Monday, June 26, 2023

Crossroads


The statement above, made to the press by Tom Elliot MLA in the aftermath of the council elections, illustrates the dearth of understanding among some unionist politicians. His beliefs will be shared by most in the Democratic Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Party and some in Ulster Unionism. No doubt were all unionist parties and Loyal Orders to gather to reflect on the way forward for unionism they would double down on the sentiment. An echo chamber magnifying the sentiment threatens to sideline and isolate unionism in the short-term and end the union much quicker than Republicans can ever dream of.
Thankfully there remain unionists who recognise the shear futility of that approach.  It is a betrayal of public office to side line the challenges which the general population face, it is also the complete antithesis of what being part of the United Kingdom should represent.
The idea that politicians should treat as "side issues" collapsing public services, poverty, deprivation, poor health, bad housing and all the other challenges we face now and in the future is not what holding elected office is about.
To suggest that concern about having enough food for your children, or getting through to a GP surgery, or heating your home is a "side issue" shows an amazing disconnect from the lives of the people unionism seeks to represent. That disconnect works both ways as the inability of political unionism to turn out their voters shows.
The Union will not be protected by setting aside the issues affecting our citizens, it will only survive by showing that those issues are best resolved within the Union. That requires a political change at the heart of unionism, an end to the dogma of opposition to any change, an end to the insular view held by many that ignores the world around them. Only by making Northern Ireland work within the Union can we counter the fantasy future presented by Republicans.
Thankfully there remains within Ulster Unionism a core belief in delivering a better society as the way to protect the Union. That belief must not be diluted by being drawn to short-term comfort under Paisley's umbrella, or sitting in Jeffrey's tent. The fight that needs to be fought is not simply about the flying of the flag but about the values the flag represents. In that those who don't put the needs of our people first will be on the opposing side, meeting the needs of our people is the best defence we have for the Union.
Ulster Unionism has come some way in articulating the concept of a "Union of people", in light of recent comments we should go further, what is needed is a "Union for people" deliver that and we deliver a better life and a better future for all.



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