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Paterson backing Tele’s non-sectarian Manifesto

Secretary of State Owen Paterson has broadly endorsed the Belfast Telegraph Manifesto published on Monday and urged local politicians to follow its non-sectarian approach.

“I fully endorse the broad thrust of the manifesto with its emphasis on the economy and social issues,” he said, speaking on a canvass with Conservative candidates in North Down.

“Politicians should concern themselves with the economy, health, education, transport and the other day-to-day stuff that affects people instead of focusing on constitutional issues,” he stated.

He believes that voter turnout fell in recent elections because, since the peace settlement, people were becoming less concerned about the issues that drove local politics in the past.

“I spent most of last year’s election campaign here, partly of my own volition and partly because of the volcanic ash,” he said.

“It was clear to me that people were starting to disengage from ‘same old, same old’ politics based around the constitution.” Mr Paterson added: “We have had the referendum (on the Good Friday Agreement), we have got a settlement and the huge constitutional question that once dominated politics here is now parked on agreed terms.”

He pointed out that the question of whether we should enter a united Ireland or stay in the UK could now only be decided by a fresh referendum, not a vote in the Assembly.

“That means it is now out of the hands of political people, and therefore politicians don’t have to concern themselves about that on a daily basis,” he said.

Mr Paterson was speaking from the Conservative Party’s new campaign offices in Bangor, which were set up following the demise of its UCUNF link up with the Ulster Unionists.

Turning to the Tories’ own plans, he said: “Andrew Feldman, our party chairman, has made a clear commitment to bringing Northern Ireland into the mainstream of national politics and we have an office in Bangor, we have a full-time employee raising interest.

“This is a good start and David Cameron has stated that it would be good for the UK and good for Northern Ireland for politics here to go into the UK mainstream.

“We intend to try and bring Northern Ireland into the mainstream.”

He refused to be drawn on what elections the Tories would contest in the future.

He added: “We are fighting a number of council seats and we are up against local parties which are well embedded.

“However, local parties should appreciate that it is not healthy here that the turnout is going down between General Elections.

“Quite a lot of the electorate see politics as too polarised, so they just don’t participate.”

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