When my brother and I were little my mother would take us through the china department of a local shop in town. I would be almost frozen into immobility, so scared I was by my mother’s admonishments about what would happen if either of us knocked anything off. That outcome was too scary to think about.
I really think that someone should be advising that sort of caution to Theresa May this week. Tread carefully, don’t touch anything and don’t make any sudden or rash movements. Or, better still, just get out of it.
After the hung parliament of the general election and subsequently hearing of the announcement of the Tories working towards an alliance with Northern Ireland’s DUP to prop up their minority government I could feel my body tense, just like when I used to walk through that china department. When I was growing up the ‘Troubles’ as they were euphemistically called, in Northern Ireland were the main long-running news story; watching Gerry Adams’ mouth move, because we weren’t allowed to hear his voice and worrying when mum travelled down to London on the train as well as the warnings given by the IRA before a potential terrorist attack. But since the Good Friday agreement nearly 20 years those things have felt consigned to history. Until this week. Despite the right-wing press trying to demonise Jeremy Corbyn for his supposed IRA/Sinn Fein sympathies, to many, too young to remember, their histrionics fell on deaf ears. These same newspapers have strangely less hysterical about the potential Tory/DUP agreement, which many involved in the peace process, including former prime minister John Major have been voicing their reservations about. To me, who does remember a time before the Good Friday agreement, it feels as though someone has started flailing their arms about in the china department with the very real potential for smashing fragile ornaments and knocking things over. When what’s needed at time when the power-sharing agreement in Stormont has been in trouble since March is some delicate handling, not the UK government using Northern lreland as a pawn in its power politics.
The thing is a lot has changed in the last 20 years. We didn’t have the internet and social media thenfor a start. We only have to look at the ill-advised tweets of Trump to see how such unmediated social platforms exacerbate situations and have the power to inflame popular and sometimes uninformed opinion. Only days into the Tory/DUP talks one DUP MP tweeted a photograph of 10 Downing Street with a UVF (the paramilitary branch of the DUP) flag Photoshopped over it. At the weekend violence broke out in Liverpool during an Orange Order march.
A friend of mine, a Liverpudlian, once quipped to me that some people in Liverpool and Ireland think that the Battle of the Boyle happened yesterday, such are the passions that still run high. In that respect 20 years is nothing, it’s certainly not long enough for personal grievances to have passed into history.
I doubt it will happen, but I really hope that the delicacy and fragility of Northern Ireland peace is not shattered because of a hobbled UK government doesn’t have the morality to realise that there are some things that should not be subject to craven clinging to power. The price to pay may end up being too high.