Thursday, 25 February 2010

UUP and Conservative Candidate

I am delighted at being selected as candidate for Lagan Valley for the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties.

The link between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party is the obvious and natural course of action for the UUP at this stage in the implementation of the constitutional settlement we achieved in 1998.

Anyone who suggests that it is an electoral pact made for cheap gain demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Unionism. At the heart of Unionism lies the preservation of the Union, but not in any subordinate capacity, or as a lesser part of the United Kingdom. Yes, there have been times over the past fifty years when we felt we were clinging on to the edge of the Union, but there has been a sea change in the attitude of our fellow Brits to Northern Ireland in the past few years, and we in the UUP have recognised and welcomed this. In his party conference speech, David Cameron who we expect to be the next Prime Minister said this ‘I am passionate about our Union and I will never do anything to put it at risk. And because of the new political force we have created with the Ulster Unionists, I’m proud that at the next election we will be the only party fielding candidates in every part of the United Kingdom.’ And as he said it he looked directly at David and me sitting in the audience.

Conservatives and Unionists are offering Ulster voters of whatever religious persuasion the opportunity to play a fuller role in the politics of the state. Our MPs will not sit in Westminster on the sidelines, but will be an integral part of the next party of government. No other party can offer as much.

We are doing what we can to bring normal politics to Northern Ireland; if we make progress in this at the election then I expect Labour to follow suit and field candidates here. Our actions have the potential to transform politics; to allow people to choose between the sets of social and economic policies offered by the parties that aspire to govern them, rather than simply registering their adherence to a particular national tradition or aspiration.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

How closely linked are devolution of Policing and Justice and Parades?

Now it’s time for a few brief observations on the Hillsborough Agreement:

Devolution of Policing and Justice will start with a resolution in the Assembly on 9 March, leading to devolution of powers by 12 April - section 1.

The parading timetable (section 2) requires the parading working group to report agreed outcomes by 23 February, and a sequenced legislative timetable. This is a very tight timescale.

What happens if the working group can’t agree by 23 Feb, and still hasn’t agreed by 9 March? Will the resolution to start the ball rolling on devolution of Policing and Justice still go ahead? Even if Feb 23/9 March goes ok, the ‘Agreement’ sets out two timetables running for most of the next year, so such problems could recur.

I am sure the DUP take the view that the two sections of the agreement are inextricably linked. This is a political document; not a legal one. The absence of explicit linkage between sections one and two might be important in a legal document, but not in a political one.

But I recall that there were two timetables in the Belfast Agreement –decommissioning within a two year time frame, and prisoner releases, also within a two year time frame. David tried to link them together, yet the government and virtually everyone else said there was to be no linkage, and prisoner releases went ahead without decommissioning within the agreed timetable.

If the DUP try to link the two timetables, what will happen? Will the same happen again? Will devolution of policing and justice proceed even if there is no agreement on parading?