Theresa May’s parliamentary deal with the DUP could scupper efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland and damage the peace process, opposition politicians have said.
Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance Party all said salvaging devolution at Stormont will become more difficult if the proposed Westminster “confidence and supply” agreement materialises. Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, said on Sunday that talks were “continuing”.
The root of the Northern Ireland party’s concerns lie in the potential undermining of the Government’s commitment to impartiality in its dealings the region’s parties. Northern Ireland has been without an administration for three months following the collapse of powersharing over a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin over how the former handled allegations surrounding a financial scandal.
“This DUP deal that they have done is really dodgy, it is unsustainable… it is also really irresponsible for the Northern Ireland peace process.”
Yvette Cooper MP
DUP opponents have questioned how the Government can cast itself as a mediator in talks to re-establish the crisis-hit institutions if its very future is linked to an understanding with the main unionist party.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement commits the UK government to demonstrate “rigorous impartiality” when dealing with competing political views in the region.
The SDLP’s Nichola Mallon said the idea the Government could be seen as independent in negotiations, due to resume on Monday, was “ludicrous”. She said there was a need to appoint an independent talks chair.
“Anybody with any sense looking at this situation would realise that needs to happen,” she said. “How can you have a Secretary of State sitting at the table as a honest broker when they are actually in an understanding or an agreement or arrangement with one of the parties round the table, while also having the duty and responsibility of being a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement? “It’s just not possible.”
‘End in tears’
Sinn Féin’s leader at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill, predicted the deal between the Tories and the DUP would “end in tears”.
Highlighting Conservative austerity cuts and its stance on Brexit, Mrs O’Neill claimed the DUP link-up with Mrs May would spell bad news for Northern Ireland, a region that voted for Remain. “It is no surprise that the DUP has agreed to prop up the pro-Brexit and pro-austerity Tory government of Theresa May,” she said.
“They have once again betrayed the interests of the people of the north by supporting a Tory party which has cut funding to our public services year on year to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Experience shows us that unionists have minimal influence on any British government. They have achieved little propping up Tory governments in the past and put their own interests before those of the people.”
“How can you have a Secretary of State sitting at the table as a honest broker when they are actually in an understanding or an agreement or arrangement with one of the parties round the table?”
Nichola Mallon, SDLP
Labour’s Yvette Cooper suggested the Tories’ deal with the DUP could put the Northern Ireland peace process in jeopardy.
“This DUP deal that they have done is really dodgy, it is unsustainable,” the former shadow home secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “But it is not just bad in terms of the politics of the House of Commons, it is also really irresponsible for the Northern Ireland peace process.
“The idea that the British Government could be taking sides having been the guarantor of the Good Friday agreement and the subsequent peace agreements, I think is really troubling.”
She said the Conservatives are “cobbling together” a Government and are putting party interest ahead of national interest and the Northern Ireland peace process. “It is really, really worrying.”
A No10 spokeswoman said Mrs May spoke on the phone to Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Sunday.
“The Prime Minister explained that she is working towards a confidence and supply deal with the DUP which would provide stability and certainty for the UK going forward,” she said.
“They confirmed their joint commitment to restoring a Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible and agreed that both countries would continue to engage closely to bring about political stability in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister reiterated that the Government’s approach and objectives in the forthcoming talks to re-establish the Northern Ireland Executive remained unchanged.”