Sectarian issues largely off agenda in DUP-Tory negotiations – sources – The Guardian

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DUP will not include demands regarding marching disputes such as Drumcree in ‘shopping list’ to support Tories

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Arlene Foster




Arlene Foster is due to meet Theresa May in London on Tuesday.
Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Sectarian issues largely off agenda in DUP-Tory negotiations – sources

DUP will not include demands regarding marching disputes such as Drumcree in ‘shopping list’ to support Tories

The bulk of the Democratic Unionists’ demands in talks aimed at shoring up a Conservative government will be socioeconomic, with sectarian issues such as Orange parades and how to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles largely off the agenda, party sources told the Guardian.

The DUP’s negotiating team will not be including demands regarding marching disputes such as Drumcree in their “shopping list” to support the Tories getting back into power. Instead these will be “parked” into the parallel talks at Stormont aimed at restoring a devolved power-sharing government to the region.

While the DUP will seek an assurance that there will be no referendum or border poll on Irish unity, the party wants to avoid bringing in issues which would either be impossible for national government to deliver or could further alienate nationalists in Northern Ireland already worried about the DUP’s growing influence in London.

The decision will be a blow for the Protestant Orange Order, which has called for the DUP to press the Tories for the right to march in places like Drumcree, where their annual parade in July is banned from passing through a nationalist district of Portadown, Co Armagh.

The DUP is seeking to exclude members of the IRA and other paramilitary groups who were killed in the Troubles being designated as “victims” in any deal on the legacy from the conflict. However, the party is not making it a precondition to back a new Tory government at Westminster.

They stressed that the DUP were still as keen to reform a power-sharing administration with Sinn Féin and other local parties as they were to shore up a national government in London.

Ahead of her meeting with Theresa May in London on Tuesday, Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, defended her party’s decision to provide “supply and confidence” support for a minority Conservative administration. This means the DUP would back the government on an issue-by-issue basis including supporting a budget rather than any formal coalition or taking a seat in the cabinet.

Speaking on the first day of renewed devolution talks in Belfast, Foster said: “Parliamentarians would like to play as full a role as they possibly can in our national parliament, just as some in Sinn Féin would like to play a role in the Irish parliament. I think this is a tremendous opportunity not just for this party but for Northern Ireland in terms of the nation, and we’re looking forward to playing our part in that.”

Foster said she wanted devolution back and described her first meeting with Sinn Féin since the general election as “constructive”.

The DUP leader will be accompanied in the talks with May and the Tories on Tuesday by her 10 MPs who are now the effective kingmakers in the House of Commons.

Controversy however hangs over the chairmanship of the talks at Stormont. Sinn Féin continue to state that the Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, cannot be regarded as a neutral co-chair of the talks, given his party, the Conservatives, and their forthcoming deal with the DUP.

One of Sinn Féin’s negotiators at the Stormont discussions, Conor Murphy, said it was “delusional” to regard the secretary of state as impartial. “Of course he’s conflicted, he always has been conflicted. The British government are conflicted because they are players in this process. They have a very direct interest, in particular in the legacy issues, and they have never been neutral,” he said.

The smaller nationalist party, the SDLP, also called for an independent chair from abroad for the talks. In 1997 and 1998 US senator George Mitchell successfully chaired the marathon set of negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement.

The current co-chair of the talks, Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan, said Brokenshire must “adopt a stance of rigorous impartiality” in Belfast.

Defending his role as co-chair in the talks, Brokenshire said he would still adhere to the principles of neutrality enshrined in the Good Friday agreement. He said he was “holding fast to the Belfast agreement” and “to those principles as a government of working for all communities in Northern Ireland”.

Meanwhile May was challenged by LGBT activists on Monday to publicly pledge support for the gay community in Northern Ireland before sealing any deal with the DUP.

John O’Doherty of the Love Equality campaign said the prime minister should “make an explicit statement of support” to assure LGBT people in Northern Ireland that the Tories would not row back on promoting gay rights due to their parliamentary alliance with the DUP.

He was speaking at a rally in favour of gay marriage equality in Northern Ireland at Belfast city hall. It was the precursor to a large mass demonstration by a coalition of gay activists, human rights groups including Amnesty International, and trade unions on 1 July.

The region is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not recognised in law. Attempts to legalise gay marriage in the Stormont assembly have been repeatedly vetoed by the DUP.

“It is fair to say that a lot of LGBT people have become prominent even in the Tory party. We should not forget that David Cameron introduced gay marriage reforms in Britain. So it is really important that Theresa May commits herself and her party once more to promoting LBGT rights and equality. She needs to reassure the local LGBT community that she supports their rights too,” O’Doherty said.

Earlier in the day the former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble had predicted that Conservative MPs would “not rock the boat” once an agreement was reached with the DUP to form a new government.

Trimble, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1998 for helping to secure the Good Friday agreement, also forecast that talks aimed at restoring the power-sharing Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont would not succeed until Brexit negotiations were complete.

Trimble, a former leader of the Ulster Unionist party and now a Tory peer, said on Monday that Sinn Féin wanted to use Brexit to gain political capital, but that the Irish republican party would fail if it was back in a Stormont government involved in UK-wide Brexit negotiations.

After the Good Friday agreement, Trimble was considered to be a traitor by the DUP for his compromise with Irish nationalists.

Trimble’s comments come as Foster prepares to fly to London before Tuesday’s meeting with May at Downing Street. Talks between Sinn Féin, the DUP, and other parties represented at Stormont are due to restart in Belfast on Monday.

The Northern Ireland assembly broke down at the beginning of this year after Foster refused to step aside temporarily to make way for an independent inquiry into a bungled green energy scheme. The project was championed by the DUP but cost the taxpayer an estimated half a billion pounds.

The late Martin McGuinness resigned from the Sinn Féin-DUP coalition, triggering the collapse of the regional government under the rules of power-sharing.

The deadline for the next round of talks to resurrect the assembly, which were put on hold due to the UK general election, is 29 June.

Trimble said on Monday he was confident Tory MPs would back an arrangement under which the DUP’s 10 MPs would prop up a Tory minority government, despite reports of unease among more centrist Conservatives.

“They will have more problems over who is going to lead their party after the election than this arrangement with the DUP,” he said.

Conversely, Trimble said the DUP could come under pressure from its own base if it is seen as too close to the Tories.

“One of the big set pieces coming down the line in parliament is the ‘great repeal bill’, which will be used to repeal and row back all that legislation that flowed from the EU that the Conservatives have promised to get rid of, such as European regulations on business,” he said. “There are going to be all kinds of interest groups howling and screaming about this, and the DUP could take some local flak.”

Trimble, who spent close to a decade negotiating with Sinn Féin both inside and outside devolved government, said he suspected the republican party would prefer to be outside a new power-sharing coalition with the DUP because of Brexit.

“They want to use Brexit to attack the British government, but how can they do that if they are in a regional government that is helping to negotiate the terms of Brexit? I could be wrong but I can’t see them going back into an executive in Belfast until Brexit is out of the way.”

Foster said one of her main aims at Tuesday’s talks with May was to get “a good deal on Brexit” for Northern Ireland. Foster is opposed to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Writing in Monday’s Belfast Telegraph, she dismissed criticism of her party in the UK media. “Some of the national commentary and analysis about the party – and by extension its voters – has been downright inaccurate and misleading. I have no doubt over time those responsible will look foolish in the extreme,” she said.

This article was amended on 12 June 2017. An earlier version referred to the green energy scheme championed by the DUP costing the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. The estimated cost was half a billion pounds.