The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), by virtue of a mistimed snap election, now holds more power than it ever has before, on an international level. Due to its role propping up the current Conservative Party government in the UK, which can be rescinded at any time, their views and demands cannot go unheard without the risk of further destabilising the Tory control of Westminster. Due to this change in the DUP’s priorities, many issues regarding the governing of Northern Ireland have gone ignored, most notably the fact that home rule in Stormont has not yet been resumed since its dissolution in January 2017. Aside from this, their elevated power in Westminster has also blocked English intervention in issues of equality in the North, in regards to both reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, neither of which line up with standards and practices in the rest of the UK as it stands.
However, one area of great importance to the North of Ireland that the DUP has not ignored is the case of Brexit, and more specifically the case of the border. The case of the border in the event of a ‘No deal’ Brexit is only in the early days of planning in Westminster. The DUP holds the majority of the cards in this deal. With the underlying threat of governmental collapse if they withdraw support, border issues such as the Tory trade bill which would make the EU proposed ‘Backstop’ deal illegal under UK law, must be given time and credence in international discussion. This particular decision on behalf of the DUP made headlines due to the fact that it is a very recent decision. As recently as early October, all sources claimed that the DUP were vying for a different Brexit and border deal than the Tories, with The Guardian, among other papers, publishing articles on how the DUP were threatening to withdraw their support over the differences.
Due to this, one half of the Stormont assembly has a say in Brexit. One half has a say in international relations, in how the North is portrayed in the Brexit talks, and what is decided about the North in the House of Commons, due to the fact that Stormont is not currently assembled. As the DUP now hold a position of influence in Westminster, they seem to have lost all interest in reinstating home rule in the North. Elected officials, voted in by the people of Northern Ireland, now have no say in governing the North, on top of the fact that the DUP, who were unable to secure a majority in 2017, now represent the entirety of the North in Brexit talks. This is particularly egregious due to the DUP’s pro-Brexit stance, as 56% of the voters in the North voted against Brexit, and recent polls show that, should a second referendum take place, this figure would rise to 69%.
This decrease in support for Brexit is mainly due to fears of the troubles returning if the border were to return, an aspect of Brexit which the DUP now supports. While those in border towns fear for the reignition of sectarian violence and terrorist organisations on both sides resurfacing, close to four out of five leave voters in Northern Ireland prioritise Brexit over the peace process. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, recently said that Brexit must be prioritised over the Good Friday Agreement. This statement may be understandable if incidents such as Bloody Sunday and the Omagh Bombing were outside of living memory, but they are not. 1998 was not that long ago, as any parent of any UCD student will tell you. Arlene Foster was 28 years old when the Omagh bombing occurred, she is not young enough to have forgotten the pain and violence the border once caused, and the fact that she prioritises leaving the EU, an action that her electorate voted against, over preventing that violence from reoccurring, speaks volumes about how she and her party view the lives of the people she has sworn to represent.
With a ‘No deal’ Brexit looking more and more likely as the March 29th deadline looms ever closer, the state of the border is of massive concern to both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Aside from potential tariffs on goods and services, it will massively impact the day to day life of those who live in border towns, whose local supermarket may now be across a checkpoint, or who may need to bring their passport to visit their nan on a Sunday afternoon. This rising uncertainty will not end with the close of Brexit talks, as currently, there is no official border plan in place, and logistics aside, we simply do not know how the border going back up will affect sectarian tension in either the short or long term.
Many view a ‘No deal’ Brexit as the starting point from which the process for a united Ireland could be formed, but others, perhaps more logically, simply worry about the continued upholding of the Good Friday Agreement, and the prolonged success of the peace process. The DUP do not seem to share these fears, they do not acknowledge these worries, and for this reason their impact on Brexit negotiations will most likely not benefit Northern Ireland in the slightest. Given their actions in recent years regarding proper reproductive healthcare and the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the North, they have repeatedly demonstrated that they will put the wellbeing of those they represent after their own agenda, and their agenda right now is supporting the Conservative Party in securing Brexit. Not a good Brexit deal, or even a deal, but simply ensuring that Brexit goes ahead. All else is simply background noise to be shouted down on the Parliament floor.