BY JOE KEENAN
The celebrations of progressives across the country on June 8th as Theresa May failed to secure a majority for the Conservative Party in the General Election rapidly turned to outrage when they discovered whom she would use to prop up her minority government. In her desperation, the Prime Minister turned to the 10 MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The Democratic Unionist Party is an extremist party, plain and simple. Holding socially conservative views that would have been considered antiquated 40 years ago, the religious fundamentalism the party is built on informs their policy positions on gay marriage, abortion, and education. By making a deal with the DUP, Theresa May has handed these zealots political leverage, and given exposure to their intolerant and hateful views. However, before delving into ideology, we must consider what Theresa May has gambled to hold on to political power.
Power sharing, the cornerstone of peace in Northern Ireland, has collapsed. Sinn Féin withdrew its consent in January over the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, triggering an election in March. Negotiations between Sinn Féin and the DUP are ongoing, with the deadline for an agreement the end of June. By giving the DUP increased political power in Westminster, Theresa May has jeopardised these negotiations. Where is the incentive for the DUP to re-establish power sharing, when they have leverage over the government implementing Direct Rule?
The Peace Process in Northern Ireland relies on the UK government to be seen as an independent arbiter. This was difficult enough with the historic mistrust between republicans and the British government. With the DUP propping up the Conservative minority, suddenly this ‘independent arbiter’ is beholden to the loyalists to maintain its grip on power. It is reasonable to assume that Sinn Féin will be reluctant to negotiate if it considers these negotiations to be rigged against it from the start. Theresa May has put peace in Northern Ireland at risk, and demonstrated either her ignorance, or what she is willing to sacrifice to maintain her own position.
Theresa May is not only putting peace in Northern Ireland at risk, but also the core values and beliefs of the United Kingdom. Across a multitude of policy areas, the DUP takes a hard-line and illiberal view.
‘I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England.’ These are the words of First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster, speaking to the Guardian in 2016. Northern Ireland remains the only part of the United Kingdom not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act, legalising abortion. The DUP has resisted liberal social reforms for decades, denying women reproductive rights and forcing them to either travel to the rest of the UK for an abortion, or risk buying abortion pills over the Internet, a process fraught with danger. Their religious fundamentalism runs so deep that even pregnancies conceived by rape or incest are not considered sufficient grounds for termination. Draconian laws mean that by exercising their reproductive rights, women in Northern Ireland could face life in prison, with abortion carrying the same sentence as murder.
The DUP shows its intolerant and illiberal colours when it comes to gay rights too. When gay marriage became legal in the UK, the DUP used a controversial veto called the ‘petition of concern’ to block the reform being implemented in Northern Ireland. This veto is designed as way to maintain power sharing, with either side able to veto legislation supported by a majority of MLAs. Using the ‘petition of concern’, and making gay marriage a ‘red-line’ in power sharing talks, highlights how the DUP would be willing to throw away decades of effort securing peace, to deny basic rights to the gay community.
Arlene Foster claims she ‘could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me, when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage’. Even if this claim is true, the same cannot be said for the rest of her party. Homophobia is endemic in the DUP. Ian Paisley Jnr, son of DUP founder Ian Paisley and MP for South Antrim, said homosexuality ‘repulsed’ him, and DUP MP Jane Robinson called it an ‘abomination’. Former DUP Health Minister Jim Wells was forced to resign, when he claimed children raised by same-sex couples were more likely to be abused and neglected. Another DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots continually fought against repealing a ban on gay men donating blood and gay couples being allowed to adopt. Finally, DUP councillor for Ballymena Maurice Mills, claimed Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1500 people in the United States, was God’s retribution for New Orleans plans to host a gay pride event called Southern Decadence. Hatred and homophobia are rampant within the DUP, and allowing them to even prop up a government is giving far too much power to these fanatical bigots.
Their dogmatic approach to Christianity bleeds into all areas of policy making, even education. Several senior members of the DUP are young Earth Creationists, believing in a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis. Mervyn Storey, Chair of the DUP Education Committee, is a member of the young Earth Creationist Caleb Foundation and believes the Earth to be less than 10,000 years old. Edwin Poots, former DUP Health Minister, is also a young Earth Creationist, and expressed scepticism in a Radio Times interview that ‘big balls of cosmic dust gathered and there was a big explosion. We’ve had lots of explosions in NI and I’ve never seen anything come out of them that was good’. In a Belfast Telegraph survey at the DUP Conference, 40% of activists asked believed Creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools, and DUP Assemblyman for West Tyrone Thomas Buchanan endorsed an event encouraging Creationism be added to the curriculum. Their rejection of reason, and their support for teaching children religious faith as empirical fact only offers further evidence of their unsuitability for government.
As you can hopefully see, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest Theresa May has formed an alliance with a party of chauvinistic fundamentalists who have no business even propping up a minority government. Her willingness to tie herself to a party with such hateful views, and her reckless abandonment of years of careful progress toward peace, show how desperate she is to hold onto power at all costs.