The Neglect of Northern Ireland

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Sometime after midnight on June 9th, I found myself googling the DUP. Like many others in the UK, I was trying to learn about a party that could be part of the soon-to-be-formed government.

A hung parliament often results in a coalition, and with few options available to the Conservative Party, the Democratic Unionist Party became the obvious choice. It only takes minimal research to discover that the DUP are further to the right than the Conservative Party, with their views on anti-abortion, anti-equal marriage policies and the age of the Earth amongst other things.

How could it be that such a far-right party could exist right under our nose? We know about the Front National in France, the Tea Party movement within US Republicans, but Northern Ireland? We were all oblivious. Media coverage of the US battle for equal marriage was prominent, but the very same issue in Northern Ireland and the party opposing it was virtually ignored.

The DUP is a small regional party, meaning that like the Welsh party Plaid Cymru, it has not had much media coverage in the run-up to the election. What makes this increasingly problematic is that it is not the only time Northern Irish politics have been neglected by the British media. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which shares a physical border with the European Union, and the ability to cross the border easily is key to the livelihoods of many. The implications for that border were barely mentioned in all of the debates and campaigning about Brexit, and yet it has the potential for huge political upset.

It seems the only time Northern Ireland has been brought up in recent campaigns is as a weapon against Jeremy Corbyn. The media and the Conservatives are willing to consider the historical situation in Northern Ireland, but apparently struggle to acknowledge the circumstances of today. I will readily admit that I do not know enough about Northern Ireland and Northern Irish politics. I have tried to educate myself on the history, but the present day situation is nuanced, and the general election has changed the balance of power. Brexit alone will have an array of unpredictable effects, and yet few appear to be discussing the impact on Northern Ireland. Campaigners, political writers, and the whole media have failed the British public with this neglect. Brexit negotiations are due to begin very soon, and now a party with very specific interests in Northern Ireland have more power than any political pundit predicted.

As well as Brexit and the recent elections, the devolved government of Northern Ireland has collapsed, as talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein failed to reach a conclusion. The DUP are against the Good Friday Agreement, which was key to the Northern Ireland peace process. Therefore, the absence of a devolved government in Northern Ireland makes the situation particularly vulnerable, as the DUP’s power grows in the British Parliament. The government normally acts as a neutral arbiter in the Northern Irish government-forming talks, but with the DUP now supporting a Conservative government in Westminster, it is impossible for the Conservative Party to be considered neutral. This means that a new arbiter must be found, thereby prolonging the dysfunction of the devolved government in Stormont.

I cannot stress enough how Brexit, the General Election and the devolved government collapsing all have huge implications on Northern Ireland. And yet, I know little about them. It appears as if The Troubles are a distant memory, and the implications for Brexit on Scotland have been explored in far greater depth by those wishing to speculate on further divisions forming.

No peace process is ever perfect, and these recent developments could jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. Whatever the outcome of Brexit talks, choosing to enforce the Irish/Northern Irish Border could be a dangerous decision.

We were not informed. I was not informed. The media and political campaigners have let us down, and now we face a far-right government which threatens peace in Northern Ireland.

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Politics with Social Policy student, nerd, prone to strong opinions, and enthusiastic kazoo player.

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