08:40 GMT +320 October 2019
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    This is a July 25, 2016 file photo of of Arlene Foster, left, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, during a meeting in Belfast.

    Unholy Alliance: Theresa May's Desperate Deal With DUP Could Endanger NI Peace

    © AP Photo / Charles McQuillan
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    The April 1998 Good Friday Agreement achieved what even a year previously many had thought impossible – an effective resolution to the ethno-nationalist violence waged in Northern Ireland for almost 40 years. Now however, the relative calm achieved by the accord could be in mortal danger.

    While critics contemporaneously questioned how enduring the Agreement's resultant peace could be, modern Northern Ireland's devolved system of government is directly based on its protocols — and the structure has arguably been largely effective in dampening tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities, and promoting discussion and compromise between the pair.

    The Agreement also codified the position of the British government on Irish reunification, which has likewise endured to the present day — namely, Westminster took no side on the dispute, and would not block attempts to integrate the region into the Republic of Ireland in future.

    ​While as of June 2017 this position remains unchanged in theory, developments in the wake of the June 8 general election raise serious questions about the government's stance in practice. Having lost her parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Theresa May has sought the support from Catholic hardliners the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her ailing administration.

    ​A formal agreement is yet to be inked by the two sides, but talks are ongoing — and the prospect of the two enjoying any kind of governmental relationship has provoked ripples of dismay throughout the British Isles. Upon hearing of the potential deal, Prime Minister Enda Kenny contacted May directly to express his disquiet.

    He is particularly concerned that in the wake of the 2017 election, the House of Commons is home to not a single Republican MP — the SDLP lost all their seats, and Sinn Fein does not sit in Parliament on principle.

    ​Lord Murphy, Northern Ireland Secretary 2002 — 2005, suggested the Northern Ireland peace process may well be "sacrificed" in order to save "Theresa May's skin" — and their deal could undermine decades of efforts to bring stability to Ulster.

    Both Kenny and Murphy are Catholic, but their concerns cannot be easily dismissed as exaggerative sectarian anxieties. It's evident Northern Ireland's Protestant Orange Order — a Masonic-style, ultra-conservative religious and political organization — welcomes the prospect of a DUP-Conservative alliance on explicitly pious grounds. Public statements from various Orange Order lodges indicate the group hope the Conservatives may jettison the 20-year-old ban on the Order's marches through Portadown, a Catholic area. Such marches were commonly host to vicious clashes, with the last, in 1998, resulting in the deaths of three young Catholic children after their house was firebombed by Loyalists.

    In a tweet, the area's local lodge said it trusted the "parading issue" will be high on the new government's agenda.

    ​Moreover, the prospective deal comes at a time when Catholic and Protestant relations are, politically at least, perhaps at their frostiest since the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland has lacked a First and Deputy First Minister since January, and a powersharing executive since the March elections.

    On January 9, Sinn Fein First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned, followed by DUP Deputy First Arlene Foster, forcing a new election in which the DUP lost its parliamentary majority. Neither party could agree on forming a new Executive, and a deadline for agreement to be reached passed. Under the terms of the Agreement, another election must be held — or Westminster must step in and impose "direct rule."

    Talks recommenced June 12, although the prospect of the DUP entering government with the Conservatives may increase the hopelessness of the situation yet further.

    ​A governmental agreement between the Conservatives and DUP would also provide May's critics with a windfall — the party has strong connections to paramilitary Loyalist groups in Northern Ireland old and new. 

    For instance, former DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson was an active member of Ulster Resistance, which collaborated with other paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force, classified as a terrorist organization by the UK and Republic of Ireland, and smuggled arms — including rocket launchers — into the UK. While both sides renounced violence as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, murals commemorating such groups adorn walls all over Ulster in the present day.

    May's repeated attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's alleged sympathies for terror groups such as the IRA and Hamas may be directed right back at her.

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    Tags:
    sectarian tensions, alliance, peace process, coalition, terrorism, Good Friday Peace Agreement, UK General Election 2017, UK Government, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, Arlene Foster, Theresa May, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
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