Sunday, 31 October 2010

Does the Government Really Know What It's Doing?

The actions of the previous – and now the current – government are rather concerning. I’m not referring to the colossal, unprecedented borrowing and spending of Labour or the deep cuts planned by the Coalition, but instead to their tinkering with the constitution. I am concerned that either they are playing popular politics at the expense of our system of government, or more worryingly, aren’t aware of the major constitutional impact of their decisions.
Last October Labour created a Supreme Court for the UK. The government in its wisdom decided that the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, which had effectively carried out its responsibilities for one hundred and thirty years, was no longer sufficient. So, at a cost of over £50 million, at a time when we had over £800 billion of debt (it may not seem significant in comparison, but as Tesco keep telling us, every little helps), the government moved the Law Lords across the street to apparently do exactly the same thing they were before. So why bother?
The Ministry of Justice claimed that introducing a Supreme Court would, ‘provide greater clarity in our constitutional arrangements by further separating the judiciary from the legislature’.[1] Therein lies a fundamental problem with the decision - Labour was trying to ensure a separation of powers where none exists. Take for example the anomalous existence of the Lord Chancellor, who as a cabinet minister, head of the judiciary and president of the House of Lords sat in all three branches of government, until this historic high office was abolished by Blair’s government, that is. Under our constitution the executive, legislature and judiciary are deeply intertwined together in Parliament, which is sovereign. While the Law Lords were in the House of Lords, it is therefore arguable that the impact of their rulings on legislation was legitimate, as they were an integral part of the sovereign body. Now they are out of Parliament, the Law Lords, although they have exactly the same role and powers, could potentially undermine parliamentary sovereignty simply by exercising them.
Furthermore, there is the risk a supreme court will assert itself and overstep its powers. The threat of this is more real than you might think when you consider that it is precisely what the U.S. Supreme Court did. Nowhere in the American Constitution is the court given the power to strike down legislation as unconstitutional, yet the justices awarded it to themselves in 1803 with their ruling in the Marbury v. Madison case. There is little chance any Prime Minister would dare to utter President Andrew Jackson's response to the Supreme Court striking down his Indian Removal Act in 1832, ‘the justices have made their decision, now let them enforce it’. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court is still ruling on constitutionality, even Jackson's stand was insufficient to counter the growth of the court's power. One year after its creation ours already asserts that ‘the impact of Supreme Court decisions will extend far beyond the parties involved in any given case, shaping our society, and directly affecting our everyday lives.’[2]
The Coalition Government is just as blasé with the constitution. Last week at the Conservative Party Conference the Foreign Secretary announced that ‘we will introduce a bill to make it the law that if any future government wishes to sign a treaty giving away more areas of power it will be put to the British people in a referendum’.[3] While the decision to prevent the future cession of power away from our government without consent is commendable, I question whether the government recognises the magnitude of enshrining referenda in law. This will substantially undermine the sovereignty of Parliament by in effect dividing sovereignty between it and the people. The supremacy of Parliament has already been curtailed to a large degree by membership of the European Union, with EU regulation taking precedence over British law (for all you Europhiles reading, this is a fact, not anti-European invective).
Requiring a popular vote on an issue under the control of Parliament further diffuses sovereignty in the UK, creating a sort of ‘sovereignty trinity’, where supreme authority is no longer vest solely in Parliament as was traditionally the case, but is shared with the people and the EU. In the modern age popular sovereignty may not be a bad thing (unlike a Supreme Court), but this decision does not relinquish sovereignty outright to the British people. Instead it simply undermines Parliament’s pre-eminence and cedes ultimate authority to the electorate on a single issue. Consequently, a statutory referendum on this issue creates a very peculiar arrangement. It means that Parliament is diminishing its supremacy so that its supremacy can further be diminished in the future. Parliament is granting voters control over whether its sovereignty is diluted and is therefore further limiting that sovereignty in the process.
Two successive governments have now meddled in the delicately balanced and complicated mess that comprises the British constitution. Be it change for the sake of change or in order to ride the tide of popular sentiment, considerable alterations have been made to our system of government without much thought towards the consequences beyond the next day’s headlines.


Stephen Goss

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Blogging for Britain

When you consider the contributions to the Newsletter’s Union 2021 series it is striking that (with a few exceptions) contemporary Unionism – in all its diversity - is reasonably optimistic about its future, possibly the most consistently optimistic for a generation. Moreover, there is no appetite for unity in the Irish Republic and no significant constituency for unity in British politics. However, there is an irony here. In his short story The Bust of the Emperor, Joseph Roth wrote that multi-national states (in his case, Austria-Hungary) die not because of the arguments of those who wish to destroy them but because of the disbelief of those who should support them. In Northern Ireland, this could be the real weak point of contemporary Unionism. Nationalist and Republican arguments have never appeared more threadbare and Unionists have won the constitutional war - but one consequence has been electoral indolence, perhaps one of the best indicators of that anti-political, almost self-indulgently fatalistic, strain in Unionist culture.  This is recoverable for it is as much a practical as it is an ideological problem. It requires Unionist politics to re-connect in policy terms with its changing constituency in Northern Ireland. There is no reason why this cannot be done and it requires the bringing on of younger political talent, especially women. However, one further weakness of Ulster Unionism is its tendency to ignore the larger picture and to miss what is going on in the rest of the United Kingdom. For it is here, I think, that Roth’s warning applies and it is in Great Britain and not Northern Ireland where the serious ideological battle for the Union is now taking place.
In this case, Roth’s argument needs to be qualified, if only because the arguments of those who wish to destroy the Union help to encourage the disbelief of those who should support it. And these arguments have purchase because of that besetting sin of intellectuals, the desire to be in fashion. A ‘fashion’ in interpretation identifies a range of arguments which together constitute a recognizable ideological position.  And the great attraction of a fashion is the sense of being part of the Zeitgeist, a spirit not only of the present but also of certainty about the future. Once they take hold, such fashions are damnably difficult to shift. It is probably not unreasonable to argue that the IRA’s fruitless terror campaign in Northern Ireland was protracted by a fashionable mindset (amongst many journalists, academics, literary figures) that Irish unity was ‘inevitable’.  And the great strength of such fashions is that they appeal to the intellectually lazy by providing them with a good reason not to think seriously about an issue (and many journalists, academics, literary figures are lazy). Why worry yourself with complexity when we all know how it is going to end - hence Roth’s rage against his own times. That is why it is important to shift focus from exclusive concern with the narrow ground of Northern Ireland.

There is an emerging ideological fashion about constitutional change in the United Kingdom. It is one which Unionists should take care to identify (if only because they have had to live with its local variant for most of their lives). It can be called ‘endism’. It is a style of argument where the ‘end’ informs the analysis and prescribes the inevitable course. And the ‘end’ is the break-up of the United Kingdom (there is no half-way house between unity – the old Westminster model - and separation - devolution being the road to that ‘end’). It has become common for some to speak and write of contemporary politics being already ‘after Britain’ (and not just by nationalists). Take just two recent examples. I recently contributed a chapter to Mark Perryman’s book with the title: Breaking up Britain: Four nations after a Union. Even Gerry Adams was in on that act. Next month I am speaking at a conference with the title 'Literature of an Independent England'. You can see the trend. Historians have grasped this quicker than most. Keith Robbins, reflecting on this fashion, claims that some writers appear to believe that ‘after Britain’ is already with us or, if not, the break-up is advanced and will accelerate. Such authors feel the urge turn to writing elegies or, alternatively, liberation anthems (like Perryman). And Paul Ward thinks that there has developed an intellectual fashion to concentrate on the tendencies towards dissolution of the United Kingdom (following in the footsteps of Tom Nairn).The attraction of the endist , ‘after Britain’, theme is a powerful one and how commonplace– and casually accepted  -  it now is can be illustrated by a recent interview with the novelist Ian McEwan in The Independent. McEwan remarked that the United Kingdom is an artificial construction of three or four nations and that he was ‘waiting for the Northern Irish to unite with the Irish Republic sooner or later and also Scotland could go its own way and become independent’. McEwan was undisturbed by this prospect believing that in his case the future lay now with the authentic identity of ‘Englishness’.

The danger of endist fashion for Unionism is exactly that sort of lazy, self-fulfilling mentality. Endism is has the charm of potentiality, the charm being its appealing suggestion of inevitability. It is at the heart of recent nationalist hubris - those wanting to end the Union (the future belongs to us) – and of the disbelief of those who should support it, especially those ‘on the left’ for whom nationalism is usually a dirty word (the future belongs to them). Insofar as this fashion takes hold it changes the terms of political debate if only because it requires supporters of Union to justify the value of staying in the UK rather than requiring nationalists to justify secession.  In short: endism pronounces the UK as a failed ‘project’, no longer delivering (sufficient) benefits, lacking civil authority and a partnership in the process of liquidation. And the present financial retrenchment gives further opportunity for peddling the cause of national resentments.

However clamant these arguments are, their fashionable repetition needs to be confronted by equally repetitive responses. Namely: majorities in all parts of the United Kingdom continue to support its existence as a multi-national state. Support for separatism has not grown significantly in Scotland. In Wales support for independence still remains low. There has been a growth in English nationalist sentiment but it is a mood and not a movement. Northern Ireland is not leaving for the Republic of Ireland. Majorities in all parts of the UK have dual national identities. There is neither an unstoppable decline in British identity nor a continuous rise in exclusive national identities. Devolution does mean that the nations stand in a different relation to one another than they did a generation ago and also stand in a different relation to Westminster. But if the United Kingdom were now as endists suggest then it would recall Albert Einstein’s remark: ‘I regard allegiance to a government as a business matter, somewhat like the relationship with a life assurance company’. This is how most people think about the European Union. It is not how most people continue to think of the British Union (though sometimes the Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of ‘the cuts’ would make you think otherwise).
Unionist bloggers should be alert to the easy – and false – certainties of endist arguments whenever they come across them. They can do a great service - as they do already – in highlighting the fallacies of the argument. Indeed, they can do this much better than most of the salaried intellectual class.
And the good (Unionist) news they can preach is this:
  • ·        Multi-national democracy, far from being an idea whose time has gone, is an idea worth conserving and proclaiming.
  • ·        Common citizenship should be valued within the shared polity of the UK.
  • ·        Acknowledging degrees of national identity does not conflict with multi-national allegiance.
We are not after Britain as nationalists would have it – but we are re-evaluating the Union in a newly constructive way.
Professor Arthur Aughey

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Memo to Tom Elliott — old Alf's not the target vote

Why has the number of people voting unionist fallen so sharply? That is the million dollar question which unionist strategists and unionist-leaning commentators have been asking themselves -- and, in my view, generally coming up with the wrong answer. 
They are tempted to go for the demographic, which Ed Curran identified as 'Mr Mainstream Unionist' in the Belfast Telegraph and which was taken up with some enthusiasm by Alex Kane in the News Letter. Ms Mainstream Unionist doesn't figure in the analysis. 
Her male counterpart sounds like the last of a dying breed; he is the sort of curmudgeonly old git who is probably the salt of the earth in his private dealings, but whose views are getting as arthritic as his knees. 
Like the majority of delegates who turned up to vote in the Ulster Unionist leadership election, this good ol' boy has probably got his bus pass tucked away in his wallet; he may well remember the views of Alfred Edward Garnett with some affection. 
Younger readers -- the majority of voters, that is -- may need to be reminded that Alf Garnett was the central character in BBC sitcom called Till Death Us Do Part which aired between 1965 and 1975. Objectively, Alf was bigoted, racist and anti-Semitic. 
Misogynystic, too -- his support for the Tories flagged when they put Margaret Thatcher in charge instead of chaining her to "the bloody kitchen sink" where she belonged.
There was, though, something likeable about him. 
He was struggling to come to terms with shifting mores; he spoke for a lot of people dismayed by the pace of change. 
He was a rougher-hewn, working-class version of Victor Meldrew, hero of One Foot in the Grave, another show which Mr Mainstream Unionist may well have enjoyed. 
Mr Mainstream Unionist is a grumpy old man; Ed Curran describes him cringing at the thought of Sinn Féin in government and privately dreading nationalists moving in next door. He stands like King Canute attempting to hold back the filthy modern tide and looks to the Orange Order to give a lead. 
The Order's Grand Master, Robert Saulters, sometimes sounds like Alf Garnett in a sash. He is an affable man whose sincerity is obvious, but -- like Garnett -- his suspicion of social change can make him lose the run of himself. 
Saulters' recent rib-tickling description of the Public Prosecution Service as the "Protestant Prosecution Service" is just the sort of thing Garnett might come out with if he lived in Ulster. His description of dissidents as the "Roman Catholic IRA" is something else.
Society is always in transition and there are always people who hark back to past certainties. There is undeniably a market for golden oldies and some in the UUP hope that, by sticking to a tribute band playlist, they can halt the drift of votes to the DUP. We don't know yet if Tom Elliott is among them. 
The lost unionist voters aren't all affluent garden centre Prods. Canvassers at the last election found that working-class voters were increasingly concerned about economic -- not sectarian -- issues. A drift of loyalist working-class votes to Alliance is widely credited as one of the factors which led to Peter Robinson losing his seat. 
Disaffected unionist voters are as likely to live in housing estates as upscale developments. These people, like many Catholics, see the border issue as settled for the foreseeable future and want politicians to talk credibly about something else. 
In a recent University of Liverpool survey, only 5.9% of people opposed the guarantee that Northern Ireland remain in the UK as long as the majority support it. 
Irish unity was seen as the most important issue in the last election by only 3.5% of those surveyed, compared to 25.7% for unemployment, 17.4% for the health service and 22.4% for the economy generally. The peace process was issue number one for just 0.3% of those surveyed. 
What are we to make of Catholics who favour the union with Britain, but don't generally vote that way? In March, a Belfast Telegraph poll found that 26% of the Catholic population were closet unionists. In other polls, the figure seldom falls below 20% and the annual Social Attitudes Survey put it at 39%. 
These Catholics are unlikely to be Union Jack-waving loyalists. As Mr Mainstream Unionist might put it, in his old-fashioned way, they are probably more loyal to the half-crown than the Crown. 
They have concluded that the UK is a modern, multi-cultural society which underpins our living standards through the block grant. 
But Mr Mainstream Unionist makes them twitchy. 
They notice that he seldom condemns daft Orange Order statements and, if they vote, they are likely to choose someone who will speak up for their social and cultural interests. 
Some see Sinn Féin as the party that can keep the DUP in check, just as many former UUP voters saw the DUP as the party which could contain Sinn Féin. 
Such voters -- and non-voters -- aren't firm in their allegiances; they need to be constantly wooed. 
But they represent a significant opportunity for any party, whether it calls itself unionist or not, which can offer something new.
Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph - 14th October 2010

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Northern Ireland's Apartheid

I was astonished to hear Peter Robinson's speech to DUP supporters in which he labelled the current segregated education system a "benign form of apartheid" and to propose a ten year process during which the current sectors should be merged. "Consideration should be given" Mr Robinson argues "to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum. Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue." I say Meryvn Storey was left wondering what was going on, only a short few years ago his predecessor went against this line who was Iris Robinson.

The DUP flip flopping on another issue is not a surprise, though it is much welcomed this time.  I must applaud Robinson having the courage to bring this up and actually start a real discuss on it, my only fear is that like other issues it is all gusto and no delivery. It was interesting to see Naomi Long on the politics show being asked about this, she welcomed the development of the DUP looking at segregation however was cautious about what they intend to do. Highlighting the problems the flawed system currently has.

I must say I agree with Robinson on this topic and if the politicians are serious about a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland this would be at the top of the list for them too. This issue causes great harm to the standing of Northern Ireland on the world stage and damages it economically, socially and politically. Politics here should not be simply about orange and green, unionist and nationalist. This may be seen a pie in the sky idea but if we took the tough decisions and worked through it we can achieve this aim. Ending segregated education would be a step along the way.

I believe the segregated system encourages and indeed continues the great divide between the main communities of Northern Ireland. It must be remembered that it was first proposed by Lord Londonderry in the first Stormont Government in setting up an integrated schooling system however it was the churches who objected. I am not for taking away parents choice and firmly believes this is about increasing the choice, faith based schools have a place but it should not be funded by the state. If the churches and parents want these schools they should pay for it.

However, I would agree with Naomi Long in saying that it is not good enough to simply cut away one sector and expect the state schools to just be able to carry on there needs to be serious reform and discussion within the state sector to encourage this transition. The problem goes all the way to the way teachers are trained at Stranmillis and St. Mary's, surely in the 21st Century we can be mature enough to know this doesn't makes sense not only morally but economically. When we are talking about cuts of about £2 billion coming our way here, addressing the social segregation that existences in Northern Ireland could be making huge savings. Sinn Fein talks about shared future and inclusion however are feared to have any form of sharing it seems, believing more in keeping the status quo. A reminder of the divide that stills existences is the number of so-called ‘peace walls’ which number more today than in 1998.

Unfortunately for the politicians up at Stormont this isn’t the only issue that needs dealt with in order to achieve the goal of a shared suture. It also adds to the long list of the ‘to do list’ for the executive, which seems to get longer instead of shorter by each passing month. For one I will be interested to see what develops from Robinson's words. These are just my thoughts but there is plenty of need to start talking about issues like this in a mature and sensible way to address them and not ignored them.

Aaron Callan

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Our Benign System of Apartheid

There are schools in existence where children of different denominations work together and play together, and who will assert that this assembly is anything but beneficial for all concerned?’ Not the words of Peter Robinson, but of Lord Londonderry, speaking on the first reading of his Education Bill at Stormont on 14 March 1923. The first government of Northern Ireland – and in particular its first Education Minister – sought to introduce to the new state a secular, integrated system of education. Unfortunately eighty-seven years later we still have segregated education. The reason we did not end it during Craig’s premiership was the opposition from all the main churches at that time; particularly the Protestant denominations.

Under Londonderry’s plans all state schools in Northern Ireland were to be integrated and without overtly religious identities. Part 5 Clause 28 of his Bill stated that all government funded schools ‘shall be open to children of all religious denominations for combined literary and moral instruction… [and] the times at which religious instruction is given shall not form part of the times during which any child is required … to attend school’.[1] Therefore, the Education Minister sought to introduce non-denominational schools with a secular curriculum, provision for religious teaching being made only after the formal school day had concluded.
No doubt aware of potential clerical opposition to such plans, Lord Londonderry also said during the first reading of the bill in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, ‘do not let it be said that [the] churches…are now…the stumbling block in the way of an ideal system owing to a determination to segregate their flocks and create from birth a division when union is essential’.[2] It was clear that Londonderry was attempting to put the onus on the churches to support the measure so as to avoid driving a wedge between the communities in Northern Ireland, thereby creating instability at a time when the new state was still attempting to firmly establish itself. The response of the Protestant religious bodies to this proposed legislation was to endorse it in principle, but also to raise concerns that such a degree of secularisation would be damaging to the religious and moral upbringing of the children exposed to it. United in these sentiments, the churches petitioned the Education Minister to amend the bill, Londonderry reporting in Cabinet on 16 April that the churches were pressing him ‘to allow denominational teaching within the hours of compulsory attendance’.[3] This pressure led the Education Minister during the bill’s second reading on 17 April to concede ‘we should include in the Bill such provisions as will ensure that [religious] instruction…will be imparted to the children’.[4]
Yet the failure of the government to meet the demands of the Protestant churches for substantial amendments to the bill before it was enacted led to a much more intense and public campaign of opposition to the act. The Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists adopted a united front, forming the United Education Committee (UEC) in December 1924 which demanded that the teacher appointment process be tightened to prevent ‘the door [being] thrown open for a Bolshevist or an Atheist or a Roman Catholic to become a teacher in a Protestant school’.[5] With this united front and with an election nearing – the UEC passed a resolution calling for a £20,000 fighting fund to enable it to put forward candidates - Craig gave in. On 13 March 1925 amending legislation was enacted, providing for compulsory Bible instruction and a role for the Protestant churches in the appointment of state school teachers.
While the 1925 education legislation was sufficient to pacify the churches and remove their electoral challenge, it was not enough to satisfy them entirely. It would only be with the 1947 Education Act that Protestant agitation over schools ended. Under this legislation, primary education would conclude in the Eleven-plus exam, the school leaving age was raised to fifteen, grants to voluntary schools was increased to sixty-five per cent and school meals, books and medical care would be free. Most importantly, as far as the churches were concerned, there would be an act of daily worship and religious education in all schools. The Catholic Church, unwilling from the very beginning to permit state intervention in its schools, became all the more averse to doing so as this Protestant agitation continued; and proved successful.
However, finger-pointing for the current situation solves nothing and moves us no further along. The point that should be taken from this is that Northern Ireland Governments have previously attempted to integrate our schools, only to be harassed into not doing so by church opposition. Today it is the Catholic Church rather than the Protestant denominations that will continue to object the loudest; already we’ve had Catholic hostility to the idea.[6] With considerably fewer mixed areas than before the Troubles, a fractious, squabbling Executive and church opposition to it, integration of our schools will be even more difficult than Robinson admits it will be.

Stephen Goss

[1] Education Bill (NI), 1923
[2]Parliamentary Debates: official report, first series, vol. i:Third Session of the first parliament of Northern Ireland,  13& 14 Geo. V, House of Commons, session 1923,  14 March
[3] NI Cabinet Papers, 4/77, 16 April 1923
[4]Parliamentary Debates: official report, first series, vol. i:Third Session of the first parliament of Northern Ireland,  13& 14 Geo. V, House of Commons, session 1923,   17 April 1923
[5] Corkey, Episode in the History of Protestant Ulster, p39

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Together Against the National Interest

The current government’s credo might be ‘together in the national interest’, but as Conservatives championed their concord with Liberal Democrats in Birmingham, a rather different coalition was forged in the UK‘s Celtic regions.  To coincide with the Tory conference, the devolved executives from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales issued a joint statement against Westminster cuts which they contend go “too far, too fast”.

Comprising Welsh Labour, separatists of various ferocity and Northern Ireland‘s noisiest unionists, they form an assembly of rogues around the pork barrel.    In truth this is a coalition brought ‘together against the national interest’ and the non-nationalists in its ranks, in particular, are playing fast and loose with English grievances and with Westminster‘s sovereignty over the whole United Kingdom.

Look for instance at the role of Peter Robinson, whose most vociferous arguments are against a cut in capital expenditure for Northern Ireland.  The DUP and Sinn Féin were promised this money by the previous government, in order to update the Province’s aging infrastructure. 

There is, no doubt, a legitimate case for the total spend, amounting to some £18 billion, to be retained, in order to build the foundations for a flourishing economy.  There is also a strong argument that the financial climate has changed completely and such an extensive investment is no longer viable. 

The First Minister, rather than confine himself to the first line of reasoning, with Martin McGuinness maintains that the UK is bound by international treaty to honour financial commitments undertaken in the wake of the St Andrews Agreement. 

First of all, the premise that the Agreement, which is registered as an international treaty, should include subsequent back-room bribes, is patently ridiculous.  Secondly, it is absolutely extraordinary that a self-professed unionist can argue that Westminster’s sovereignty over part of the UK should be limited by international undertakings to the Republic of Ireland! 

Robinson is prepared to demolish the constitutional building blocks of Northern Ireland‘s UK status, in order to pocket short-term financial gain, so shallow and self-interested is his interpretation of unionism.

Certainly, by a nationalist analysis, the current government draws its strongest endorsement to cut spending from England.  Even the most nominal unionist, however, will respect that its mandate to tackle the deficit encompasses the entire United Kingdom. 

The Celtic administrations have, admittedly, refined their argument from basic special pleading.  They now ask for a nationwide slow down in cuts, which would, presumably, include English regions, rather than preferential treatment. 

Their logic still requires that the coalition sets aside its better instincts and ignores the will of a majority of voters.  The government has to look at the UK economy as a whole, it cannot sacrifice the greater good to the needs of the periphery. 

No-one would seriously suggest that politicians from Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales should not put their regions’ respective cases forcibly.  However self-styled unionists should, at the very least, refrain from undermining the very basis of Westminster’s sovereignty over the United Kingdom.  Allying with nationalists, against the national interest, is a fundamentally anti-Union act.

Owen Polley

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Progressive Unionism

Northern Ireland’s position as one of the components of the United Kingdom is today based on the core values which have sustained our great nation through two turbulent, yet exciting centuries; those of tolerance, freedom of speech, civil and religious liberties.  Almost a century after the foundation of the state of Northern Ireland, the Province is becoming a place where everyone who appreciates decent democratic values feels at home.  To paraphrase David Trimble’s momentous speech in Oslo in 1998, the Northern Ireland that I am working hard to achieve will not be a Utopia, but a normal and decent society, flawed as human beings are flawed, but fair as human beings are fair; a solid, but no longer cold house for certain members of the populace.

Unionist Unity can only be a hindrance to this vision.  Based on the spectre of having Martin McGuinness elected as First Minister, such unity would be a retreat to a negative agenda, driven by political paranoia which only served to stunt the growth and expansion of Unionist politics in the past.  Ulster Unionism must show itself to be sufficiently visionary and confident to look ahead to the prospect of a “shared future”, turning its back on the narrow raison d’être of tribal politics, and the objective of keeping the “other side” out.  My brand of Unionism is inclusive and progressive in style and substance; it is far removed from the entrenched reactionary politics of parties such as the DUP.  My Unionism is, I believe, what Northern Ireland’s voters want and desperately need.  This positive, liberal Unionism reclaims the middle ground of sensible, real politics which Northern Ireland has for too long been denied.

The prospect of a single Unionist party would also lead to an increasingly united Republican front, thus putting pressure on moderates like the SDLP.  Margaret Ritchie would find herself occupying an uncomfortable position, similar to that of the late Lord Fitt in the 1970’s.

Northern Ireland’s voters need and want parties to occupy the centre ground and to make politics work, in the field of education, jobs, health and on local issues.  This is not a moment in our history to become obsessed with who holds one half of a co-joined, co-equal office.  The DUP, who through their negotiations at St Andrews are responsible for this scenario, must not be allowed to peddle their lies, nor to use their well-honed scaremonger tactics to make voters believe that Martin McGuinness in the role of First Minister is the equivalent of Armageddon.  He already occupies the position and the removal of the word deputy (with a lower-case “d”) will give him no more and indeed no less power.  This question of whether I or my Party accept a Sinn Fein First Minister therefore becomes superfluous.

The fact of the matter is that nobody is walking away from Stormont.  Ulster Unionism has, at times, been a slow learner.  However, through hindsight we have learned that things get much worse for us, and for Northern Ireland, every time we have walked away from the negotiating table.  It is my belief that Education, due to the incompetence, willful mismanagement and sectarian politics in the thinly veiled guise of equality of Minister Ruane, is a much greater threat to the Stormont system than the debate over who occupies the office of First Minister.

Ulster Unionism is at its best when we live up to the values which the Union represents.  The Union will be at its strongest when we begin to look confidently to the future rather than dwell upon the past and seek to build a secure and inclusive society for all of us.

John McCallister

UUP MLA for South Down

Monday, 4 October 2010

Will Mistakes of the Past now Haunt Unionism?

Since the beginning of partition Northern Ireland has always been in a unique political situation. The history of Northern Ireland is decisive to understanding were we are today and it is important to understand that there is always a reasoned story it seems for each side. When I look back into the past I see Sir James Craig who seemingly promoted discrimination of Catholics, violence that saw over 2000 Catholics leave their homes in 1935 and more recently the shameful revelations of Bloody Sunday, this leads me to ask, have the unionist people brought the position we are in today upon ourselves? We are now facing the strong possibility of having Martin McGuiness, a man who openly admits to being a terrorist, as our first minister, possibly the face of Northern Ireland to rest of the world.

I am certainly not suggesting that the violence and terror caused by the IRA over the troubles was in anyway justified however if Unionists reached out instead of persecuting Catholics at the start maybe 90 years later we may not have had to endure all this bloodshed. More recently Tom Elliot turned down the invitation to a GAA match, yes he has no interest in the sport however for the sake of good relations and good publicity showing Unionists reaching out I believe he should have accepted the invitation to attend the game. More so Trevor Ringland is going to resign because this new leadership has only entrenched the idea that the UUP is sectarian and stuck in the past. I hope Tom Elliot handles such invitations more diplomatically in the future for the sake of his party in the public eye.

As long as we have Unionists seemingly bitter towards our Nationalist community, Unionism is in the eyes of the media become the bad people. Indeed Unionists need to learn to communicate much more effectively with the people of Northern Ireland. Years of complacency may be about to haunt the Protestant people of Northern Ireland in these coming elections. I believe that a large part of the reason that Protestants do not seem to vote is that they have an attitude of complacency to assume that Unionists have the automatic right to rule. Well folks, I am sorry to tell you that after the current DUP sold the Unionist people out at St Andrews by agreeing to a Sinn Fein First Minister it is now more vital than ever for people to get out and vote to preserve the union. A union that Sinn Fein and the DUP are determined to destroy with the signing of the St Andrews Agreement. The IRA except for a few extremists have learned quickly that government is the way to achieve its aims. The difference today is that they are wearing suits and ties running our country than balaclavas and guns terrorising the streets. And look at their progress, look! Compare thirty years of violence causing destruction everywhere compared to 5 years in government with the DUP, it believe that the Republican cause has only been strengthened by concessions made by the DUP. One thing you have to give the UUP and the SDLP is that they did their battling democratically. The people of Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the St Andrews Agreement has been forced upon us by two parties out for their own aims.

Carson one of the greatest leaders of Northern Ireland warned his Ulster Unionist colleagues not to alienate northern Catholics, as he predicted the troubles Northern Ireland would suffer ahead as a result. In 1921 Carson said, “We used to say that we could not trust an Irish parliament in Dublin to do justice to the Protestant minority. Let us take care that that reproach can no longer be made against your parliament, and from the outset let them see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from a Protestant majority." Unionism needs to go on the offensive for once.
So Unionism needs a facelift. Yes, the IRA slaughtered protestant people for 30 years. Maybe this is naive, but how are we ever supposed to move forward as a country if we keep looking back and not learning from those mistakes. We need to ensure that unionism is not a “cold house for Nationalists”. Unionism no matter how hard it may be needs to start reaching out. Unionism needs to get a good publicity team together to promote the great things we do. Unionism needs to get off its backside. We need to lose this complacency that assumes the automatic right to rule in Stormont. By learning from mistakes of the past we need to move Unionism forward by showing Republicans that we are alive and definitely kicking.