TALKS to resolve the crisis over devolved power in Northern Ireland have been placed in jeopardy by the relationship being forged between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Conservatives, commentators on both sides of the Irish border are warning.
Conversations between the DUP and Sinn Fein resumed on Monday. The Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, were also in attendance.
On Sunday, the outgoing Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, phoned Theresa May to express his concern. He told her that any deal with the DUP must be made without jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement. He is also understood to have urged an early meeting with his successor, Leo Varadkar, who was due to be sworn in on Tuesday.
There was agreement from the Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, whose party caused the power-sharing arrangement at Stormont to collapse over the failure of the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, to “step aside” during investigation of her part in the alleged “cash for ash” financial scandal.
Mr Adams argued that, assuming that greater involvement of the DUP in the new administration, Mr Brokenshire would be unacceptable as an honest broker in attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. He called for an independent chairman to oversee the talks.
Concerns were also raised by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Its Legislative Assembly member Nichola Mallon asked: “How can you have a secretary of state sitting as an honest broker when they already have a deal with one of the parties sitting around the table?”
paRemaining: the Prime Minister, Theresa May, makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street after she returned from Buckingham Palace on FridayAs for the possible concessions that the DUP might demand of Mrs May in return for propping up her minority Government in Westminster, political pundits in Ireland are less concerned about sexuality and ethics than the LGBT lobby in Britain. (The staunchly Protestant DUP, founded by the late Ian Paisley, opposes gay marriage and the legalising of abortion, and has successfully blocked attempts by Sinn Fein and others to make legal provision for such matters at Stormont.)
The DUP under Ms Foster, a member of the Church of Ireland, has been more concerned about matters surrounding Brexit, the free movement of people from the Province to Britain without having to show passports, and a “soft” border with the Republic.
In negotiations with Mrs May and her team, the DUP delegation will also be acutely aware of the impact that any agreement may have on trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which is currently thriving.
Church leaders in Ireland do not usually comment on election results, but it is generally accepted that, as cross-border institutions, they, too, would welcome a retention of the current free movement across the border.