Monday 11 November 2019

Arlene Foster: 'Does Irish unity stand up to scrutiny in the real world?'

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Arlene Foster

Malachi O'Doherty, in his October 29 article published in the Belfast Telegraph, suggests I'm somehow not sufficiently 'new unionist', but he misses the point.

In the Next Generation Unionism approach we are developing, I'm not asking everyone to be just like me.

In fact, the very opposite. We're arguing that unionists come in all shapes and sizes, and that all should be embraced.

Many no doubt do consider me a traditionalist, but there is no one keener to see unionism, and indeed broader politics, modernise than me.

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I want to see a Northern Ireland where plans on the economy, education, health and other public services are the dividing lines for political debate and elections.

Unionist culture is important to me, as is my faith, and I disagree with Malachi that to be Protestant and support the monarchy and armed forces is 'backward-looking'.

Judging any leader in the moment, on the basis of the issues of the day, is unlikely to uncover many visionaries.

Former unionist First Ministers now regularly referred to as moderates were consistently pilloried for being stubborn and intransigent while in office. The critics have the luxury of inconsistency and revision.

When I appointed a new ministerial team in 2016, the Press majored on a dearth of those of traditional DUP stock.

Our Next Generation Unionism does not envisage clones. Everyone does not have to agree on everything, every detail. Across the DUP, members have different emphases and priorities.

We want to build this vision collaboratively.

We have commenced engaging with other unionists around our proposals.

Some will be right of centre, some left, but all can unite around the merits of Northern Ireland's long-term future. The umbrella for unionists must be large with many portals and multiple gateways in.

Unionists want their leaders working together, delivering for and motivating communities, driving up turnout and maximising the candidates returned. We need to maintain and grow the number of unionist supporters, not rely on those born into unionism. We have new migrant communities and those from traditionally non-unionist families and others who can be persuaded.

Unionists can and do come from all communities.

We can win their support by being inclusive and welcoming. Strong, yet reasonable. Passionate, yet sensible, recognising that securing the future of the Union is about bringing together a broad coalition of existing, returning and new supporters.

We are told a debate on Irish unity is back on the agenda, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when your case is strong.

Getting into the detail of a potential united Ireland stirs a great many questions.

Does Irish unity stand up to scrutiny in the real world? Economic disruption, decades of transition and chaos.

Each and every aspect of our lives are deeply entwined within the Union - taxation, the Civil Service, defence and security.

To leave the UK would require our laws, public services, governance and lives to change. Social security, funding support mechanisms, our place in the global world.

I recognise Northern Ireland has changed and will continue to change.

Next Generation Unionism is about a positive vision for Northern Ireland entering into its next century.

I look forward to engaging with people about our proposals.

I have written to a number of parties, and meetings have already commenced. I will seek to stimulate interest amongst other groups and sectors too.

We want these engagements to extend far beyond political parties.

It ought to be a much broader discussion across the community. It's time to commence a conversation, recognising politicians don't have a monopoly on ideas. 

I believe unionism to be at its best when it is confident and outward-looking. It should be open and embracing to all, celebrating diversity and permitting individuals to express the cultural life they choose.

People value Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom for lot of different economic, social, historic and cultural reasons.

Those who do so come from an equally broad range of backgrounds, and each must be valued and nurtured.

Belfast Telegraph

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