Monday, June 16, 2008

Internment vote puts DUP in driving seat

The passage of the 42 day detention law through the Commons on the votes of the DUP may have caused consternation in Britain, but it can hardly come as a surprise to anyone familiar with their record. The DUP and its counterparts in the UUP have consistently backed the use of repressive laws. Historically, this was epitomised most clearly under the old Stormont regime. Its Special Powers Act allowed for the suspension of fundamental democratic rights and legal principles. This law and the repressive apparatus that enforced it operated freely under the gaze of successive British governments. Of course as it applied only to the north of Ireland few objections were raised. Indeed, there is an anti Irish element to the current outrage, with the Government being accused by its opponents of using "Irish votes" to abolish English civil liberties.

Much of the media speculation has been about the nature of the deal between the DUP and the Brown government. This has covered such things as the money raised from the sale of army bases being retained by the Executive; a further delay in the introduction of water charges and a commentator not to extend abortion laws to the north. The deal appears to be a hodgepodge of patronage and reaction.

However, the details of what was agreed between the DUP and the government are secondary to the fact that there was a deal at all. The critical point is that the Brown government is now dependent on the DUP for its survival. The implications of this were spelt out clearly in the boast by Gregory Campbell that his party "now holds the balance of power at Westminster and we will use it to force the pace".

The DUP’s coup over the detention vote puts into stark relief the attempt by Sinn Fein to win concessions through engineering a mini crisis over the nomination of the new First Minister. This collapsed in ignominy with Sinn Fein agreeing to nominate with only a commitment from the British and the unionists to discuss their concerns. The Gordon Brown-DUP deal shoots a hole in the Sinn Fein belief that the British will put pressure on the DUP to move on issues such as an Irish language act and and the devolution of policing and justice powers. One consequence of the Brown-DUP deal will be the return of a form of internment to the north. As part of the UK, 42 day detention will apply here as well. Weren't we promised that repressive laws were a thing of the past?

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