Writing in today’s News Letter, Terry Wright – the man tasked with heading up the UUP’s post-election review – says that the party recognises its second-party status and “will engage in constructive communication with the DUP, based on our values and principles”. Given the nature of his role in guiding and advising on future UUP strategy, this could be seen as a significant overture within the unity debate. Is this piece a scene-setter for unity talks?
By Terry Wright
Following the General Election, UUP Leader Sir Reg Empey announced a wide-ranging review and analysis. He expressed the hope that this would spur unionism in general to take an honest and bold look at where we are going.
With regards to the UUP, there are a number of vital issues regarding strategy and presentation of policy which must be urgently addressed. The review’s findings will shape the UUP’s approach to the 2011 Assembly elections.
The General Election result leaves us with real challenges – the review will not be a white-wash. I would like to thank those 102,000 people who voted for us. We know that a similar result in an Assembly election would have produced additional seats. But the hard questions will not be avoided. We will ask those questions and produce a measured but thorough analysis.
This will include examining the workings of the UUP-Conservative link. Many media commentators, of course, have been quick to pronounce it dead. This is despite the fact that the UUP’s electoral allies now hold office in Downing Street.
There is also the question of ‘unionist unity’. Ulster Unionism has always been committed to unity amongst and co-operation between pro-Union parties, based on shared values and a shared commitment to promote the Union.
It has been, however, bitterly disappointing to see some in the DUP engage in triumphalism after 6th May and avoid asking themselves the hard questions about East Belfast.
There is also the sobering fact that, at times, the DUP appears to have more in common with Alex Salmond than with David Cameron. Then we had the DUP boast that ‘Westminster’s difficulty is Ulster’s opportunity’ – taken from the old Republican slogan that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’.
If there is to be a unity of values between our two parties, it must be based on a real, genuine commitment to the Union – not a form of Northern Ireland nationalism that wants nothing to do with mainstream British politics.
That said, it would be churlish not to recognise that while 1 in 3 pro-Union voters support the UUP, 2 in 3 support the DUP.
Recognising this mandate, the UUP will engage in constructive communication with the DUP, based on our values and principles. We trust that the DUP will engage positively. Our dialogue cannot be about a sectarian zero sum game. It must be about positively promoting the Union and bringing Northern Ireland into the mainstream of British politics.