Most of the reaction to the agreement between the Tories and the DUP has been anger. Critics are fully justified as an effective bribe has been made to keep Theresa May in office, at a time when public services across Britain continue to be cut.
But there are even more pernicious effects arising from the deal, which may only surface over time. The long delay in securing a deal cannot possibly have been because of money. The £1.5 billion in total compares to £762 billion in government spending last year – that is less than 0.2 per cent. The amount is effectively a pittance – and would not at all bother a Tory government desperate to cling on.
However even that amount is fuelling further animosity to this government, because it indicates the Tories will spend money to stay in office but not on public services. It contrasts with the reply Theresa May gave to a nurse whose pay packet has been unchanged over seven years when May said ‘there is no magic money tree’.
The real risk is that there are hidden political clauses to the agreement. Given the supremacist character of the DUP and its allies, including the Orange Order and paramilitaries such as the UVF and UDA, the concerns range from new permissions for sectarian Orange parades through nationalist areas, a denial of justice for victims of loyalist and British army killings, a reversal of the agreement on the treatment of ‘on-the-run’ suspects, or other measures. The ‘co-ordination committee’ threatened by the Westminster government to implement the N Ireland budget would in effect be a return to Unionist supremacy in the allocation of public money, backed up by an avowedly unionist British government.
Gerry Adams is right to say that this deal threatens the Good Friday Agreement. This has serious consequences, often little understood in Britain. Both the British government and the unionist parties were forced into the Good Friday Agreement by their inability to defeat the Republican movement and the rise of Sinn Féin. The Good Friday Agreement instituted a new political settlement, and replaced the long-standing institutionalised sectarian discrimination of the old Stormont, which included political exclusion, job, public spending and housing discrimination against Irish nationalists.
The left needs to work with all those in Ireland and elsewhere who want to defend the Good Friday Agreement, with no return to the practices of the sectarian state, and to expose the grubbiness of the Tory-DUP deal.
The Tory party has a long history of reactionary alliances in Ireland simply for its own venal interests. It is attempting to do the same once more. The cause of progress in both countries depends on them being stopped.