From Strategic Culture
Like a crazed gambler who bet the house -- and lost -- Theresa May's Conservative (Tory) government is now doubling down to risk peace in Ireland so that she might cling on to power. Having lost her party's overall majority in the House of Parliament in last week's humiliating British general election, May is having to rely on a rabidly sectarian party from Northern Ireland to cobble together a working government.
The so-called Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is being wooed by May to provide its quota of 10 MPs in order to form an ad hoc parliamentary coalition. If a deal is done, that would give the Tories a total of 328 parliamentarians -- scraping just enough lawmakers to pass future legislation.
It remains to be seen if the proposed arrangement will work. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has derided it as a coalition of chaos and is urging his own party to get ready to contend another election in the coming months resulting from the Tory government's possible collapse.
Several leading British and Irish political figures are warning May that her gamble to govern with the Northern Ireland DUP is risking the return of violence in the British-ruled province. The danger stems from the DUP demanding concessions from London which would inflame sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.
For the past 20 years since the signing of a peace agreement in 1997, Northern Ireland has witnessed a period of relative calm. A 30-year sectarian conflict between mainly pro-British Protestants and pro-independence Catholics that began in 1968 had been largely settled. A local administration of power-sharing between the DUP unionists and republicans belonging to Sinn Fein was forged. That managed to keep the lid on seething sectarian passions. But now that lid is in danger of being blown away by May's one-sided deal-making with the unionists.
John Major, a former British Conservative prime minister (1990-97) who helped facilitate the Irish peace process, has this week added his voice to a chorus of public figures warning Theresa May that her proposed pact with the DUP could reignite conflict in Northern Ireland.
Major said a fundamental part of the Northern Ireland peace deal is that the London government needs to be seen as impartial between competing political parties in the province. With May now moving to explicitly rely on the DUP to govern Britain that official impartiality is cast aside.
The warnings from Major have been echoed by the former southern Irish premier Enda Kenny, as well as by former British Labour minister Peter Hain. Hain, who was also involved in implementing the Irish peace process, said that any deal between May's government and the DUP will come at a painful price for Northern Ireland.
This comes at a particularly delicate time in Northern Ireland. For the past six months, the local administration based in Stormont, Belfast, has been suspended. Sinn Fein -- the second biggest party after the DUP -- collapsed the power-sharing assembly over a public spending scandal involving DUP ministers.
Some members of the DUP -- who were never supportive of the power-sharing deal anyway -- are now seizing on the chance to end it entirely. With a direct line of power from London owing to the proposed coalition with May, the DUP are emboldened to go it alone, without Sinn Fein. The latter is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, the guerrilla group that fought against the British army and police force during the 30-year conflict. The DUP have never fully reconciled with Sinn Fein whom they accuse of being terrorists.
Also, another incendiary factor is that the summer months in Northern Ireland are traditionally a time of increased sectarian tensions. This is because pro-unionist organizations led by the Protestant Orange Order (a Masonic group likened to the KKK in the USA), as well as associated paramilitary factions, take to the streets in large-scale marches to commemorate centuries-old battles. The marches which culminate next month on July 12 are seen by many Catholics as provocatively sectarian. Historically, the Orange parades are organized in a triumphalist display or supposed supremacy over the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland.
An ominous fact is that the Orange marches were a tipping factor in the eruption of violence in Northern Ireland back in 1968.
Since the signing of the peace accord in 1997, the British government agreed to demands to restrict these pro-unionist marches from entering into Catholic communities. Again, now with the DUP being seen to have governing favor with the Conservative administration in London, the Orangemen and their overlapping rank-and-file membership of the DUP are demanding that the marching restrictions be lifted.
As former Labour minister Peter Hain notes it will be difficult for May to say no to the unionists' demands owing to the imperative of her own political survival in Westminster. That imperative for the shaky minority Conservative government is all the more amplified because of the impending Brexit negotiations due to start next week with Brussels.