Catholic communities will be suspicious about how the money will be spent—with the extension of the military covenant set to increase tensions furtherby Siobhan Fenton / June 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
After weeks of speculation and intense talks, a deal has finally been struck between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservatives. We now know the price for keeping Theresa May in power is the princely sum of £1 billion in extra funding for Northern Ireland. The cash injection is to be spent on a range of projects in Northern Ireland including infrastructure, health care, schools and high-speed broadband.
Welsh and Scottish politicians have already condemned the deal, citing fears that Northern Ireland is receiving preferential treatment among the devolved regions. English politicians, too, have raised concerns about how the Conservatives can justify austerity at home, while splashing the cash across the Irish Sea.
Nor is the situation straightforward within Northern Ireland itself. It has been generally assumed by many in Britain that citizens there will be delighted at the deal and that the Northern Irish will be rubbing their hands in glee at the new £1bn.
However, as ever in Northern Ireland, the picture is far more complex due to the region’s troubled past. In fact, many in Northern Ireland will view the deal with suspicion, fearing that—rather than all the region’s residents benefitting—the Protestant community could reap the rewards while Catholics see few of the benefits.
Such trepidation is reasonable. While the bloodshed of the Troubles has abated, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society. Nationalists, who are primarily Catholic, and unionists, who are primarily Protestants, continue to live in different streets, attend different schools and even use different hospitals, libraries or leisure centres depending on their community.
A history of inequality
One of the main catalysts of the Troubles conflict was a sense of injustice felt by Catholics following years of preferential treatment for Protestant communities by Unionist governments. In fact, shortly after the state was established, one of Northern Ireland’s first Prime Ministers, Sir James Craig, announced in 1934: “All I boast is that we are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state.”
In the decades that followed, the Catholic city of Derry-Londonderry became synonymous with such sectarianism. Nationalists had considerably lower living standards than their unionist neighbours, who were given preferential access to council housing, schools and employment.
Under power-sharing, such overt discrimination has largely ended. Stronger equality legislation, the work of the Northern Irish Equality…