted employment time, it allows officials to attend to the needs of members. The attacks have occurred amongst the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) and appear to have been carried out at the behest of senior management, taking advantage of the political situation. As the crisis at Stormont continues, can we expect these attacks to widen, or even deepen?
The crises that have arisen as a result of Sinn Fein collapsing the Assembly, the DUP’s defense of a corruption riddled scheme, their deal with the May’s zombie government and the attacks on services and trade unions that have occurred since (and before!), leave us paraphrasing Captain Boyle in saying that we’re in a terrible state o’chassis no matter which way the legal challenge blows, the political crises here have deepened and we need to be prepared for the fights that lie ahead.