The Unionist Forum: What is it?

You can pick up the official description below, but I’m trying to figure what this thing is. First guesses include (in no particular order):

  • a new version of the UUC, but without the voting rights;
  • a something must be done measure to try channel the energy generated by the flag issue to rally some political energy;
  • the next step in line with Peter Robinson’s unionist unity strategy;
  • a signal to Sinn Fein that business as usual is over.

It could be any or all or none of the above.

The Unionist Forum will be convened by the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and the leader of Ulster Unionist Party.

For the first meeting, invitations will be extended to other unionist political parties, representatives and interested groups. The participants in the forum will be discussed at the first meeting.

The purpose of the Forum will be to seek to engage with the entire unionist community and seek to address issues of concern. It will seek to channel unionist efforts through political means. While participants in the forum will be limited, working groups may be established to provide a more extensive reach across the wider unionist community.

The forum will be a body through which unionists could meet to consider matters of interest and concern to the unionist community.

All participants will share the core values of support for the maintenance of the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, non-sectarianism, commitment to a shared future and commitment to the successful operation of devolution in Northern Ireland.

The forum would not be a decision-making body but would act as a body within which a consensus might be built and implementation of any actions left to individual organisations. It would seek to engage positively with representatives from all sections of the Northern Ireland community.

The Forum will hold its initial meeting as soon as is practicable at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

The agenda items, in no particular order, for the first meeting may include matters such as;

  • A strategy for addressing the Flags issue,
  • Measures to increase voter registration and turnout in unionist areas,
  • Strengthening British cultural identity in Northern Ireland,
  • Proposals to address problems surrounding parading,
  • Proposals to tackle deprivation and educational underachievement in the unionist community,
  • Broader political and economic matters,
  • Steps to increase capacity building in unionist areas.

All of it adds up to two things: Unionist agenda setting; and building voting capacity in unionist constituencies.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty