Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

A word of advice to Israel…

Nigel Dodds has produced a speech of real substance in relation to Israel.

The speech was made recently at the House of Commons to members of the Zionist Federation and the Christian Friends of Israel (amongst others). It has been reproduced in The Jerusalem Post.

The speech is direct, succinct and powerfully argued. I wrote a column in the News Letter today where I reflected the low esteem in which many politicians are held by bloggers and media. In my view, this is a speech that counters this view.

The intro and contextualising is very sharp – the link is worth reading in full. But on the substance, Dodds draws upon Northern Ireland’s peace agreement and warns against ‘constructive ambiguities’.

His conclusion – and words of advice to Israel – is that a deal which lionises individuals ahead of the best interests of the people of that country is a failed product. Strength in the face of external pressure lies at the core of Dodds’ message.

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Filed under: DUP, ,

UUP won’t back NI budget

Only time to post the news item:

The Ulster Unionist Party has confirmed it won’t back the draft budget for Northern Ireland, which was unveiled in December and outlined £4bn in spending cuts.

“Due to the high level of unknown outcomes based on limited information and aspirational claims, the Ulster Unionist Party is unable to endorse the draft Budget proposal,” a spokesman said.

The decision has been condemned as “gross hypocrisy” by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

“I wish we had more money but the reality is that the UUP’s friends in the Tories have slashed our budget,” he said.

This is an opposition stance. It seems the UUP has chosen the battlefield, but do they have a battle plan? How far will sound management and credibility on finances determine the outcome of the election?

Filed under: DUP, economy, UUP

Are non-DUP unionists now Alliance voters?

(Image via niassembly's flickrstream)

That header would have beggared credulity prior to May. It might even have been provocative afterwards.

But since then, Harry Hamilton and Paul Bradshaw have signed up too. Whilst not a flood, it’s significant.

David McClarty is no fan of Alliance, and yet the chatter continues that he may run under the APNI banner. Even if the ideological combine isn’t there, the extra resources and support of an established party would be welcome. The colour of the rosette is not the first consideration for McClarty. He feels compelled to run – if Alliance can assist him, would he demur?

Alliance would say that they are attracting folks from all sides. That they are a cross-community vehicle for anti-sectarian politics etc… and yet, considering the balance of defections, it would seem that Alliance are becoming more progressively unionist in its personnel.

Yes, the UUP has enjoyed better times. But are moderate Unionists really going to back Alliance? Where are Alliance positioning themselves?

And sandwiched between a more progressive DUP and a progressively more Unionist Alliance Party, is the UUP in danger of a double envelopment?

UPDATE: Well, at least one part of this post has now been answered. David McClarty is to stand as an independent.

Filed under: DUP, UUP, , , ,

Campbell’s New Year’s Message

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has posted his New Year’s message via Facebook.

He has urged caution in Unionism’s approach to Sinn Fein arguing that whilst they may have given up violence their aims remain the same: a United Ireland. He says: “Unionists now need to be clear that republicans are still wedded to the notion of trying to achieve a United Ireland.”

He has said that Sinn Fein are on the charm offensive to Unionists and that we must beware. He argues that a means of ensuring that we build a better Northern Ireland free from Republican bigotry is situated at Stormont with devolution. Without it Republicans would have the freedom to push their ideology and idea of a United Ireland. Having the structures in place Unionism can keep Republicans in check but Unionism must not allow itself to dilute its message.

Andrew Charles


“There is a need to review progress on the political front as we enter another New Year.

There has been considerable speculation regarding the forthcoming Assembly elections. Sinn Fein has begun what I termed some time ago the charm offensive on the wider Unionist community. Having realized the hopelessness of the bombing offensive and seen that Internationally the terror campaign was leading them nowhere they decided as they usually do to try and turn a closed door into an opportunity. Now having divested themselves of their unacceptable past they seek to portray themselves as peacemakers.

It is 13 years since the IRA restored it’s ceasefire. Unionists now need to be clear that republicans are still wedded to the notion of trying to achieve a United Ireland. The difference is that for most of them the means of trying to achieve it are now different as a result of the decision in the mid 1990’s to forego the violence tactic. There are three categories of Unionist approach to this scenario, the first is the one of ‘nothing has changed’ and all future tactics in how to deal with republicans are based on the premise that republicans not only still want a United Ireland but still use the same violent methods to achieve it. This is not just living in the past but allowing republicans to portray Unionists as being unable to deal with post violence republicanism. Another attitude by some Unionists who, having watched republicans move away from violence, now totally accept their bona fides in virtually every aspect of politics, forgetting their past, treating them as they would every other democratic opponent and leaving some of their unionist supporters wondering what the 30 years of terror was about if SF are simply a darker green version of the SDLP. The position that the vast majority of Unionists are in is the sensible and consistent one, we recognise that the Provisional IRA have now finally accepted that their campaign has failed. What republicans will do when the current strategy also fails is anyone’s guess. The key for mainstream Unionism is that as we move forward we must not forget the past. Just as we must never surrender we must also never forget what the terrorists did to this Country for so long.

Sinn Fein have no possibility of achieving their objective, they have for some time been trying to assure Unionists of their benign intentions towards us. Unionists must not fall into the trap of believing that it was the violence, the intolerance, the naked sectarianism of republican demands alone that makes us determined never to concede. Their Irishness, whether bathed in the blood of innocent victims in the past or covered in kindness now, can never encompass us, nor will we allow it to.

The current structures at Stormont are such that we must keep pressing to ensure a better future for all our children. Sinn Fein having sufficient votes to get into Government must not mean that we become blunted in our campaigning style. No Programme for Government or System of Government can be allowed to offer comfort zones for us to operate in, there must be no diluting of our message as we strive to give positive direction to the people of Northern Ireland. 2011 can offer hope for a better future.”

Filed under: devolution, DUP

Peace in our time…

In his speech to the party faithful on Saturday last, First Minister Peter Robinson talked about Unionism living in ‘peace time’. This phrase got me thinking for I felt that it was very relevant but needs explained further.

Unionism has the habit of continually placing itself in a war-torn society; which is fair comment after thirty-years of violence during which police men were killed, soldiers murdered and civilians butchered at the hands of the enemies of the state. However this is thankfully no longer the case. We have moved on and live in relative peace. Psychologically and politically this environment created a safe haven for Unionism to hide whilst the bullets flew and bombs went off, which not only created destruction to buildings and infrastructure but to society itself.

At present this attitude is changing and has changed. Unionism has overwhelmingly backed Stormont and devolution as the way forward. Things may not be perfect, but we do not live in a perfect world. During the years of direct rule Unionism had easy choices to make politically, mirroring a protest movement to the naked eye. This offered Unionism a safe foundation to base itself. It did of course come naturally as this was the territory in which it was born in the late 1880s.

In Government now, Unionism, as overwhelmingly represented by the DUP, has tough and real choices to make with regards to domestic policy as seen in education, health, and the economy to name but a few. The generation born during the troubles are emerging looking houses, jobs and a safe and secure environment in which to raise a family. This is the cycle of life; the basis upon which man and woman operate.

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Filed under: civic unionism, devolution, DUP, Shared future, Union 2021

Positive, progressive and forward driven…

Positive, progressive and forward driven: that’s how I would summarise the message coming from the DUP’s Annual Conference today at La Mon, South Belfast.

Official figures put the attendance at 920 people, plus many other observers and stall holders. Some senior members remarked that it wasn’t so long ago that turnout at a DUP party conference would have been no more than 50.

For what has been a tough year for the party, despite winning 8 out of 10 Unionist seats in the Westminster election, the mood amongst members and supporters was positive.

Peter Robinson’s speech was the icing on the cake and the highlight of the day focusing on the future.

Eamonn Maillie tweeting from the conference had this to say about Peter Robinson’s speech:

“This is the most forward looking speech given by a Unionist leader for a long time.”

His speech can be read in full here.

Peter Robinson demonstrated himself to be in buoyant mood. It was remarked that his UUP equivalent, Tom Elliott, could not put up a similar performance. I appreciate that may be harsh, but that was the feeling coming from many observers.

Andrew Charles

Filed under: conferences, DUP

DUP PPB: a pitch to centrist unionists everywhere…

A very good PPB. This one was all about message – ie. it wasn’t vanity broadcasting to show off the Assembly Group or candidates. It kept away from focusing inwards… this PPB says we’re focused on what’s happened / happening in Northern Ireland.

Also, Robinson faced questions about his leadership on Hearts and Minds: has this past year left you a weakened man? He was thoughtful in his answer to Noel Thompson, but this PPB also supplies a portion of that response too as it’s led solely by Robinson.

I feel that this PPB is showing where Unionism is going generally. The script could have been penned by a UUP guy – and I’m quite sure all the UUP voters who saw this last night will be very contented with what they saw. But it now means that  the DUP and UUP and breaking one of the fundamental laws of physics ie. – that two objects cannot occupy the same. Someone is going to have to yield.

This was a PPB for centrist unionists everywhere, as opposed to the usual DUP flag-waving. There is a maturity and sophistication about the message and the production which means the bar is now set very high for the UUP’s package next week.


Filed under: DUP, PPB / PEB, unionist unity?

Thoughts on Robinson’s Education speech

By Turgon

Many people have given their views on Peter Robinson’s now infamous speech on Integrated Education a few weeks ago. The reaction to the speech has been interesting if predictable. The speech itself, however, is one of the cleverest pieces of politics in the last number of years in Northern Ireland and marks the first time in a long time that Robinson has managed to be both tactically and strategically cunning; though his ability to implement his strategy is of course significantly limited by the coalition arrangements which he and Dr. Paisley before him have been trapped in since the DUP entered power sharing.

Robinson’s call for integrated education managed to wrong foot nationalism to a very significant degree. The narrative preferred by many within nationalism and republicanism is that they are the progressive force within NI politics. Robinson, however, by this speech managed to claim the mantle of the liberal, progressive forces on this issue. There are valid arguments to be made in favour of allowing faith based education but Robinson reasonably pointed out that in a divided society such as Northern Ireland this is highly problematic.
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Filed under: DUP, Education, , ,

Robinson versus the segregationists


Reproduced with thanks to 'amboo who?'


By Unionist Lite

Peter Robinson has ruffled more than a few segregationist feathers with this speech to Castlereagh Borough Council on Friday. This is the relevant part where he explains his views on our divided education system:

“In the area of education it has been said that considerable savings could be made with the creation of a Single Education Authority.   I still hope that agreement can be reached in moving away from the five education and library boards to a single authority.  This is not a difference of principle but one of detail and I am hopeful that it can be resolved in the next period of time. However, in the meantime I believe that a simple and speedy solution to achieve savings would be to create a single education and library board under existing legislation and leave the issue of additional powers to another day.

“Moreover, I feel I have to point out that the real savings in terms of education will not be gained by simply creating a single educational administrative body but by creating a single educational system.

“For me this is not just an economic but a moral question. We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately.

“Not many of you will believe that my first contribution as a speaker at a DUP conference was on the issue of integrated education – and I spoke in favour.

“If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate Universities it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately. I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long. The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society.

“Who among us would think it acceptable that a State or Nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools?   Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.

“As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society.

“The limited number of Integrated schools in Northern Ireland do offer a choice but more often than not they join in the competition for funds against the other two main education sectors and in truth will never create the critical mass needed to make a real difference.

“I entirely accept that such fundamental change will not happen overnight but that is no excuse for further delay in making a start. I know that we will face difficulties in dislodging the vested interests that are so strong in this sector, but I am absolutely convinced that we must.

“I don’t in any way object to churches providing and funding schools for those who choose to use them.  What I do object to is the State providing and funding church schools.

“The transition must begin and must be carefully planned and programmed.  It may take ten years or longer to address this problem, which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life.  The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.

“Consideration should be given to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum.  Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue.”

A snapshot of the reactions…

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Filed under: academic, DUP, Education, Shared future, , ,

Responding to DUP’s consultation document…

The DUP are running a consultation on their performance in government since 2007 (PDF is uploaded to widget too). I’m thinking of sending in a submission.

The consultation has been on the frontpage for a while (yes, the odd question is a bit dated) but I’m assuming it’s still live. Even if it’s not, any submission supplied can be treated as ongoing stakeholder feedback.

I’d be keen for help from everyone here. I realise people are busy enough; so short pointers / bullet points / random thoughts are appreciated. The questions are below – please send me an email (everything will be treated in strictest confidence) or leave something in the comments section.

I’ll pick up on it and put a short doc together based around the consensus view. A draft will be published for feedback before it gets sent in to DUP headquarters.

I think it’s good and positive that a political party wants people to feed into their policy development. That sort of initiative merits a considered response.

Passing in a contribution would also represent tangible output from this blog and of a type I’d like to do more of. So if anyone spots consultations / policy docs which they feel we should contribute to then do let us know…

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Filed under: communications, consultations, devolution, DUP,

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