Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Forum can provide a viable road map

Naturally there will be varying reactions to the establishment of the Unionist Forum.

Some people may regard it as too little too late considering the damage already wrought by the flag protests. Others may view with surprise the breadth of representation - and even the personalities involved - at the initial meeting. But whatever anyone's feelings, it is an initiative which should be given the opportunity to succeed. If it can make any impact on today's planned protests then more people will be inclined to give it a fair wind.

The inclusive nature of the Forum and its self-styled task forces should ensure that it has a wide outreach to people who feel politics has not delivered any real benefits for them in the past. It should enable the mainstream parties to gauge the strength of disaffection within working-class Protestant districts. Quite rightly, the Forum has set itself a wider remit than just flag-flying days, for the protests are a mere symptom of a deeper malaise.

But with that width of interests comes other problems. The variety of views that are likely to emerge, the disparate nature of the fractured unionist family and the scale of the problems that are already evident, like poverty, lack of educational attainment, lack of investment and still rampant paramilitary influences will create a challenging, if not impossible, agenda.

Yet the Forum has one underpinning virtue. It wants to ensure that all issues are tackled in a peaceful and democratic manner. The supremacy of politics must be restored. Only politics can produce viable solutions. No one is suggesting that the Forum is some sort of a magic bullet which can make problems disappear, but if it can engage more people in the democratic process that must be regarded as a step forward.

The initial mood music is encouraging but it will take some considerable time before we can truly determine if this initiative represents a new, more confident unionist voice or simply a way to buy us valuable breathing space at a difficult period.

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