News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Paisley become's Northern Irish First Minister

Today, the Northern Ireland Assembly has finally been re-established. Paisley's DUP has agreed to share power with Sinn Fein in an historic agreement. I have some reservations about Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister, but hope that it signal a genuine and permanent end to the ridiculous fighting and terrorism that has engulfed Ireland for a generation. Ian Paisley is no fool and I don't believe that he has been driven to take the role of First Minister by the glory of the position. He is a man of immense principle, and if he believes that the time is now right to engage with Sinn Fein, I think we all have to trust him.

The greatest concern to me is that the system of government entrenches the current divisions within Ulster's politics and its society. That could prevent the "normalisation" of Ulster politics, in which the Northern Ireland Conservatives are taking the lead. The Conservative Party is the only major political party which actively campaigns in all four home nations, where it is seeking to break the mould of the failed old style politics of the past. The Tories there campaign on bread and butter issues, which often get ignored in the narrow argument about constitutional arrangements. Just as the Scottish Tories focussed on the real, day to day issues that matter to Scottish people, Northern Ireland's Conservatives offer the same focus. After all, regardless of what country we all live in, the things that matter to us all are the same really - safety, a decent health service, a good education system, low taxes and opportunities for all.

In Northern Ireland, the Conservatives look to be poised on the cusp of a political breakthrough. They narrowly missed gaining seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the elections earlier this year, and now Lord Trimble has defected to the Conservative benches of the House of Lords, we have a high profile voice for the people of Northern Ireland - something that no other national party can muster.

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