Monday, 1 October 2007

Why Harris's suggestion is bad for the Union

David Trimble’s leadership of unionism was mould breaking in a number of ways, not least of which was his willingness to draw from an eclectic group of advisers, many of whom had backgrounds which were anathema to traditional unionists.

Typical of this tendency was Trimble’s appointment of erstwhile Marxist / Republican Eoghan Harris, some time Official Sinn Fein and Workers’ Party ideologue.

Harris now sits in the Republic of Ireland’s Senate as an appointee of Bertie Aherne. He retains an unerring capacity to create controversy and on Friday he chose a UUP function at Belfast’s Reform Club, to express his opinion that the party no longer served any useful function within unionism and should merge with the DUP.

The hoary old chestnut of one party unionism has been the subject of a recent post on this blog and I do not intend to revisit the topic in any detail here. I will point readers in the direction of Alex Kane’s rejoinder in his column in this morning’s Newsletter.

Kane’s most pertinent point is that monolithic unionist representation would not only disenfranchise a substantial proportion of unionists, but would exacerbate the communal and sectarian carve-up of politics currently epitomised by the DUP / Sinn Fein’s ascendancy.

Under the dispensations enshrined under the Good Friday Agreement and implemented latterly after discussions at St Andrews, the constitutional issue here is settled for the foreseeable future. Unionism, self-confident unionism, realises that sectarianising and communalising politics here, only serves to promulgate an atmosphere whereby these arrangements are not seen as permanent. Communal politics ensures that the constitutional issue remains the central battleground here. What is best for unionism and for Northern Ireland is parties finding common ground across community groupings, not cementing sectarian division.

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