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Theresa May's Troubles and 'The Troubles'

| June 21, 2017

A Tory-Democratic Unionist deal will shake up politics in Belfast and beyond.

On Monday, the newly elected Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, emerged from his meeting with his British counterpart, Theresa May, promising good news. Varadkar said he was satisfied May would not jeopardize the peace agreement in Northern Ireland in her efforts to secure the support of that province’s Democratic Unionist Party for her government.

Yet even if this is true, it is unrealistic to hope that a deal between the Tories and the DUP will have no impact on the politics of Northern Ireland. And if Varadkar is wrong, we could be headed toward a political stalemate or worse, and a possible economic crisis in that corner of the United Kingdom.

May needs the DUP, which is dedicated to keeping Northern Ireland part of the U.K., to join in a “confidence and supply” arrangement, in which its representatives in Westminster would vote with her Conservatives on votes of no-confidence or other key matters such as the budget. This would give the DUP outsized influence, which some worry might be used to put off a referendum on whether the province should remain part of U.K or join Ireland, which was allowed for under certain circumstances by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the “The Troubles.” Varadkar says he’s confident May will not yield to any DUP request to put off the vote.

Most Americans probably believe that the conflict in Northern Ireland was resolved years ago and that the region is now a poster child for successful peacemaking. In some ways this is accurate -- violence has dissipated and political parties from different sides of the conflict have successfully shared power for much of the last two decades. But it would be incorrect to think that tensions are gone and that there is no risk of a return to fraught times.

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For Academic Citation: O'Sullivan, Meghan.“Theresa May's Troubles and 'The Troubles'.” Bloomberg View, June 21, 2017.

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