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3Novices:Disaster for May, opportunity for DUP

DUBLIN // The sudden rise to influence of the small, right-wing Democratic Unionist Party, thanks to the results of the British election, has raised fresh fears of an eroding peace in Ireland.

By winning 10 seats in the House of Commons, the DUP was able to partner with prime minister Theresa May's Conservatives to give them a parliamentary majority. But this also gives the DUP leverage with Mrs May's government, which will now stand or fall on the DUP's support.

The details of the partnership between the two parties were due to be announced on Wednesday but were put on hold because of the fire that engulfed a London housing tower, killing 17 people.

In Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, and in Belfast, the capital of the British region of Northern Ireland, worries started to surface about the DUP's newfound power ever since Mrs May announced the alliance last week.

Founded in 1971, the Belfast-based DUP has always been a strong advocate of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It has positioned itself against republican parties like Sinn Fein, which believes that Northern Ireland should be a part of the Republic of Ireland, bringing the whole island under a single government.

Through the 1970s-1990s, the DUP opposed successive accords that proposed Dublin's involvement in power-sharing arrangements, including the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict and has maintained peace across Ireland.

The DUP has since acceded to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement - or the Belfast Agreement - which helped bring an end to 30 years of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland in 1998. But its influence with Westminster could easily hamper Mrs May's government from functioning as an impartial guarantor during power-sharing negotiations.

A truly neutral guarantor "has in fact never been the reality, but now even this pretence will be dropped", said Emma Clancy, a political adviser for Sinn Fein. "Our concern is that the British government will behave in a way that is even more openly partisan in favour of the unionist position than in the past."

In a phone call with Mrs May, the outgoing Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, indicated his concern that her deal with the DUP would "put the Good Friday Agreement at risk", a spokesman for Mr Kenny said. Other politicians have voiced their concern as well.

Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, on Monday called the DUP-Conservative partnership "a coalition for chaos".

"We don't believe that any deal between the DUP here and the English Tories will be good for the people here," Mr Adams said. "Any deal that undercuts in any way the process here of the Good Friday and other agreements is one that has to be opposed by progressives."

Mrs May's deal with the DUP threatened her government's role as "an honest broker" between unionists and republicans in Belfast, wrote Jonathan Powell, the British government's chief negotiator in Ireland from 1997 to 2007, in the Guardian newspaper on Sunday.

It could "catapult Northern Ireland into a serious crisis and back onto our front pages", he wrote.

John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, said on Tuesday of the Irish peace process: "People shouldn't regard it as a given. It's not certain, it's under stress, it's fragile."

There are, in Ireland, "hard men still there, lurking in the corners of communities, deciding if they wish to return to some sort of violence".

The situation is further complicated by the fact that a power-sharing agreement between unionist and republican parties, following an election in Northern Ireland in March, has proven elusive.

Talks between the parties to form a government, mediated by Mrs May's administration, were suspended when she called her snap general election in April. As a result, three-and-a-half months after the polls in Northern Ireland, the region remains without a functioning assembly or an executive.

Arlene Foster, the head of the DUP, has warned that if Sinn Fein did not make the compromises needed for the power-sharing process to succeed, London would make Belfast's decisions for it.

"If others decide that they are not coming back into the devolved administration here in Northern Ireland then those issues will have to be dealt with at Westminster," Ms Foster said on Monday. "It is really for Sinn Fein to decide where they want those powers to lie."

But Ms Clancy pointed out that the reasons Sinn Fein withdrew from talks have yet to be addressed. These reasons include a corruption scandal involving Ms Foster and "the DUP's ongoing refusal to implement key aspects of the Good Friday and subsequent binding agreements, such as introducing fair and impartial mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the conflict, a Bill of Rights and an Irish Language Act", a measure to enhance the use of Irish Gaelic in public life.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae



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