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.

  • I’ll get to the Irish Times later in the day. For the time being, I’ll wonder just what Brian Walker @01:14 PM expected of a Labour Secretary of State in an election period? Thundering endorsement for UCUNF?

    For, if not, the rest of that opening paragraph goes down the pan.

  • dwatch

    [i]Dublin should give the Conservatives a chance[/i]

    The Conservatives have been part of the NI political scene since 1980. In a period they got no local councillors or not even get one MLA elected. If that is not proof enought the NI electorate do not want them. What more chance do they need.

    [b]Conservatives in Northern Ireland[/b]

    Conservatives & UUP have now jumped into this farcical UCUNF pact with each which will be the final demise of a 105 year old party.

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm I’d expect him not to make partisan interventions in electoral politics affecting NI, which has been the usual position for 38 years.

  • smellybigoxteronye

    Woodward is a hypocrite given the Labour-SSDLP alliance.

  • Manfarang

    “The Conservatives have been part of the NI scene
    since 1980”
    I don’t think so.Up until 1974 the UUP functioned for all intents and purposes as the NI branch of the Conservative Party. The Ulster Unionists taking the Conservative whip at Westminster.
    After this time Enoch Powell,a staunch Tory, sat as an Ulster Unionist.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Unless the arithmatic works out to the advantage of small parties the conservatives may forget NI exists after a general election.

    Some may not want it to be this way but well thats the way it is. C’est la NI vie !

  • Manfarang

    “Conservatives may forget NI exists”
    And Scotland, Wales and the north of England?

  • Brian Walker @ 02:53 PM:

    I’d expect him not to make partisan interventions in electoral politics affecting NI, which has been the usual position for 38 years.

    And which would be a fair position, except for 6th December 2008 and this:

    … I believe that Conservatives and Unionists are better together than apart.

    It comes down to three things.

    A deep commitment to the Union.

    A strong belief in democracy.

    And a great respect for the Ulster Unionist Party.


    When I watch the beautiful game, I expect Law 12 on fouls and misconduct to be applied even-handedly. You and Sir Alex seem to see it differently.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    “ Conservatives may forget NI exists”
    And Scotland, Wales and the north of England? ”

    Posted by Manfarang

    Your not wrong there.

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm Did I miss Cameron’s attack on the Labour party re NI?

  • Brian Walker0 @ 04:37 PM:

    No more than I missed Woodward’s attack on Unionists and the UUP. For, except in one implied respect, Woodward’s comments were not at all about the UUP.

    Let’s stick to the Irish Times piece which is the issue here. Stripped of Mark Hennessy-isms, I see Woodward said:

    I think Cameron has created an impossible position for any prospective Conservative government because by readopting a selfish, strategic interest in Northern Ireland what they have done is to actually give away the very instrument that enabled the peace process to succeed, which is that Britain actually [pursued] no selfish strategic interest. I believe that however much it was an issue of poor judgment, the alliance that Cameron has created in Northern Ireland is deeply unhelpful for political stability, should that be required.

    Let’s be really, really clear about this. In 1990, to John Major’s credit, Peter Brooke made a speech in which he said Britain was abandoning the selfish strategic interest in Northern Ireland.

    I think it was a terrible mistake and very poor judgment by David Cameron 18 months ago to interfere in the politics of Northern Ireland by forming an alliance with one of Northern Ireland’s political parties.

    My experience of driving this peace process for three years is that you need to be the honest broker. You need to be able to sit in a room, whether it is with Sinn Féin, or with the Democratic Unionist Party, and for all sides – whether nationalist, unionist, or republican – to feel that you are not doing this because you have any advantage point of view.

    You can believe in the union. That is not a problem, but you have to believe that the people of Northern Ireland have their right to self-determination above all else. That’s the principle of the Belfast Agreement above all else.

    I see there nothing which crosses the line Woodward draws for himself. Then, admittedly, this:

    You can’t on the one hand be for the peace process and, yet, be in an alliance with people who voted not to complete the process and I think it at best highly confusing and, at worst, highly destabilising. I think it showed Cameron’s very poor judgment.

    Nowhere in Woodward’s statement do I see an explicit criticism of or attack on the UUP, except by implication for the UUP’s curious cavorting over P&J (which is hardly a non-issue).

    Curiously enough, as I read him, nor did David Gordon. So who did? Well, in short order, Owen Paterson, Sir Reg, and … Brian Walker.

  • John East Belfast

    Terrible thing Northern Ireland voters being able to vote for the people who will govern them – creates a lot of instability this thing called democracy

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    In General NI is a statistical irrelevence to this democracy.

    The only chance of having any influence (in NIs case) is a democratic lottery.

    Maybe you will be lucky this time but I am not so sure that the British Islanders (in the midst of serious problems) want to be held to ransom by some distant embarassing relatives that many have lost touch with.

  • John East Belfast


    NI is no more or no less a statistical relevance to any other UK group of constituencies covering 1.7m of the population.

    We are simply part of the UK collective and that is good enough for me

  • Chris Donnelly


    Your two threads today would appear to contradict one another. Lamenting the politics of aspiration, on one hand, whilst defending the Tories’ UCUNF project do not sit well together- unless, of course, it’s only nationalist aspiration that poses the problem…..

    I seem to recall Reg Empey labelling the then floated arrival of Fianna Fail to the North as a destabilising development- if memory serves me correctly he equated it to tossing a hand grenade into the newly devolved institutions. Of course, within weeks the UCUNF project was launched, without the slightest nod to irony.

    For the record, I agree that Dublin should have no grounds to oppose the Conservartive Party/ UCUNF plan. Similarly,unionists and the British government has no right to bemoan any future participation of southern political parties in the northern political- electoral sphere.

    But projects aimed at mainstreaming/ normalising either the ‘UK-wide’ or ‘Island-wide’ dimension of our political character surely involves the politics of aspiration at work? And why not?

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    ” NI is no more or no less a statistical relevance to any other UK group of constituencies covering 1.7m of the population.

    We are simply part of the UK collective and that is good enough for me ”

    Posted by John East Belfast

    Democratically because the Sinn Féin MPs do not take there seats that is not entirely accurate. Obviously this is not of your doing.

  • Imagine this scenario:

    Sean Woodward turns up at Ken Livingstone’s house for secret talks about pan-nationalist unity with the SDLP and Sinn Féin. On the agenda are joint candidates in Upper Bann and North Belfast and a single nationalist slate at the 2011 elections.

    Do we think that the Tories would remain silent in those circumstances?

  • Brian Walker

    I see no contradiction. On the Conservative-Unionist alliance, I understand the fear but a threat doesn’t follow. If you’re entitled to sit in a parliament you’re entitled to take part in the government. Why on earth would Cameron upset the GFA? Please, I’m not expressing support here for Ucunf, just analysing the position. Indeed I was earlier such a critic of Reg’s behaviour over balking at supporting the selection of a Catholic that he demanded a right of reply. I do think it’s true the UUs have got their act together a little better whether you like that act or not. Not that they’ll get much out of it. I draw a distinction between analysis and opinion. Obviously in south Belfast it would be better for unionism if they could agree on a single candidate. However I hope that Alastair retains the seat as I like him and believe an SDLP win there is good for politics. And anything that breaks the pattern of the old numbers game is good. The other piece is sheer opinion, sure, but an opinion which puts powersharing first. I just think beating the old drums to the electorate is so bloody boring and patronising. If it’s only like saying Grace before a meal, fine, but remember there are other religions present at the feast. Generally though, if there’s deadlock over something it’s better to leave it to one side rather than pretend you can do something about it. Park it, mark it and get a life.

    I’m getting on Chris, and I’m fed up with the old cracked shellac.

  • Brian Walker

    PS I won’t stop Fianna Fail organising in the north if it wants to, Chris. Nobody can so what’s the point of objecting? This is a democracy. I would point out though that the two positions of the Conservatives and any southern party are not exactly equal. Now that is fact not opinion. There is not co-sovereignty or Irish sovereignty, although sovereignty itself is no longer an absolute. As I understand it, FF would stand only for the Assembly( maybe for Europe also) but not Westminster. But British sovereignty cannot ban FF from standing in the north. So fine, bring it on.

  • Michaelhenry

    the assembly is a different game from the british ones, in the scotish parliament british law means that you have to swear allegiance to the crown befour you are allowed to take your seat, this is the same law in the welsh parliament, and the same law for westminister in england also, there is no such law at the peoples assemly in the six counties, our equality rules in the good friday agreement forbids this oath.

  • dwatch

    SF are the only cross border party which stands for election in four parliaments. Europe, Westminister, Stormont and Dail Eireann.

  • Manfarang

    Ucunf along with other aspects of Tory thinking is a return to the 1950s.