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Conservative Party/DUP deal - the Irish Question returns to bite the British elite

9 July 2017

In the aftermath of the June's British general election the Democratic Unionist Party's website crashed and many other reference websites came under severe pressure. The question, from British media and political currents, was simply: "who are the DUP?"

Those in the know accuse the questioners of colonial arrogance. Having smothered the Irish issue the British ruling class has felt free to forget all details of their sectarian slum. One of the main elements of the new alliance is that it signals the return of the Irish Question to British politics. There is blowback in the sense that the DUP reactionaries are now in a position to help enforce the oppression of the British working class. It will take some time before it becomes a major issue. Sinn Fein’s support for the Irish settlement has turned what was once very extensive solidarity into silence. It makes it more or less impossible for the British left to mount any critique of the peace process and normalises the behaviour of the Orange beast. Why should it be so terrible for the Tories to deal with the DUP when Sinn Fein have been doing it for over a decade?

So when the story of the DUP spilled across the screens of the British political class the response was horror. "These people are monsters!"

The wrong monster

However initially the wrong monster was recognized. It is true that the spectrum of their bigotry covers LGBT rights, woman's rights, creationism and climate denial.  However this must be taken in context.  Loyalism generally is a criminal conspiracy in alliance with street mobs and paramilitaries to deny an Irish democracy and to crush civil rights and workers' rights. Its pragmatic attachment to power and to asserting sectarian rights in the six county area makes it largely indifferent to broader ideological currents.

British fascist currents have sought for years to establish a base in the North, but have been unable to establish any sizeable one. Although the DUP see themselves as a current within British conservatism, they have never been able to consistently ally with other currents.

The letter to the Scottish government by Arlene Foster, trying to prevent gay couples from having civil partnerships converted to marriages in Scotland, may be seen as a desire to extend their influence in Britain. However, pressure from a handful of bigots would be enough to trigger such a letter.  In a past vote to support  Brown's Labour government the DUP settled for exclusion of the six county area from abortion rights legislation rather than attempt to push back in Britain itself.  That deal illustrated the parochialism of the DUP. It also illustrated the utter indifference of the British ruling class to the rights of those living in the colony. The Tories, by accepting Labour’s “Irish solution” to abortion rights, are attempting to head off the criticism in this area. A similar mechanism may be used to settle LGBT rights.

The Monster in Ireland

The real issue of a Conservative/DUP pact is the increased power of the Orange monster in Ireland. Nationalists complain that a deal greatly increases the power and patronage of the loyalists and that by itself obliterates equality provisions in the political structures. There will be private side deals that help cement the DUP/Orange/Loyalist paramilitary alliance.

Just how far society has gone in institutionalising sectarianism is revealed by police refusal to intervene when a middle class housing estate in Belfast, specifically set up as a shared space, was bedecked by paramilitary flags.  DUP MP Emma Pengelly then toured the area offering support to the loyalists, many of whom had publicly helped in her election.

The levels of collaboration reached farcical levels when it was revealed that Belfast Council was storing bonfire materials for loyalists, that much of the material was stolen and the issue being resolved by the UDA "stealing" the wood back from the depot.  Loyalists have now requisitioned a public car park for a bonfire site.  The Council have tried to establish credibility by a court order restricting the most dangerous bonfires, but enforcement depends on a police force who steadfastly refuse to act against loyalists.

There may be issues, such as the persistent demand for an Orange march at Drumcree, that are too toxic for the British to move on, but there will be a political stasis that will embolden the right and increases levels of intimidation

Grin and bear it

Sinn Fein will have to grin and bear it. Despite all the elements of the deal that openly adopt the positions of unionist reaction, despite a formal declaration from the Britain government that they are not bound by a commitment to neutrality on partition contained inside the Agreement, all sections of Irish capital attest the impartiality of the British and the sacred nature of the Good Friday Agreement as an international agreement.

Sinn Fein will not break with the institutions nor lead their followers onto the streets.  Their political strategy is based in the executive, getting their share of the cash and using patronage to hold their core support. Adams is trying to construct a new ideology to justify the U-turn, calling for new ways to embrace the Orange. However he now faces a risk from his own supporters, who voted in large numbers to insist that elements of the political agreement that Sinn Fein had allowed to let slide now be implemented. At the same time it has now become clear that the DUP demand for supremacy is not negotiable and that the British stand four-square with them. The danger lies in believing that the British position is a result of the DUP pact. It is in fact built into British strategy over the history of the Troubles. A new settlement would involve further concessions, confirming Sinn Fein as a loyal and subordinate opposition.

In Britain the alliance with the DUP will have a much greater impact than in the past. This is because the Conservative party has moved to the far right and because party and country are fragmented. Elements of greater state spying and repression, impunity for state forces, the military compact and the open expression of sectarianism and racism will open the door for the Trumpist wing of the Conservative party.  All the more so in Ireland where policies such as the military compact will no longer be the platitude it is in Britain but  the spearhead of state sponsored discrimination in favour of current and former members of the state forces.


However the link carries great danger for the Conservative party. They have spent decades resurrecting themselves as the people's party - not the nasty party. The British left now have an open goal to force much of the population to flee screaming from the Tories.

Overall, the Tory/DUP deal is but one sign of political chaos. If anyone were willing to look closely at it they would see it contradicts the basis of the Irish political settlement and will inevitably lead to its collapse. In Britain the deal will act as an accelerator, speeding up the division between right and left.

The Corbyn phenomenon is the first step in rediscovery of class. As part of that journey the Irish Question must be rediscovered and cancerous effects of colonialism on British and Irish workers challenged again.

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