Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Jeffrey Donaldson: Our main issue may be fear of no change

Sinn Fein is wrong: unionism is in rude good health. But no one stands to gain from manufacturing a crisis where none exists, writes Jeffrey Donaldson

Girls at the commemoration parade in Castlederg last month to remember IRA members who died during the Troubles

There is an irony that Raymond McCartney began his assessment of unionism by looking backwards. Among the attempts at self-justification and flailing claims about leadership, it has been the constant tendency among republicans to spend their time looking backwards which has been a feature of recent months.

The actions of Sinn Fein in Castlederg, where they revisited grief and trauma upon innocent victims, had nothing to do with unionism. It was about the inability of republicans to lift their gaze beyond a very narrow base.

Similarly, Gerry Kelly's tweet celebrating the 30th anniversary of a prison break-out in my constituency and the associated death of a prison officer was not related to unionism, but was either a crude attempt to pacify disillusioned republicans, or just an even more crudely fashioned insult that has clearly caused much offence.

Unionism has resolved itself of the need to make Northern Ireland work through cross-community government. Opinion polls have consistently shown in recent times that the majority of people, regardless of religious background, have resolved themselves of our constitutional position and want to see us making Northern Ireland work.

That, of course, poses difficulties for republicanism, which has neither delivered its constitutional aim, nor made any real progress towards it.

Attempts to portray Northern Ireland as the 'failed state' they used to talk of, ring more hollow also when they are a key part of its administration, under the banner of the United Kingdom.

The major issue in Northern Ireland may not be a fear of change, but a fear of no change at all. Prolonged stability and good government in Northern Ireland is good for all in our community, regardless of background, but it does not provide a platform to launch a campaign for a border poll.

That may well be the contradiction facing republicans, who want to tackle the issues of the present and build for a better future, but fear it undermines their analysis of the past.

In reality though, building a successful Northern Ireland is good for everyone who lives here, regardless of background and working towards economic prosperity can help address some of the other political challenges that we face.

Those challenges which face Richard Haass are not insubstantial, but equally important are rising costs facing families and the need to deliver the very best public services to the people of Northern Ireland.

The challenges we face should not be looked on as an opportunity for any party to exploit, regardless of the impact on wider society and the political process of which they are a part.

The narrow interests of some within a political party should not outweigh the interests of the public we are sworn to serve.

It is vital that we deal with issues of the past, but the determination of a small number of dissidents to cling to the past should not outweigh the interests of the public, who also want to see us moving forward.

We have shown that it is possible to attract investors to Northern Ireland from across the world and, in a few short weeks, we will again have some of the biggest names in business in Belfast for an investment conference.

We have not heard a great deal of discussion about the importance of that conference and the necessity for it to be a success, but a positive outcome could have a massive impact on people here. Such a positive economic impact can only provide a good environment for progress on other issues.

In moving Northern Ireland forward and in making progress on these issues, we must do so together.

One side cannot hold out a hand of reconciliation, while continuing to wage an offensive and damaging campaign by other means.

There is no achievable alternative to the political process and there is no benefit to anyone in manufacturing crisis where none exists. There are some on the loyalist side who have no strategy, but just an ability to point out the perceived wrongs of others. They offer no concept of how, in a deeply divided society, we right those wrongs, or overcome the difficulties.

There are some on the republican side who think that continuing conflict, or celebrating past terrorism, will further their goals. But anyone following either of those courses has learnt nothing from our history and has very little to offer the future.

Building a stable and peaceful society will not be easy and we must not allow the process of getting there to be anything other than balanced and fair.

The denial of the expression of any identity, or legitimate political viewpoint, flies in the face of what we want to achieve.

A peaceful future can only be built on mutual respect, tolerance and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law and the democratic process.

No section of our community can be excluded from that shared future.

There is strong leadership within unionism. Our leadership has displayed courage and vision, with a strategy for the long term.

There is no crisis within the political institutions and we are not faced with difficulties in the absence of a mechanism to help solve them.

Hopefully, everyone will have the will to put the interests of Northern Ireland first and to achieve the progress which is possible.