Monday, 18 May 2009

Paterson outlines benefits of involvement in real UK politics

This article from Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson MP, appeared in the Irish News on 7 May 2009. I’m afraid that I missed it at the time.

A reader has kindly forwarded the text and I believe that it is worth reproducing in full. Particularly given that the Irish News’ online content is subscription only and I’m sure other readers won’t have encountered this very fine synopsis of what the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists wish to achieve with their electoral pact.

Paterson has, from the beginning, been a strong proponent of the Conservatives and Unionists idea. He has driven forward the project from the Tory perspective and this piece lays out concrete, practical benefits which the alliance wishes to offer voters.

It is a lesson in how the arguments should be laid out, to appeal to voters across the community. We need to hear more of this and less of the negative stories which have undermined UCUNF over the last week.

Irish News article- 7th May 2009

In recent months there has been a genuine misunderstanding about the thinking behind the Conservative Party’s link-up with the Ulster Unionists. I have been involved with this from the outset and I would like to set the record straight. The peace process, which led to the establishment of the current institutions, has always had our strong support. Whatever one’s ultimate aspiration, Northern Ireland’s constitutional status was settled in the Belfast Agreement and endorsed by overwhelming majorities on both sides of the border. However, there is plenty more work to be done before the political arrangements are normalised and Northern Ireland’s society can flourish.

The key is democracy. Why should Northern Ireland effectively be excluded from the mainstream of political life in the UK? Time and again I meet people from all parts of the community who want to move beyond the polarisation that has dominated politics for so many years. Why should all Catholics be labelled as Nationalists? I understand that Nationalists may not want to vote Conservative and Unionist. However, many Catholics have told me that they want to vote for the policies of parties who could represent them in a national government.

We emphatically welcome voters and members from right across the community because, for too long, politics here has been dominated by parties that can never hope to form the government, or even be a part of it. That is bad for democracy.

Some might argue that this does not matter as many decisions are made by the Northern Ireland Assembly. David Cameron has been unwavering in his support for devolution. However, key policies continue to be decided at Westminster. They include taxes, pensions, welfare, social policy and foreign policy. MPs from Northern Ireland have little or no say on them.

Conservatives and Unionists want to give people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to be active in UK politics. MPs elected here as Conservatives and Unionists will be eligible to serve in a Conservative government.

The Conservative Party has changed. We are a modern, progressive centre-right party committed to restoring economic prosperity but combined with a strong sense of social justice. We are open to everyone who shares our values, irrespective of their background.

This is not a short-term initiative, based on narrow party political advantage; it will take time to bed down. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do. To listen to some, you would think that the idea of having normal politics here is an affront. They seem to have their own selfish strategic interest in maintaining Northern Ireland as a political backwater.

We recognise the vital contribution of the Irish and American governments over many years. We shall keep working closely and constructively with the Republic of Ireland whose collaboration has been crucial to the peace process. Only last week I made one of my regular visits to Dublin, discussing our ideas to improve the economy and politics of Northern Ireland. These trips are always positive; we were in complete agreement in our determination to maintain and improve the Common Travel Area which benefits millions on both sides of the Irish Sea.

I am here virtually every week and make a point of meeting politicians from all political parties; I want to have good relations with them all. However, I also make a point of going outside the political bubble to meet people from all walks of life. I am convinced that there is a widespread desire for a new form of politics here.

That is what the Conservatives and Unionists intend to deliver. For David Cameron this is a matter of conviction and principle. He is determined to succeed.

Owen Paterson MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

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