Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

A quick response…

Speeches done. The conference hall empties...

That’s the main part of the conference completed. I’m leaving now and will post up later. I’ve been tweeting and twitpic-ing away. Check out the timeline of the @openunionism twitterstream – you can click through from the widget on the right.

My initial impression was that this conference provided surprisingly little content. The celebratory mood is to be expected but I felt it was excessive. While not quite in the same bracket as the Labour Party conference of 1992, there is a danger in being too exultant and self-congratulatory only two months out from an election.

The retrospective elements to the speeches – ‘I predicted everything and I was right’ – did nothing to cement the vision of the Party. I felt this may look more like conceit and self-absorption.

In terms of look and feel of the event, the Alliance Party are still behind the other parties. I was told there were around 500 people at the Dunadry today (including exhibitors), and it did feel very compact here.  I hear they will move to another venue for next year’s conference. If the Party’s upward trajectory continues they will certainly need extra space next year.

But if the Alliance Party are to grow, then the content of this conference will not provide the momentum. In addition, the Party will not be as attractive to voters of Unionist parties if they continue to peddle the line that their electors are propping up prejudice / are prejudiced (as Stephen Farry did).

I’ll do into this in more detail, but this is my initial reaction.


Filed under: Alliance Party, conferences

Naomi Long’s speech at Alliance conference…

The panel prior to Naomi Long's speech

Some elected pars from Naomi’s speech.

Not many would have predicted that a year later I would be standing here at the MP for East Belfast and that David Ford would have taken up the reins at the Department of Justice. I say not many because, if you read David Ford’s speech from last year, you’ll see that he did. In fact he was remarkably accurate in his predictions for the year ahead. Any of you who play the lottery may well be regretting not asking him to give some advice on the numbers, while he was on  roll.

The people know that voting Alliance works. In May it delivered a change in who represents them in Westminster, but I think it has also driven a change in those who don’t. Does anyone really think the DUP would be making positive noises about integrated education if they had held the seat in East Belfast? The people of East Belfast led the way in May, and now others are following them.

Alliance played a critical role in the negotiations which led to the devolution of policing and justice powers. Our focus was to ensure that the Minister, whomever that would eventually be, would be able to fulfil the demands of what is a challenging and sensitive post in a way that would command the confidence of the whole community. I think we got the structures right. But most of all I think that we go the Minister right.

But being a Minister is not a fair-weather job. Creating an impression at this stage that cuts can be avoided is not just delusional, but dangerous. Refusing to face reality or causing delay by avoiding hard choices is doing the public a disservice, denying them the chance to properly examine the proposals which have been made and challenging any weaknesses. Uncertainty is always the worst option.

2010 was a remarkable year for alliance – a year of real achievement – but 2011 is a new year, full of fresh opportunities not just for this party but for the people we represent. However, between opportunity and reality lies a lot of hard work.

Filed under: Alliance Party, conferences,

Alliance Party conference…

Conference hall at Dunadry @9.30am

Open Unionism is at the Alliance Party conference. I’ll be tweeting this via the #allconf hashtag.

Will post up more material later. Enda Kenny is about to take the stage.

Filed under: Alliance Party, conferences, ,

Unity by inches…

The above is Sammy Wilson on The Sunday Politics programme.

This is the UUP’s interim response to the budget.

The parties are bitterly at war, right? But no. The UUP and DUP have come to an understanding in North Belfast. (Sam McBride’s round up is extremely insightful.)

There can be no unity centrally, but disparate constituency deals will occur independently. It’s messy, it’s unity by inches.

Is the North Belfast deal a positive development? Will there be others to follow?

Filed under: unionist unity?, ,

Draft Public Assemblies Bill…

The draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill stirred up some controversy.

It went out to consultation on April 20 2010. OFMDFM say 410 responses came back. The department produced a consultation summary and analysis of the responses in September 2010. The conclusion of that analysis was this:

After consideration of the views expressed during the public consultation process the First Minister and deputy First Minister will make a number of changes to the draft Bill before it is introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly in September 2010.

After consideration of the views expressed during the public consultation process the First Minister and deputy First Minister will make a number of changes to the draft Bill before it is introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly in September 2010.

Seems straight forward. An analysis of consultation responses took place their intention to proceed was published.

Last week Tom Elliott asked this:

the First Minister and deputy First Minister if they will make public the amended version of the draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill that has been developed following the consultation process.

(AQW 2222/11)

First Minister and deputy First Minister (Mr P Robinson and Mr M McGuinness): We announced our intention to amend the draft Bill following consultation. Following analysis of the consultation responses we have not decided to proceed at this time.

(Wouldn’t reference to this have been the more honest answer?)

But let’s take FM & DFM at face value – they say another piece of analysis took place after declaring their intention to proceed.

Can we see it?

The first analysis was published. It would be reasonable to assume that the second piece of analysis can be published. When?

Filed under: Community, consultations, ,

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

‘Best of the Web’

By Geoff McGimpsey

Happy new year! So 2011 has arrived… bringing with it a fully blown water crisis, a VAT rise and the death of Gerry Rafferty. January truly is the most miserable of all months.

Despite Laurence MacKenzie’s departure, the catastrophe of NI Water is threatening to engulf the devolved Executive. The principle that a Minister cannot be removed irrespective of performance or public opinion is a source of ire among bloggers.

Jeff Peel’s Dairy is emblematic of a growing view that “… the buck should stop at the Minister. The Executive, and an unquestioning Assembly, are more responsible for under-investment in Northern Ireland’s water infrastructure than the body required to deliver such investment.”

Perhaps Conor Murphy has been foolish, but Rodney McCune’s blog feels that the system which permits foolishness needs to be recast.

“We don’t need to have second rate public services run by a second rate Executive,” he blogged. “We have capable and able alternatives and it is high time we get them in there and get them running things. Conor Murphy may be a fool, but he isn’t the only one.”

Similarly, while some blame the individual, A Tangled Web blames the state. According to David Vance: “This utility needs fundamental change and massive investment and it seems to me that only a change of ownership away from the State and into private hands will suffice.”

East Belfast Diary agrees the present system with Go-Cos needs to be reviewed. “The Minister is blaming NI Water senior management and says he has no cause to resign. Senior managers are blaming the weather and under-investment… This incident should provoke a debate about accountability in Government Owned Companies.”

But at least one twitterer bravely ponders whether the defenestration of Laurence MacKenzie doesn’t represent some cruel and unusual punishment. According to @CB_PRandPA: “I think we might have a new understanding of being ‘water-boarded’. Surely NIW CEO has rights under a UN convention?”


Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Best of the Web, , , , , , , ,

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, , , ,

Quiet confidence…

The GPO in Dublin (image via infomatique's flickrstream)

If you were an Irish Nationalist how would you feeling as of, 1st of January 2011, at the beginning of yet another decade “under British Rule”?

How far away do you think your nirvana of the 32 County Republic is at this point?

Well, if I were a nationalist at this juncture, two things in particular would be disturbing me:

  1. the confidence of not just the Unionist elite, chattering classes and bloggerati
  2. the maturity of the pro-Union electorate (defined as only those who presently or previously voted for Unionist parties).

For the first point, check out the News Letter’s Union 2021 series. Ignore the obvious troll (aka the prospective Right Dishonourable Member for Louth), what was the overall feel, the overall atmosphere of the series?

If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I’d say “Quiet Confidence”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: civic unionism, Union 2021, ,

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

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