Cash, not moral issues, likely to be driving force of DUP support for May

DUP leader Arlene Foster pictured with her newly elected MPs during a press conference at Stormont Hotel in Belfast last week
DUP leader Arlene Foster pictured with her newly elected MPs during a press conference at Stormont Hotel in Belfast last week

The DUP is an increasingly pragmatic party which will not seek to influence Great Britain abortion or gay marriage laws – but will likely press Tories for more money for Northern Ireland instead, a range of commentators have said.

There has been significant concern about the potential impact the DUP could have on Westminster’s stance on abortion and same-sex marriage in light of partnership talks with the party by Tories which would allow the Conservatives to reach an adequate majority to form the next UK government.

Former chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC), Tory MP Laurence Robertson, said Labour blogs had been responsible for stirring up fears about the DUP’s social values – having received an anti-DUP email from one himself.

“Those who will call for tolerance are often the least tolerant of other people’s views,” he said, adding: “The DUP are only reflecting what their constituents think.”

The fear of some people is that the DUP might influence the situation on abortion and same-sex marriage in Great Britain, he said.

“But that is not going to happen – they are more likely to press for more money.”

The Tories allow their MPs a free vote on such social votes anyway and do not impose a whip, he added.

In his seven years as chair of the NIAC, the SDLP, UUP and DUP had been in unanimous agreement on seven reports on issues ranging from corporation tax to air passenger duty and tourism taxation, he added.

Mick Fealty, editor of the Slugger O’Toole current affairs website, also played down concerns.

England is a big country, he said, and in the same way as people in Dorset, Kent and Newcastle have little understanding of each other’s regions, so their ignorance of Northern Ireland explains their “shock” at the sudden emergence of the DUP in their awareness.

However, the Tories can choose who they will as partners – and he senses people are becoming used to the idea of the DUP already.

“The most pressing thing is that the UK needs a government. After the shock, pragmatism will kick in.”

He added: “While the thought [of a DUP-Tory partnership] may be shocking for some of us who may be more liberal, Sinn Fein’s abstentionism is empowering the DUP to take an influential role in the UK government.

“The DUP will not play nice, but unlike any other party the Tories might have done a deal with they will stand by whatever agreement they make.”

Dr Connal Parr, vice-chancellor’s research fellow in the humanities at Northumbria University, noted that “much hysteria” is doing the rounds.

“It should be remembered that the DUP have a pragmatic streak which has seen them negotiate and share power with their former sworn enemies Sinn Fein for almost 10 years,” he said.

“This emanates from their founder Ian Paisley who was known to vehemently denounce his opponents on platforms across Northern Ireland but would then hold private talks with those same people, discussions which often led to a friendly rapport. The DUP is also more critical of Conservative austerity than the brigadiers of ‘identity politics’ have so far acknowledged.

“Politically, there appears to be much confusion over the DUP’s stance on continued access to the single market and the continuance of a ‘soft border’, both of which Arlene Foster’s party supports.

“Though avowed Brexit backers, you can be sure they will bring this concern into subsequent discussions with the British and Irish governments, and the European Union, if indeed the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement survives to negotiate the UK’s withdrawal from Europe.”

Trevor Ringland, former co-chair of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party, said many of those attacking the DUP are also Jeremy Corbyn supporters.

However, Mr Corbyn – and his supporters – still need to clarify whether the IRA murder of so many soldiers and police officers was justified, he said.

The DUP has become much more pragmatic since the 1960s, not only sharing power with nationalists, but also Sinn Fein. “While I would not be their biggest fan by any means, I have to recognise that.”

While some people are “hysterical” about their social values, the DUP nowadays has both religious and pragmatic wings and related laws are already set for Great Britain, he said. However in his view the party has not adequately clarified its views on paramilitarism.

But on social welfare they are left of centre: “So their influence on government would probably be a good thing.”