Yesterday’s Ulster Day Declaration should signal the beginning of the end of a crisis not presage yet another drama

Brian (O’Neill) tells me it was Ulster Day yesterday (28th September), the anniversary of the signing the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant or the women’s Declaration, almost a foundational document for political unionism ever since.

Owen Polley explains

Yesterday, Northern Ireland’s four explicitly unionist parties issued a ‘declaration’ affirming their opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. This statement was timed to coincide with the anniversary of ‘Ulster Day’ in 1912.

109 years ago, on the 28th of September, almost half a million people in the province expressed their commitment to a ‘cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom’ and showed their determination to resist Irish separatism, by signing the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant or the women’s Declaration. For that reason, the choice of date for the latest protest against the Irish Sea border has historical resonance.

Unionists believe the Protocol is the biggest blow to Northern Ireland’s place in the Union since at least the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. And, arguably, the last time their British rights and freedoms were challenged so gravely was the Home Rule crisis of 1912-1914, when a Liberal government at Westminster attempted to impose an all-Ireland parliament against the will of a majority in Ulster.

And yesterday it was given a rebirth with a Unionist Declaration on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We, the undersigned Unionist Political Leaders, affirm our opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, its mechanisms and structures and reaffirm our unalterable position that the Protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP     DUP Leader

Doug Beattie MC MLA          UUP Leader

Jim Allister MLA                    TUV Leader

Cllr Billy Hutchinson              PUP Leader

This, it should be said, does not require a show of unionist unity. As Owen writes, “unionist parties do not necessarily need a formal pact to maximise anti-Protocol representation”.

This is something many commentators miss. Regardless of what way you voted on Brexit (and I still believe it was a folly because it was an idea without coherence), an unamended protocol spells trouble.

The Protocol is not going away, many of the principles involved in it are too valuable to the stability and prosperity of Northern Ireland to be thrown away wholesale. But until all are happy, no one will be.

The North Channel is a sea border but it is (or has been) 90% consumer trade. The sooner the necessary compromises are made to insure that East West trade keeps flowing after the Grace periods end, the better.

Time to get off road, seek out new ideas in order to adjust to the new places we find ourselves in, rather than clinging to the old and familiar and in doing so, restricting growth and change. But for this to work we all need to be on board.

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