Belfast Telegraph

Restoration of the Assembly is now playing second fiddle to DUP’s relationship with May

By John Downing

On June 8 last the DUP got 292,316 votes in the general election and returned 10 out of Westminster's 650 MPs.

Now it is blocking a deal affecting 500 million people living in 28 European Union member states, stretching from inside the Arctic Circle down to Crete, and from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains.

There was consternation on June 26 when it was announced the DUP would get an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland over two years, and other sweeteners, to prop up beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May's minority government.

That arrangement gave Mrs May's administration a working majority of 13 to regain a still shaky grasp on power.

It was a pledge of DUP votes also for the Budget, confidence votes, money Bills and legislation related to national security.

Crucially, support for Mrs May also extended to Brexit votes.

Otherwise the DUP's support for all other measures would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Leaders in Scotland and Wales voiced anger at the deal, saying it would weaken, not strengthen, the ties that bind the United Kingdom.

It amounted to "throwing money" at one of its devolved regions at the expense of others.

"Today's deal represents a straight bung to keep a weak Prime Minister and a faltering Government in office," Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones of the Labour Party told reporters on the day the deal was unveiled.

In a curious echo of that history, there were comparable outbursts from both Scotland and Wales on Monday, this time joined by the Mayor of London, when details of a deal potentially avoiding a "hard border" in Ireland emerged.

This time the objectors said "us too" with loud voices, clearly suggesting that the Irish Government had brokered a very worthwhile deal.

There are many ironies and anomalies attaching to the current impasse. One is that the June 26 DUP-May deal has for many thrown an extra spanner into tricky efforts to get the power-sharing Executive back into operation after 11 months of suspension.

DUP leader Arlene Foster and her party colleagues appear even more entrenched in rejecting the necessary hard compromises to share power with Sinn Fein in Belfast.

They appeared to prefer their direct line to Mrs May. Sinn Fein itself is also a disgrace for its own failures to make the hard compromises to help restore power-sharing. And it can also take a deal of blame for continuing its sterile and pointless abstentionist policy towards the British parliament.

Gerry Adams' party returned seven MPs whose attendance at Westminster could, on this occasion at least, dilute the DUP's opportunistic power play. The DUP was the only party in Northern Ireland to advocate a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016.

At that time some observers doubted its depth of enthusiasm for breaking the link with the EU, which paid 87% of Northern Ireland farmers' incomes.

And, while the UK writ large voted 52% to 48% for Leave, Northern Ireland voters went 56% to 44% for Remain.

Still, the DUP has a long history of antipathy towards the EU.

Party founder Ian Paisley did serve quite effectively as an MEP from 1979 until 2004.

He was often seen at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg reading his Bible with a large pot of tea in front of him.

The party's stance on Brexit, before and since the vote, has been based on the premise that the Union with Britain is far more important than any union with the rest of Europe.

But it must be said that, in a further irony, Sinn Fein's own attitude to the European project was not vastly different.

In all nine referendums on EU issues in the Republic since 1972 Sinn Fein canvassed for a No - including opposition to the single market, which did far more to eradicate the border than the hordes of gun and bomb-toting IRA people over the decades.

The Brexit referendum in Northern Ireland was a first for Sinn Fein in advocating a pro-EU stance.

To hear Gerry Adams yesterday urging the Taoiseach to stand up to anti-EU DUP members and "English Tories" was something of a sea change in itself.

Perhaps the real irony of Monday's events is the failure of Mrs May to keep the DUP informed on the latest twists and turns in the Brexit talks.

Belfast Telegraph

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