A few reminders are due Ms. O’Connor and her ilk.
Firstly the Belfast Agreement does not require that the British government should be neutral on the constitutional question. On the contrary, if the British government believes in the values and institutions of the United Kingdom, it should promote them, within Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Certainly the government is bound to ensure that different cultures and political aspirations are respected equally, and it is legally required to uphold the decision of the people of Northern Ireland, as regards its constitutional future. Neither of these obligations requires it to refrain from promoting the Union and its benefits.
Secondly, a “re-emphasis on Britishness”, is neither a pre-occupation solely of the Conservative party, nor should it be equated with a dramatic rightward swing. Examining the values, history and institutions which bind together the UK, is an essential exercise, aimed at determining who we are, what we stand for and where we are going. If, as an aspirant government, the Conservatives were not engaged with such questions, we should be asking why they wish to take power in the first instance.
Thirdly, if ‘British Northern Irelanders’ are disorientated by a national party contesting elections here, they should be worried about the type of Britishness which they are promoting and the essence of the dispensation which they are operating.
Westminster is the national parliament, not simply an actor “in the settled pattern of modern British Irish relations”. If the DUP is ‘bewildered’ by the electorate in Northern Ireland being afforded an opportunity to vote for the next United Kingdom government, then it should be required to explain to voters why they should not have extended to them an ability to fully participate in politics associated with their preferred constitutional arrangement. If nationalists are bewildered, then they should start examining the nature of the principle of consent which they have purportedly accepted.
When this misguided article is distilled to its essentials, we are left with the old nationalist chestnut, conflating equality of aspiration with equality of outcome.
“David Cameron has yet to accept that Sinn Fein and the SDLP are in a Belfast administration on the basis that Irish nationalism has equal status with British unionism.”
David Cameron has certainly not accepted that Irish nationalism has equal status with British unionism and nor should he. The very simple reason lies with results at the ballot box, and acceptance, through the agreement of both sides, of the principle of consent. That is not to say that British unionists and Irish nationalists should not be treated equally, they should be and largely they are. The Conservative government will continue to underwrite this equality, but there can be no equality of outcome whilst democratic principles continue to underpin Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.