One of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement has derided as “moonshine” the notion that a DUP-Conservative deal would undermine the 1998 peace accord.
Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble – now a Conservative member of the House of Lords – was speaking after it was suggested by Sinn Fein and others that such a political pact would run counter to an obligation upon the UK government to remain neutral in matters concerning Northern Ireland politics.
Lord Trimble was speaking after the Ulster Unionists lost all their MPs in last week’s general election, leaving the DUP as the sole Northern Irish unionist party in Parliament.
The DUP is currently working out a pact with Theresa May to allow her to govern the UK in the absence of an outright Tory majority.
At the same time, negotiations to try and resurrect the Stormont Assembly are also beginning.
In the wake of that news, Taoiseach Enda Kenny voiced “concern that nothing should happen to put the Good Friday Agreement at risk” while Labour’s Yvette Cooper said it was “troubling” that a Conservative-led UK government “could be taking sides, having been the guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement”.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy told BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning that a Tory-DUP deal could put the 1998 agreement at risk, adding “there is an obligation on the British government to remain neutral” when it comes to negotiations in Northern Ireland.
In response to such comments, Lord Trimble said: “There’s no merit to that at all.
“There’s some people who spend their time dreaming up moonshine.”
The specific part of the agreement which has been cited in numerous media reports in recent days is Article 1(v).
This states that the UK and Irish governments both agree “whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions”.
Lord Trimble said this is about agreeing not to discriminate against any community or tradition, and people are “stretching the language” to imply it takes in party politics.
“When it talks about impartiality, what it means is there should not be any negative discrimination ... with regard to dealing with people generally,” he said.
“It’s got nothing to do with what happens in parliament.”
Lord Trimble also spoke about the fact his former party has been wiped out in Westminster, whilst the DUP has grown in strength.
While he dubbed the latest election result “unfortunate”, he rejected the idea that a single unionist party should be created.
He said: “It’s a bad idea in the present circumstances ... the demographics in Northern Ireland are moving to a situation where there’ll be no outright majority either on the nationalist side or the unionist side.
“So having a party that treats every election as a sectarian headcount is a huge vulnerability.”
He added that “if unionism is to succeed then unionism has to be prepared to spread [itself] across the community as a whole; the DUP show no sign of being able to do that”.