One of the most surprising results of the arrangement between the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland following the indecisive General Election was the speed with which it was put together.
Apparently it took just a telephone call between Prime Minister Theresa May and DUP leader Arlene Foster to cement the relationship. Contrast this with similar situations in the past — in 1974 and 2010 — when days of negotiations and horse trading were required before an outcome was reached.
While the DUP has much in common with May’s Conservatives, most importantly for her a desire to leave the European Union, it is inconceivable that it would not just give away this position of strength. The speedy resolution suggests only one thing — whatever the DUP wants, it will get.
As it happened I was present at the genesis of the party, on a hot midsummer night in 1970 when Ian Paisley swept aside the sitting Ulster Unionist Member for North Antrim to enter the British Parliament.
As a journalist covering the event, I duly reported that Paisley had put his win down to the “hand of God” at work in the electorate.
Its early name of the Protestant Unionist Party was changed to give it wider appeal and it gradually overhauled the Ulster Unionists, who had dominated Northern Ireland politics for decades.
Paisley remained at the DUP’s head for more than 35 years and while the hardline stance to power sharing with the province’s Catholic minority has softened, other positions — anti-same sex marriage, dismissive of climate change, opposed to abortion, opposed to international family planning programs — remain in place. It has in the past campaigned against the liberalisation of homosexuality laws.
Perhaps the greatest concern is over the future of the delicate power-sharing arrangements that have brought peace and a degree of prosperity to Northern Ireland for the past quarter of a century.
Should anything in the DUP’s demands concern major changes to this arrangement then a return to the ‘The Troubles’ — the sectarian violence that plagued the province for a generation from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, would be more than possible.