The Conservatives should stop messing before they do damage

Conservative confusion persists over how to deal with Northern Ireland. It’s not easy being “ the party of the Union.” The shadow NI secretary Owen Paterson insists they won’t disturb the GFA but harbours the belief that the Assembly could move towards “voluntary coalition.” This is hardly the moment to rattle the Assembly’s cage. Paterson needs to explain how he could make the shift constitutionally as the nationalist parties oppose it. To add to the confusion, as comment in the Spectator reflects, the Conservatives are at a loss over how to make Ucunf work and are worried at the resignation of the two Catholic would-be Conservative candidates.

Certainly, if there are no Catholic candidates fielded that will be a blow to the whole purpose of the Tory mission in Northern Ireland

. Contrast what the Speccy calls “this mess” with Cameron’s sure-footedness in dealing with Alex Salmond and the SNP, as the Guardian also notices. Why treat nationalism with respect in Scotland and try to take it on in Northern Ireland, a far more volatile environment? Clearly lacking feel for the situation himself. David Cameron needs to equip himself with new advice on Northern Ireland before he does damage. What’s David Trimble up to?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London