Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A mutable Agreement, if our aims are being advanced.

In an Assembly debate about north / south bodies yesterday, the UUP’s deputy leader, Danny Kennedy, raised an interesting paradox. Nationalists in general, and the SDLP in particular, have often invoked the Belfast Agreement as if it were infallible and permanent truth. Yet their professed aspiration is to use the accord as a starting point. They aim to gradually integrate Northern Ireland with the Republic. It is a contradictory position which could justify charges of hypocrisy from unionists. After all the accord is consistently cited in order to attack unionist positions on everything from the Bill of Rights to policing and justice.

Mr Kennedy: I begin my contribution with a quotation:

“all-Ireland arrangements are essential for nationalists who want to share the life of the rest of the island. Those balances are essential for unionism, too, in order that unionism has an agreed relationship with the rest of the people of this island. However, if one begins to pick and choose, and have an à la carte approach, one must understand that that is beginning to unpick requirements that are essential for longer-term stability and prosperity on this island.” [Official Report, Volume 37, No 5, p260, col 2].

That is a quotation from the Member for West Belfast Mr Attwood in the debate on a DUP motion that called for a reduction in North/South co-operation.

I agree with the analysis of North/South arrangements that arose from the Belfast Agreement. It is crucial that we recognise that North/South co-operation is sensible for practical reasons and necessary for political stability in Northern Ireland. However, as Mr Attwood outlined, balance is required for unionists. The North/South arrangements are not an embryonic form of united Ireland, and unionism was very careful to make sure of that in the 1998 negotiations. We fought long and hard to ensure that North/South co-operation was practical and not ideological. We fought for that balance, and we feel that it was right.

Mr Attwood cannot have it both ways: he cannot proclaim that the Belfast Agreement is Holy Writ and then table a motion that ignores it. The Belfast Agreement contains provision for the possible extension of North/South co-operation in mutually beneficial areas. The motion’s call for enlargement is based on nothing more than ideological predisposition. The Belfast Agreement protects against that; it protects unionists from ideological solo runs, particularly those from the SDLP, for “North/Southery”. It also protects against creeping North/South integration against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

A review of North/South arrangements is ongoing. Some might wonder why the review team is yet to report, given the extended period — nearly two and a half years — that it has had. Therefore, background motions such as the one before us and the one tabled by the DUP earlier in the year are premature. In many ways, the debate is abstract without the findings of the review, which will report on possible new areas for co-operation. Any areas that are identified will be subject to great scrutiny in this place and in other places, as were the original areas of co-operation that were agreed in Castle Buildings. That is how that arrangement for government in Northern Ireland works.

The SDLP knows full well the intricacies of North/South co-operation. Mr Attwood outlined them in February when it suited him to argue for no change; he cannot turn that argument on its head in November when it suits him to expand co-operation. That is why the Ulster Unionist Party will support the amendment.

1 comment:

thedissenter said...

Danny is a good man. About time someone pointed out the SDLP's absurd position. Took too long for this point to be made.