The British dimension is no threat to stability

The Irish Times shouldn’t get too worked up over the Tory approach to Northern Ireland. First they interview Shaun Woodward pretending that Ucunf could be a serious threat to “ stability.” Agreed that the Conservatives need to explain carefully that a role for NI politicians on UK wide matters presents no threat to relationships in Ireland. But if the Tories are destabilising so is Shaun’s little electioneering sally. Fantasise for a moment that the Ulster Unionists are restored as the largest NI party and Labour forms a majority government with Woodward returned to Hillsborough. How would the UUs treat a S of S who tried to scupper their election chances? Veto him I suggest. And they’d succeed. Incidentally the unionist compromise in FST is hardly a stunning defeat for the Conservative position. Mr Connor will take the Conservative whip on all non-local issues. The votes on FST issues at Westminster are few and far between. This seems like a neat face-saving solution all round to me, whover you want to win the seat.
Gerry Moriarty stretches a point too far to suggest that Dublin should be worried about the Conservatives. For all the fuss, in the end they were a minor factor in the usual intra and inter tribal shuffling over candidates in first-past-the -post elections. Too much should not be made of the present election battle. Obscure as much of it remains since the Hatfield debacle, the Conservative strategy is both wider and longer term…At UK level Cameron is trying to draw a common thread of unionism through the newly diverse and devolved UK. This is deemed vital for a party of government whose political support ranges from weak to non-existent in Scotland and NI. In NI the Conservatives have an avowed aim to encourage non-sectarian politics. If they are serious about building constructive influence, they have to explain how it is compatible with the undoubted pressure for unionist unity. That pressure may become irresistible as the Stormont election draws near. By getting their act together a little better than seemed likely a few weeks ago Unionism is already responding, regardless of the Conservatives. But why should any of this present a threat to stability? A more secure unionism might become a more sharing unionism and that might present the Conservatives with their chance. They might argue they would be better inside the tent than exhorting feebly outside it. This is a big issue for Stormont politics after this election but to fear that the Conservative strategy threatens stability misses the point. Whatever happens the political lead will be taken locally. Messrs Cameron and Paterson ( if he survives ) will not call the shots. Rather than letting themselves be drawn into Stormont neuroses, Dublin should give the Conservatives a chance. They might become a catalyst for the good but I won’t be too shocked if they gently fade further into the background.

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

Living History 1968-74

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