Supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are demanding Theresa May allow a banned loyalist march as part of an agreement by the Northern Irish party to prop up a minority Conservative government.
The Portadown Loyal Orange Lodge (LOL), who are currently prevented from marching in the flashpoint Gavaghy Road following a long history of sectarian violence, put out a statement amid speculation as to what concessions the DUP could demand in return for striking a deal with the Tories.
Orangemen were banned from marching through the nationalist area of the mainly loyalist town following repeated riots during the Troubles. Protests against the ban culminated in 1998 with the shocking murders of three young boys after their house was firebombed in a loyalist arson attack.
The boys’ mother was Catholic and the family lived in a mainly Protestant area. The brothers – Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn, aged 11, 9 and 7 – were asleep when a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of their house.
The statement on Twitter congratulates the Orange Order’s “fellow Brother” David Simpson, the MP for Upper Bann, known for strident religious views including a belief in creationism, for his newfound place at the centre of mainstream British politics.
“Portadown District LOL notes the outcome of the recent general election with interest. We would like to congratulate fellow Bro. David Simpson and all the other unionist representatives," it said.
“We note the invitation from the Prime Minister to the DUP to support her government. We trust that the parading issue especially in Portadown will be high on the agenda for the new government.
“It is clear that the endeavour of the orange family to maximise the unionist vote paid dividends and consequently the DUP has been given the opportunity and responsibility to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. We trust that they are successful in promoting the values of the Unionist People and the Orange fraternity. We wish them well in the weeks and months that lie ahead.”
It concludes, in block capitals: “HERE WE STAND WE CAN DO NO OTHER.”
The Orange Order is in effect asking the DUP to use its sudden influence to allow their Protestant members to march from Drumcree church in Portadown through the mainly nationalist area, in spite of the widespread objection that the parade is intimidating.
Orange Order members have held protests at Drumcree every Sunday since July 1998 when the parade was banned, and the Portadown lodge has continued to ask permission to march down the Gavaghy Road every week. The march is said to celebrate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne.
At the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, the UK Government was forced to spend millions on security and draft in hundreds of extra troops to try and combat the tensions caused by inflammatory sectarian marches.
The Orange Order claims the restriction along the Gavaghy Road is a breach of their human rights. But the Parades Commission, which regulates the marches, said in a statement: “The commission believes that the conditions it imposes strikes a fair balance between the needs of the community and the rights of the individual.”
Following the murders of the three children, William Bingham, a member of the Orange Order negotiating team, said that “walking down the Garvaghy Road would be a hollow victory, because it would be in the shadow of three coffins of little boys who wouldn't even know what the Orange Order is about”. He said the order had lost control of the situation and that “no road is worth a life” – but later apologised for having implied the Orange Order rather than terrorism was to blame.
A deal between the Conservatives and the DUP has not yet been reached, with Downing Street forced to retract a statement suggesting an arrangement of "confidence and supply" had been outlined.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had held “good discussions” with the Conservatives on how they could support them in the formation of a government after Theresa May fell short of the 326 seats she would need for a majority.
The DUP was founded in 1971 by rabble-rousing Protestant preacher Ian Paisley, who was known for his association with loyalist paramilitaries.
The party is known for its Christian fundamentalist views on gay marriage and abortion, although these are devolved issues so the Northern Irish MPs are unlikely to be able to influence such matters of social policy on the mainland.
But protests have been held in London and other cities by those concerned about the possible influence of the Northern Irish group on the Conservatives.
The DUP’s list of demands in return for supporting the Conservatives could include a soft exit from the European Union rather than a hard Brexit. Although the party is pro-Leave, it is opposed to a hard border with the Irish Republic and to any new customs operations.
In spite of protesters fears, the price of the DUP’s backing is likely to be economic rather than social. The party is pro-welfare and opposes Tory plans to means test pensioner benefits and other cuts.
The DUP is thought likely to demand funds of around £350m lost through the withdrawal of EU subsidies from farmers once Brexit is concluded.
Northern Ireland currently receives around £100m a year through a peace process dividend for community development and cross-border projects, and the protection of these funds is likely to be on the DUP’s list of priorities.
Critics claim a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP could destabilise the peace process in Northern Ireland as the UK Government must maintain a position of neutrality between the nationalists and the unionists in accordance with the Good Friday agreement.
Many have pointed to the apparent contradiction between the Conservatives’ repeated criticism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for having held talks with Republicans during the Troubles and the Tories' sudden willingness to forge an agreement with the DUP, a party endorsed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) – a violent loyalist paramilitary group still active in Northern Ireland and responsible for two murders this year.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny has issued a warning to Ms May that any arrangement with the DUP must not compromise the Good Friday agreement.
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