Deal will not change Stormont stalemate

To perceive the financial incentives extracted from the Tories by the DUP as a lure for Sinn Féin to re-enter the Executive is to ignore the wider picture, writes David Whelan. 

The DUP has done well to extract much-needed funding for pressured public services in Northern Ireland. Aside from the Military Covenant, the headlines of the deal are largely apolitical, vastly different from some of the potential ‘orange’ demands propagated by several media cabals prior to the negotiations.

Enhanced broadband, improved infrastructure and a cash injection for health all hold broad appeal. On the face of it, from an unnuanced perspective, it appears that the Tory-DUP agreement has increased the pressure on Sinn Féin to form an Executive and thereby ensure that locally elected politicians and not civil servants or direct rule ministers can deploy the funds.

However, the agreement has done nothing to ameliorate the outstanding concerns that led to the Assembly’s collapse. Nor, has it sought to address Brexit as one of the most significant challenges faced by the island of Ireland.

While Sinn Féin will contend that the price of accepting the Tory inducement lies in a commitment to blindly support Conservative Party Budgets and Brexit strategy, the DUP will quietly emphasise the potential to re-visit the money well. It appears likely that the Conservatives will seek to retain the support of the DUP beyond the fragile tenure of Theresa May and therein lies an opportunity to garner renewed concessions.

From a Sinn Féin perspective, to reactively retreat into an Executive based on nothing more than the allocation of extra funds would be short-sighted. The decision to collapse the Executive and the red lines it drew around “equality, respect and integrity” gave the party huge swells of support in both the Assembly and Westminster elections. To acquiesce at this juncture would be a humiliating climbdown, which would not go unnoticed by its grassroots support.

It would also require power-sharing with a party which is now inextricably tied to fortunes of the Conservative Party’s Brexit negotiations, the outcomes of which are an unknown quantity. Sinn Féin have identified the detrimental impact of a hard Brexit across the various sectors of Northern Ireland’s economy as a catalyst of Irish unity. By legitimising the Conservative-DUP deal locally, they would not be exempt from any backlash which occurs once effects of Brexit begin to be felt.

Brexit will produce a decades-long ripple of political and socio-economic consequences. To disregard this in exchange for a short-term financial package could prove detrimental to Sinn Féin in the long run. While they are content to be seen actively pursuing the restoration of the Assembly, Sinn Féin will not be having sleepless nights over Thursday’s deadline.

Likewise, when the headline features of the Tory-DUP agreement are reduced, there is an indication that it is that which is unspoken which could be prove most significant.

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