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Daily Telegraph
15 June 2017

No, bringing in the DUP will not shatter peace in Northern Ireland. Here's why...

Wreckage in the village of Claudy, Co Londonderry, after one of Northern Ireland's worst terrorist atrocities, in 1972Wreckage in the village of Claudy, Co Londonderry, after one of Northern Ireland's worst terrorist atrocities, in 1972

Bucket-loads of hysterical criticism have been hurled at Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) since they began talks with Theresa May about a confidence and supply deal.

“Bigots”, “homophobes” and “potential destroyers of the peace process” – the insults have been coming thick and fast. A typical tweet reads: “Do you want the Northern Ireland peace process to fail? Do you want us to get bombed again? Do you want more anti-LGBT, anti-womens’ rights on a platform. No!”

Whatís really got social mediaís communal knickers in a twist is the DUPís social conservatism. If you think that commitment to single-sex marriage and a womanís right to choose in Northern Ireland are the most important issues in the politics of the United Kingdom, then you are unlikely to smile on the DUP.

However, if you knew the party accepts civil partnerships and has a view of abortion shared by most political parties in Ireland north and south, you might relax. You could also bear in mind that the DUP has a female leader.

In fact, for the Tories, in many ways the DUP are as good as it gets.

For a start, the parties are in basic agreement about the big stuff. The DUP are intensely patriotic, and like the Tories are staunch supporters of the monarchy, Trident, Nato and the security services. In consequence, there is no possibility of them ever casting a flirtatious eye at a Labour Party led by IRA sympathisers.

The differences between the two parties are not deal-breakers. On security issues, the DUP are slightly to the right of Tory Central and, on austerity, slightly to the left. They’re unhappy about means-testing the winter fuel allowance, want to maintain the triple-lock on pensions and would like to spend more on defence, especially cyber-security and counter-terrorism, as well as industrial investment.

On Brexit there is broad agreement with the Prime Minister’s strategy, but because of political geography, the DUP wishes the UK to give high priority to Ireland during negotiations and to display adroit diplomacy and technological ingenuity to avoid the return of a hard border wanted by no one except smugglers.

And now to the matter of the peace process, about which several people who ought to know better, including former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward, have been talking alarmist rubbish.

Fuelled by Sinn Fein’s customarily clever propaganda, a view has developed that any deal means that the Secretary of State can no longer be accepted as an honest broker, so the Executive will not be reinstated, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement will disintegrate and violence will break out again.

Here are just a few facts that undermine that particular narrative.

The Agreement is almost 20 years old, is well embedded and is guaranteed jointly by the British and Irish governments whose Secretary of State and Foreign Minister respectively act as mediators. And almost no one wants terrorists back.

Like all major parties in the south, Ireland’s governing Fine Gael party is already in favour of Irish unity. And the Conservative and Unionist Party will not become any more unionist because it’s cosying up to the DUP.

Tony Blair claimed to be impartial at a time when Northern Ireland’s then main nationalist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, was Labour’s sister party. And after the 2010 hung parliament, Gordon Brown set that same Shaun Woodward to devise an economic package that would buy the support of the DUP.

As for Sinn Fein, whose hypocrisy is world-class, they are frantic to enter coalition in the Republic of Ireland, where they are the third-largest party. But because they were embarrassed by budget compromises they had to make in government up north that played badly in the south, they brought down the Northern Ireland Executive, forced an assembly election and still put up bogus barriers to reinstating it. Is anyone suggesting that if Sinn Fein were in government in the Republic they would be impartial?

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.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


© Ruth Dudley Edwards