Saturday 20 January 2018

DUP pact could jeopardise peace deal, warns Major

French President Emmanuel Macron greets Prime Minister Theresa May before a working dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, yesterday. Photo: Philippe Wojazer
French President Emmanuel Macron greets Prime Minister Theresa May before a working dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, yesterday. Photo: Philippe Wojazer

Christopher Hope

Theresa May's plans to sign a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to support her minority Conservative Government could jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process, Sir John Major has warned.

Sir John - who had remained silent during the six-week election campaign - is "concerned" about the impact a deal could have on politics in the province.

He warned "hard men" are still "lurking in the corners of communities".

Mrs May was hoping to agree a deal - a day later than planned - with DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, who arrived in Downing Street for formal talks on Monday.

Mrs Foster said her focus was on "bringing stability to the UK government in and around issues around Brexit, obviously around counter-terrorism, and then doing what's right for Northern Ireland in respect of economic matters".

Mrs Foster wrote on Twitter that "discussions are going well" and added: "We hope soon to be able to bring this work to a successful conclusion."

A source close to the talks said last night that they would conclude "no later than tomorrow... it is 'T' crossing and 'I' dotting. No drama. Slow and steady."

The sides pledged to carry on, despite the intervention by John Major, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997 and himself relied on support from the Ulster Unionists when his majority disappeared in his final six months.

Sir John, whose contact with the IRA helped to end the Troubles, said peace was still "fragile" and any deal could mean the government is no longer seen as impartial.

He said he was "wary" and "dubious" about a deal and said events in Ulster tend not to unwind as expected.

"We need to be prepared for the unexpected, we need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst," he cautioned.

"The last thing anybody wishes to see is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the communities, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.

"We really need to do everything we conceivably can to make sure that doesn't happen, and that does require an impartial UK government," he said.

He did not expect the peace process to "collapse" suddenly, but Sir John cautioned: "I think we have to take care with it and take care that everything we do does not exaggerate the underlying differences that still are there."

He stressed that it is "very important" that there was an "honest broker", stating that the "only honest broker can be the UK Government".

"I simply think you need to be very wary of what could happen and therefore be very cautious about what you do... quite apart from my other concerns about an agreement with the DUP."

Sinn Fein has already warned that such a move undermines power-sharing talks in Northern Ireland which have recommenced and have a deadline of June 29.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he had never had any faith in the impartiality of the UK Government as an honest broker in the province, even less so now that "they are putting together a deal with the DUP".

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew last night warned that taking Northern Ireland out of the EU would undermine the 1999 Good Friday accord.

Irish Independent

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