Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Dudley Edwards: DUP suddenly very serious players and stakes could hardly be higher

By Ruth Dudley Edwards

I spent all Thursday night watching the election results in a Budapest hotel room and some hours on Saturday at a social event in Dublin having a post-mortem with anyone who was interested.

When I got home late that evening, I switched on BBC Radio 5 to find Stephen Nolan giving a hard time to Nigel Evans, a Conservative from Wales who sits for a Yorkshire constituency, over his positive attitude to a proposed deal between his party and the DUP.

Surely, as a gay, insisted Mr Nolan, Mr Evans should find such a relationship anathema. 

No, he responded, because he had good friends among DUP members with whom he has served on Commons Select Committees.

He is also one of those many gays who do not think that single-sex marriage is a more important issue than the prosperity of everyone in the British Isles.

We will do well to remember his words as Sinn Fein defend staying away from Westminster by alleging, as Michelle O’Neill said the other day, that no difference is made by any Irish MPs that sit in the Commons. 

Good speeches and questions can matter — as many Northern Ireland parliamentarians have shown over the decades — but patient work away from the public eye in committees is also crucial in influencing legislation and attitudes. 

SDLP and Ulster Unionist MPs certainly played their part in representing Northern Ireland and will be missed. 

Mark Durkan in particular was much admired for his eloquence, decency and humour. 

(Though being only 169 votes behind Elisha McCallion, he has a chance of getting his seat back if the Electoral Office find that complaints about Sinn Fein malpractice from both People Before Profit and the SDLP are justified.)

In the past their MPs had considerable influence until Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell became addicted to the smell of cordite and chose to listen to paramilitary sirens rather than brave constitutionalists like Seamus Mallon and David Trimble. 

On the basis of his involvement in bringing about the Good Friday agreement, Mr Powell buzzes around the world marketing himself as an expert on armed conflicts and peacemaking.

He and Mr Blair speak endlessly of the pre-eminent role of dialogue, and avoid the truth that the IRA would never have sought peace if they hadn't been defeated by the heroic work of the security forces. 

(Anyone interested in knowing about this should read “Secret Victory: the intelligence war against the IRA”, by former member of Special Branch, Dr William Matchett of the Edward M Kennedy Institute at Maynooth University.)

“No MP that takes their seat at Westminster has made one jot of difference in relation to Brexit,” said Mrs O’Neill, yet any fool can see that the DUP now has a real chance to make a huge difference by pushing the interests of Ireland up the Brexit agenda.

With nationalism having taken such a beating in Scotland, neither the British nor Irish governments see the faintest justification for a border referendum that would only further division and distract from the big issue. 

They are also both fed up with Sinn Fein for bringing down the Executive, producing bogus reasons for refusing to reinstate it, and dodging their Westminster responsibilities. 

If the DUP shores up the Conservatives, republicans will shout about this completely undermining the peace process, but relations between the two governments are good enough to get over that.

In any case, Sinn Fein always used unreasonably to demand that Irish governments should back nationalists and British governments be neutral.

It will be up to the Secretary of State and the Irish Foreign Minister to show that they still take seriously their responsibilities to be as impartial as possible as co-guarantors of the Agreement.

And Mrs Foster and Leo Varadkar, who got on well for the three years when they coincided as tourism ministers, are well aware that they should make common cause in finding solutions to the island’s problems that they can press on Westminster and Brussels.

They will agree that Theresa May has had a catastrophic campaign, but will share a deep suspicion of a Sinn Fein-friendly Labour government.  

There is much to play for, but, for now, the DUP have a very strong hand.

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