DUBLIN (Reuters) - The agreement by Northern Ireland’s biggest Protestant party to support Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government could give the province a greater say in defending its interests in Brexit talks, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Monday.
May struck a deal to prop up her government by agreeing to at least 1 billion pounds in extra funding for the British province in return for the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
It means the eurosceptic DUP will back Britain’s departure from the European Union amid concerns that Northern Ireland will be the region most vulnerable economically to Brexit because of its close trade links to the Republic of Ireland. The 500 km (312 miles) long border between the two is the UK’s only land border with the EU.
The DUP was among the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for Brexit and wants Britain to leave the EU’s single market and customs union, but its manifesto for the British election focused heavily on maintaining the benefits of membership, including an open border with the Republic.
Dublin too wants to avoid the return of a physical barrier in place of the currently invisible frontier, fearing it could put at risk a 1998 peace deal that led to the removal of military checkpoints along the border.
“I note that the agreement provides for DUP support for British government legislation on Brexit,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in a statement ahead of talks to try to restore Northern Ireland’s power-sharing regional government.
“An enhanced Northern Ireland voice articulating an agreed devolved government position could see more effective and inclusive representation of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland at Westminster.”
May’s pledge to provide the funding through the province’s power-sharing executive put pressure on the pro-British DUP and Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein to revive their compulsory coalition before a fresh deadline to do so elapses on Thursday.
Many analysts believe a deal that hands Northern Ireland additional funding but does not damage Irish nationalist interests or undermine peace could motivate Sinn Fein to agree to return to government.
The agreement struck by May stated that the DUP will have no involvement in the British government’s role in political talks in Northern Ireland and that both parties would adhere fully to the peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian violence.
“I welcome both parties recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement and its successors, and the commitment by the British Government to govern in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland,” Coveney said.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Richard Balmforth