Response to emails on the Democratic Unionist Party

In response to the emails she has received regarding the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, Theresa Villiers has written the following article (published in the Sunday Express on 2nd July):

"The electorate have given us a hung Parliament. It is now our duty to make it work. Reaching an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party on key votes helps us do that by providing workable arrangements for government in the national interest.

The Conservatives and the DUP have different views on a number of issues, but that should not stop us working together where we can find common ground. Neither same-sex marriage nor abortion feature in the deal agreed by Downing Street and they are free vote matters in Westminster.

It is wrong to characterise the DUP as extreme because of their approach on these questions. I support marriage equality but there are many who take a different view. For example, Angela Merkel recently voted against same-sex marriage yet no one would realistically describe her as extreme or hard line; and nor should people try to label the DUP in this way. Moreover, Labour complaints on this look cynical in the light of their assiduous efforts to cultivate the DUP in 2015, in anticipation of seeking their support in the hung parliament many expected.

Parties with very different views from one another work together in many other European countries. Whilst minority governments are unusual in the UK, they commonplace in the rest of Europe, where proportional representation voting systems make hung parliaments the norm rather than the exception. Minority government can work effectively. For example, in Ireland Fine Gael have been running a minority administration, supported by independents, and the Irish economy is performing strongly.

The financial package agreed will support the whole of Northern Ireland, helping both sides of the community divide, and will be administered using the normal mechanisms of government. It is the latest in a long line of such financial arrangements from successive UK governments - Labour and Conservative – because for many years there has been cross-party recognition that Northern Ireland faces unique difficulties. Some people reading this article will barely remember ‘the Troubles’, but this thirty year period of terrorist brutality and murder is fresh in the minds of those in Northern Ireland who still bear the scars – whether physical or emotional.

The legacy of the past has a real impact on the Northern Ireland economy and its public services. DUP Parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds highlighted this in Parliament when he pointed out the high suicide rates in his North Belfast constituency which suffered an appallingly high number of deaths during the Troubles.

The Conservatives have taken difficult decisions to tackle the deficit we inherited in 2010. But despite the pressure that deficit has placed on the public finances, we have always sought to listen and provide additional resources where we can. So when I and others protested about the increase in business rates in England due to result from revaluation, the Chancellor announced substantial financial support in the Budget to relieve the burden. In that same Budget he provided £2 billion extra for social care in England. City deals have delivered around £1 billion of additional financial support for Scotland and Wales, outside the Barnett formula. So Northern Ireland MPs are not unique in making a convincing case for additional resources where they are needed.

This new arrangement with the DUP will not prevent the Government from continuing to act fairly and play a constructive role in efforts to restore power-sharing government at Stormont. The Conservatives are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and its successors, and to governing in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland. The outcome of the current talks process rests largely with Northern Ireland’s own elected leaders. Moreover, Westminster parties have often worked with NI MPs and yet still made an important and positive contribution to the peace process. For example, John Major played a pivotal role, yet at times his administration depended Ulster Unionist MPs.

Finally I would remind those who are seeking to demonise the DUP of the role they played in securing peace in Northern Ireland. The late Dr Ian Paisley who founded the DUP was a divisive figure for many years. But I well recall the day when Hillary Clinton came to Belfast and heaped praise on Dr Paisley as a towering figure in the peace process. The DUP made difficult compromises to secure the political settlement in Northern Ireland, taking the painful decision to sit in government alongside people previously involved in terrorism. As the Troubles thankfully recede further into the past, we should not forget the debt of gratitude we owe the DUP, and other Northern Ireland parties, for all that they were prepared to do for peace and reconciliation in these islands."