This article appeared in slightly different form in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 15 2017. The article was submitted on June 11 so I have amended it slightly to take account of further developments.
Pact with the Devil
As I write, Theresa May is barely holding on to the prime minister’s job despite her utter humiliation in the unnecessary general election she called in response to bad advice.Many Conservatives are out for her blood. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer whose services she dispensed with is enjoying the opportunities that his new post as editor of the London Evening Standard affords him to rub salt into her wounds.
She went from having a majority of 17 to scrabbling around for the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party to keep the Conservative Party in power. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations.
Ian Paisley marched at the head of masked loyalist paramilitary ranks during the 1974 Ulster Workers Council strike. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister until last year, was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things the group did was collaborate with other terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. There was a major arms find in County Armagh in November 1988 but some UVF and UDA weapons have never been found.
The murder of Colin Horner, in a North Down supermarket car park in front of his three-year-old son last month revived community fears of loyalist violence and racketeering. DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met the senior UDA leader Jackie McDonald days after the killing, was criticised for failing to condemn loyalist violence robustly enough.
May attacked Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged ties with the IRA and is now allying herself with a party founded by former Northern Irish loyalist terrorists.
Who are the DUP MPs?
DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr has made many positive comments on Sri Lanka including telling the House of Commons: “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.” However, he has also said that he believes that homosexual “relationships are immoral, offensive and obnoxious.” There have been questions about the probity of his dealings with some property developers. He has consistently drawn attention by his high expenses claims as an MP. He is a friend of Donald Trump and has invited him to visit Northern Ireland for the Open golf championship at Portrush in 2019.
Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned.” Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham with DUP founder Ian Paisley Sr. Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little who was one of three men arrested in Paris in April 1989, along with a South African diplomat and an arms dealer. During her 2017 general election campaign, she received the endorsement of the three biggest loyalist paramilitary organisations.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was part of Official Unionist leader David Trimble’s negotiating team during the Good Friday Agreement talks in 1998. He came to oppose his leader’s stance, however, criticising the lack of a link between IRA weapons decommissioning and Sinn Fein’s being allowed into government. Donaldson joined the DUP in 2003 and is Northern Ireland’s longest serving MP.
In 2005 David Simpson ousted David Trimble from his parliamentary seat. He opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools. Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”. Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011.
Funding from Saudi Arabia
The story about the DUP’s shady financial links with Saudi Arabia is too convoluted for me to cover fully here and many facts remain uncovered. Two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The DUP eventually admitted that money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from the Constitutional Research Council which is linked to the Saudi royal family. The name of Peter Haestrup crops up in connection with this funding. He is a Dane who has repeatedly been linked to a gun running case described by Indian authorities as “the biggest crime in the country’s history”. All the DUP bigwigs claim to be puzzled by all this. The donation seems to be illegal under UK electoral law. If the DUP were forced to return such a large sum of money it might bankrupt the party.
Cash for Ash
Arlene Foster, the current leader of the DUP, is a divisive figure in Northern Ireland. The “cash for ash” scandal indicated that the DUP were corrupt or at best incompetent and arrogant. A renewable energy incentive scheme for Northern Ireland ran out of control and cost the public purse £500 million. Concerns of fraud were raised initially in 2013 and again in 2014, when a whistle-blower contacted Foster to raise concerns about the scheme. The scheme worked by paying applicants to use renewable energy. The rate paid was more than the cost of heating, however, meaning applicants were making profits simply by heating their properties.
The plan was overseen by Arlene Foster when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. She signally failed to introduce proper cost controls, allowing the plan to spiral out of control. Foster said that calls for her resignation were purely “misogynistic”. Foster was succeeded as minister by Jonathan Bell who said in an interview that DUP special advisers and Foster “intervened” to prevent the closure of the scheme. He also claimed that Foster tried to “cleanse the records” by hiding her involvement in delaying the scheme’s closure. Bell was suspended from the DUP. An audit indicated that there were serious fraud issues at 14 of the sites
The affair ultimately caused Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness to resign in protest as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in January 2017 after ten years in office. McGuinness’s resignation meant that Foster was removed from her role as First Minister, which in turn caused the Executive Office of Northern Ireland to fall. The fall of the executive, though triggered by cash for ash, was the inevitable consequence of the DUP’s unwillingness to embrace the vision of a shared and equal society in the north of Ireland which underpinned the GFA. The DUP has continued to adopt a sectarian approach to most issues undermining the carefully crafted agreement designed to allow a more normal society and body politic to take root and flourish.
May’s courting of the DUP augurs badly for power-sharing talks at Stormont. The uneasy peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement owed a lot to the fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were both part of the EU so that the border between the six and 26 counties no longer signified. Thanks to Brexit this will no longer apply. Sinn Féin have argued that because the Northern Ireland electorate voted by 56% to remain within Europe last year the area should have special designated status. The DUP are very much in favour of Brexit and will use their influence to insist there would be no post-Brexit deal that could decouple Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The hard border between the six counties and the 26 counties will reappear. It will now also be the land border between the EU and the UK. The success of the GFA depended on the London government being neutral between the nationalists and the loyalists in Northern Ireland. May’s Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire undermined that neutrality. May’s Faustian pact with the DUP will make any pretence of neutrality ludicrous.
There are many who think this anxiety reflects scaremongering and suggest that the DUP’s fundamentalist views cannot affect the rest of the UK. Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has written many pieces lately advising people to calm down. “The DUP leader – a rural solicitor who saw her father and several friends injured by IRA attacks – has with good grace sat in government with ex-IRA people and their apologists. Her wish-list is, she says, utterly in the national interest. Theresa May can count herself lucky.”
Nevertheless, many people in the UK and Ireland are feeling a sense of betrayal and despair. I lost respect for John Major because of rail privatisation and Edwina Currie. Perhaps Major has not been given enough credit for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. Noe Major is worried. “A fundamental part of that peace process is that the UK government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland. The danger is that however much any government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal, at Westminster, with one of the Northern Ireland parties. The last thing anybody wishes to see is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the community, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.”
Many British voters will be thinking it was bad enough getting Brexit and Theresa May. They are also getting a gang of ignorant bigots with connections to terrorists, fraudsters and Trump. What fresh hell is this?