The Tory-DUP deal is responsible for the continued denial of basic rights in the North of Ireland

The anachronistic politics and attitude of the DUP are increasingly at odds with a society that wants to move on, build tolerance and put the prejudice, bigotry and discrimination of the past firmly behind us

Michelle Gildernew
Saturday 30 September 2017 16:54
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Now most people in Britain know about the DUP, it's time they took a stand against their actions
Now most people in Britain know about the DUP, it's time they took a stand against their actions

For most people in Britain there is little interest in the politics of the North of Ireland. The little interest there was diminished as the peace process brought an end to conflict on our streets.

So it is not surprising that few people were aware of, or interested in, the politics, policies and attitudes of the handful of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs elected to the British Parliament.

But in the days and weeks following the general election on 8 June, Theresa May’s miscalculation plunged her into a position of instability, and forced her to find allies to sustain power.

After years of brutal austerity and attacks on public services, her options to return to government were extremely limited. It turned out they were limited to the extreme, as she turned to the DUP to prop up her minority Government.

Suddenly, the politics of the North of Ireland came to the centre of the British political stage.

The Tory-DUP pact has the potential to influence policies at the heart of British society; most significantly in the Brexit negotiations. This potential brought a new media spotlight onto the DUP, their policies and statements on a range of political and social issues – many of which are clearly out of step with modern society.

Citizens in the North of Ireland had been all too aware of the DUP and their retrogressive and – at times – bizarre views. It is these politics and behaviours, particularly in opposition to the development of a rights-based society, which are at the heart of the current political crisis in the North of Ireland, which saw the collapse of the political institutions created by the peace agreement in 1998.

In response to a financial scandal, presided over by the DUP with the potential to cost taxpayers in the North over £500m, the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister and collapsed the Stormont Executive in January 2017.

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The backdrop to this was an emerging crisis caused by the failure of the DUP as the coalition partner in the power-sharing government to implement outstanding agreements, and their determined resistance to enshrining rights and equality across our society.

The response of the electorate in two subsequent elections was to increase the mandate for Sinn Féin and for other progressive parties – removing, for the first time in the history of the state, the unionist majority.

The anachronistic politics and attitude of the DUP are increasingly at odds with a society that wants to move on, build tolerance and to put the prejudice, bigotry and discrimination of the past firmly behind us.

This is the context in which negotiations to rebuild the political institutions continue. Specifically, the focus is on achieving marriage equality, ensuring that Irish language speakers have their rights protected in law, and the rights of victims of the conflict to due legal process, through a coroner’s inquest.

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All of these rights are available everywhere else on these islands. Families who lost loved ones in the conflict have been denied the right to a coroner’s inquest, in some cases for as long as 45 years.

The denial of these rights would not be tolerated anywhere else on these islands. The denial of these rights should not be tolerated in the North of Ireland.

The DUP stands as a barrier to these rights. The Tory party, having grubbed the DUP votes through their right wing pact, tolerates, ignores and therefore encourages the denial of these rights.

The British people have an absolute right to decide who their government should be. But as representatives of the Irish people, Sinn Féin has the responsibility to point out that the current Government, upheld by their pact with the DUP, are colluding in the denial of rights to citizens in the North of Ireland – rights which are available everywhere else in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

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For our part, Sinn Féin will not tolerate this. Success in the current negotiations to restore the political institutions hinges on this very issue.

In the North of Ireland, we can ensure that any restoration of the governing Executive will be on the basis of rights, respect and equality. In Britain, it is a matter for the British people if they are prepared to support a government propped up by defenders of inequality, discrimination and second-class citizenship.

Sinn Féin will employ our mandate to build a united and agreed Ireland of equals and a society based on reconciliation, equality and universal rights.

Michelle Gildernew is the Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone

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