The mostly unsung disaster that will likely ensue from the UK leaving the EU is the precarious situation in Northern Ireland. Now, in the wake of a general election that could see the Conservatives forming a coalition (formal or informal) with the DUP it has reared its head again. We now take the peace achieved on the corner of that lightly populated is-land for granted. It should be seen as little less than miraculous. In June 2012, the Queen made a visit to Northern Ireland, where she met and shook hands with Martin McGuinnes, euphemistically referred to as the “second in command” of the IRA. This is a good deal more than eased tensions. This is a radical commitment to gestures of cooperation. Fanatical compromise. Unity or else.
The Good Friday Agreement that helped finally ease the tensions set the precedent for this and, taking its cue from American civil rights legislation, boldly asserted that neither of the major parties in Northern Irish politics could be trusted to govern alone. This is the political equivalent of training wheels they allow Ulster to ride on its own but make it impossible to know if they can do so unassisted. The agreement makes the politics of both parties seem promising, but at the same time it is built on pessimism.
This pessimism has served Northern Ireland well and is now being undone. Any kind of agreement between the Tories and DUP undercuts the point of power sharing entirely. The DUP being even near government gives one side a privileged power, forgetting history’s lesson that neither party can be trusted with it. Even if the DUP don’t try to advance a Unionist agenda, Sinn Fein will react to their new relationship with the Conservative party by intensifying their rhetoric. Already fraught negotiations over the Irish boarder could become almost untenable. The DUP have no place in government, and no Conservative can support them in good conscience.