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The Tories are forming a coalition with a party backed by terrorists

The UDA is a violent loyalist paramilitary group, which is still active today. Just weeks ago, it murdered a man in broad daylight in Northern Ireland – he was shot dead in a Sainsbury’s car park in front of horrified shoppers and his three-year-old son

Siobhan Fenton
Saturday 10 June 2017 16:40 BST
Who are the DUP?

Northern Irish politics has been thrust from the sidelines into centre stage this morning, as the UK woke up to a hung parliament and a DUP-Conservative coalition. After a disastrous election for Theresa May in which her gamble failed to secure the majority she sought, the obscure Northern Irish party’s support is now required for her to enter No 10.

A partnership between the Conservatives and the DUP will be deeply harmful and destabilising for the peace process in Northern Ireland, which is now being risked by the Tories in an unconscionable way in order to retain power.

Most striking about the Conservatives’ new stablemates is that after running a campaign based on fearmongering and whipping up false hysteria about Jeremy Corbyn and his alleged IRA sympathies, the Conservatives will enter government with the DUP, which is backed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The UDA is less known in England than the IRA, largely because they killed Northern Irish Catholics during the Troubles, which didn’t make the news as often as the killing of English people or security personnel. The UDA is a violent loyalist paramilitary group, which is still active today. Just weeks ago, it murdered a man in broad daylight in Northern Ireland. The man was shot dead in a Sainsbury’s car park in front of horrified shoppers and his three-year-old son.

The UDA backed the DUP in this election by issuing a statement in support of the party’s South Belfast candidate Emma Little Pengelly, “strongly urging” people to back her. The news drew sharp criticism from political opponents, including former Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford, who said: “Arlene Foster needs to make clear if her party accepts an endorsement by a group closely connected to the UDA. The electorate, particularly in South Belfast where this endorsement was given, deserve to know.

“It is now 2017 – paramilitaries should not even exist, never mind be giving ringing endorsements of political candidates.”

There is no suggestion that the DUP actively sought the endorsement from the group or that it in turn supports the UDA.

However, concerns were further fuelled when it emerged that the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster met with the UDA’s chief during the election campaign, just 48 hours after the murder of a local man in a supermarket car park. She defended the meeting, saying that the party did not support any terrorist groups or actively seek endorsement from them: “If people want to move away from criminality, from terrorism, we will help them to do that, but anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity should stop, should desist, and if they don’t they should be open to the full rigour of the law.”

When challenged on the issue during the live TV debates, the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said that the party would “divorce” itself from any association with terrorist or paramilitary groups.

However, considering all the Conservatives’ talk about Corbyn and the IRA, it is now they who are entering coalition with a political party that has been backed by a terrorist organisation.

Such a move will have dire consequences for the peace process. In so doing, the Conservatives are essentially telling the DUP that they will turn a blind eye to it returning to the dark days, when Northern Irish politics was intertwined with bloody violence. This may embolden paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland who feel that they have been given a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Tories’ deal with the DUP.

The uncomfortable coalition of the Conservatives and the DUP has many more worrying implications for the peace process. An essential element of the peace process has been that the British government is, ostensibly at least, a neutral broker in talks between the Catholic and Protestant parties. Now however, the power balance has been permanently toppled as the DUP hold the cards in deciding whether the Conservatives remain in office. They no longer have any credibility of being neutral brokers in the Northern Ireland peace process. This will alienate Catholic/nationalist people in Northern Ireland who can no longer consider their position and status as equal in the British government’s eyes.

Lastly, amid all the general-election buzz it has been easy for many to forget that power-sharing had collapsed in Northern Ireland. Stormont fell in January when Sinn Féin pulled out of government with the DUP. Fresh elections were called in March in a bid to elect a new government willing to share power, but the same parties were returned and they have continued to refuse to come back to power-sharing. The latest deadline for an agreement is the end of this month.

Under a DUP-Conservative coalition, any chance of resolve is reduced even further. The DUP has little incentive to return to Stormont if it has far more power and influence than it could have ever dreamed of across the Irish Sea at Westminster. Similarly, Sinn Féin (which is vehemently anti-Conservative) is likely to feel alienated and mistrustful of the Conservatives and may boycott talks.

When she called the general election, it was clear that Theresa May had little idea of the damage such a poll could cause Northern Ireland at a crucial time for power-sharing. By entering into a coalition with the DUP, it is even more apparent that she does not consider peace or stability in Northern Ireland a priority. Instead, she is sacrificing years of work on the peace process in order to get the keys to No 10.

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