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TUV's Jim Allister: 'I'm not some ogre that people can't get along with'

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Jim Allister insists that Stormont will soon implode

Jim Allister insists that Stormont will soon implode

Jim Allister insists that Stormont will soon implode

He's known for his uncompromising political views and barracking of Sinn Fein. But, fresh from being banned from the Assembly and having an MLA brand him a thug, Jim Allister tells Chris Kilpatrick he has a softer side too.

Q: You've been banned from the Assembly and branded a thug by an MLA. Do you have any friends in politics?

A: Two separate matters. I was gagged until November 10, I think quite unfairly. I asked in a report on a north/south ministerial meeting whether anybody had raised the fact the chief coroner was complaining bitterly about the non co-operation of gardai in the Kingsmill inquest.

I get on very well with a number of members, and I think they get on quite well with me. I don't think I'm an ogre who people can't get on with. As for being called a thug, I do take exception to that. I was performing my duty as a member of the committee, asking legitimate questions of a witness.

Q: You've been critical of the Executive, and good at it. But what's the alternative?

A: It's pretty clear the present arrangements are not working and, I say, will not work. Therefore, you have to address the reason why they will not work.

The reason it won't work and will self-implode is because it is built on the folly of mandatory coalition, which means every party automatically is in government without having to agree anything. If you are in government without having to agree anything beforehand, you come in and it is quite obvious and no surprise that you won't agree.

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I want a system that is based upon a coalition of the willing. You have your election (and because) no party is big enough to form a government on its own, it's going to inevitably be a coalition.

I don't have a problem with it being a cross-community coalition. So (that way) after the election those parties that can agree what they are going to do about welfare reform, about the economy, health, education, they – whoever they are – can command the requisite majority in the house and form a government.

Q: Would this coalition include Sinn Fein?

A: If Sinn Fein can find partners to work with them. It wouldn't be TUV working with them. But if they can find other partners to work with and command the requisite majority, whether I like it or not, they are entitled to a voluntary coalition system because they've got the votes to be part of government. What no party should be entitled to is automatic inclusion in government.

Q: Nobody else is going to accept that root and branch change, are they?

A: I suppose it depends on the circumstances in which it is put to them. If you had sufficient resolve among democrats in the Assembly to say to all the parties and to the British government, "We've tried your mandatory coalition and it's obvious it isn't working... we aren't against shared government but it has to be voluntary coalition... we want devolution and here's the recipe for getting it... and if the rest of you want a Stormont and devolution that works, here's the invitation to negotiate a voluntary coalition". If the choice is voluntary coalition or no Stormont, I think I know what most of the politicians – despite what they say – would accept.

Q: Which makes it unrealistic for our current politicians to move from 'what we have, we hold', surely?

A: It's their self-interest, even though it's not working for anyone. It's so selfish. But it's working for them in the sense that some of them have chauffeur-driven limos as ministers and have their egos stroked. There's much more important things than that. The system is broken, it's not working, and it won't work because it's incapable of that.

Q: You're often critical, but it could be said there is a need to find more solutions rather than always attacking.

A: I don't think that is fair. Part of my role, and I suppose it falls to somebody outside the Executive, is to logically and clearly articulate where the flaws are in this system. Those with a self-interest in sustaining the system aren't going to do it.

Now, the system and its failures almost speak for themselves. I find I hardly have to make the case at all. Joe Public out there knows Stormont isn't working. When you look at it, I think my analysis is pretty sound.

Q: The main political parties are today involved in talks aimed at resolving differences. You're here with me. Does that not point to you being on the wrong path?

A: I'm not involved because I am excluded. I remind your readers that just four or five months ago, over 100,000 unionists went to the polls and voted for an alternative vision by voting for parties other than the Executive. That's almost a third of the unionists who voted. Yet the Secretary of State sets up a talks process supposedly to work out a way forward and what's the first thing she does? Excludes the representatives of those 100,000 unionists and sits down only with the parties of failure.

Q: Earlier you referred to "whoever that may be" when speaking about a coalition. That would never include Sinn Fein?

A: TUV will not be in government with Sinn Fein.

Q: You would never go into coalition with Sinn Fein?

A: They're not in government to give the people of Northern Ireland good government. That's why they are anxious and eager to bankrupt the place, never mind all the rest of the things they do.

I have no interest or commonality with those of that Marxist persuasion. If they can persuade others, they can share a platform with them in government on health and education, on welfare reform and all those issues. If together they can command the requisite majority, then whether I like it or not, my role is opposition.

But, equally, if I can persuade others that my vision is the better vision on health, education, welfare reform, etc, and we collectively, whoever we might be, form the necessary majority, then we are entitled to govern and Sinn Fein's role is opposition.

IRA/Sinn Fein (was guaranteed) a place in government as part of the sordid deal that was the Belfast Agreement. (It is as if they were told), "If you kill a few less people, bomb a few less businesses, we'll guarantee you a place in the government of the country whose name you won't speak".

Q: That's very outdated language, Sinn Fein/IRA.

A: Didn't Sinn Fein climb to power on the backs of the IRA terror? Isn't that why we've created these bizarre governmental arrangements? It's morally wrong, politically wrong and utterly reprehensible.

Q: In recent days, we've had children's heart services moved to Dublin. What did you make of that?

A: We're told that for safety reasons we must move to Dublin. I ask the question, "Is someone saying what we have had has been unsafe?" I know of no cases where instances have been demonstrated of a lack of safety for the children treated at the Royal. They say it is unsustainable. Well how has it been sustainable to date? There suddenly isn't a reduction in the throughput. It has been a pretty level throughput all these years. So something that was working, was fundable, was delivering for years... suddenly we're told it is unsustainable. I don't accept that.

Q: If they were being moved to Birmingham, would your view be the same?

A: Yes. I want a local service and I'm concerned the promise they will retain some sort of assistance service in the Royal will only be kept in the short-term. How often have we seen things start to slide? You're assured that won't happen, that things will stay. In a couple of years, that which was promised is then unsustainable. I'm concerned this is something which will lead to the removal of all services, and I think that's wrong. The Northern Ireland taxpayer is entitled in respect of the sickest of children to have a local service and facility. It's not a question and shouldn't be about cold pounds and pence. It should be a matter of doing what's right for those kids.

Q: The decision was made after consultation with health experts.

A: In this instance, they called in American experts with experience of American hospitals. Most American hospitals have a helicopter service attached to them because of the scale of the country. So if you are in hospital A and you need to be in hospital B, you are very swiftly transferred. It's not how it's going to be here.

Q: You aren't saying you know more about this than the experts?

A: I'm not saying I know more about it in terms of the clinical aspects, of course I don't. I do know this: that Northern Ireland, having had for years a sustainable, successful paediatric and congenital heart unit at the Royal, is suddenly being told it can't have that which is working, that which was sustainable, and it has to go elsewhere. I am very sceptical of the reasons and justification which are being produced.

Q: We are in the grip of unprecedented public sector cuts. Surely a good starting point would be the end of the protest at Twaddell?

A: Why is it costing £40,000 per night? I'm not aware of people threatening violence from the unionist side of the community at Twaddell. What I am aware of is an orchestrated denial at the behest of republicans who have threatened violence, and a denial by the Parades Commission of the most modest request – that people should be able to exercise a right of freedom of assembly and expression by walking a portion of the public road.

It's not a republican road, not a unionist road. It's a public road to return to the place from which they were permitted to walk on the Twelfth 2013. It is the absurdity of the decision which has sparked the resulting stand-off and therefore the cause of the £40,000 per night, if that's what is. Maybe the bill should be sent to the Parades Commission. Or maybe common sense should prevail. It's six minutes up a road.

Q: So should the protest go on then?

A: It's a lawful, legitimate protest.

Q: TUV has been in existence for several years now with little meaningful growth in support. Why?

A: We just had our highest vote ever in the European election, where I had the privilege of getting 76,000 votes and coming within a whisker of catching the Ulster Unionist candidate and well ahead of the Alliance candidate and others. So I don't accept we're not making progress. Also, with a diminished number of council seats available, we have enhanced our council representation and have 13 councillors. We are still a small party in terms of organisational capacity, but we are in a growth cycle and, more importantly, we are in tune with a rising tide of feeling within the unionist community. They recognise the fundamental common sense we say about Stormont and other issues and appreciate that, even within the confines of an opposition-hostile Stormont, I as an MLA have been able to achieve things such as Ann's Law.

Q: You are confident you won't spend the rest of your career as a lone voice in the wind?

A: That wouldn't be my ambition. It would be to have more TUV representatives elected. But, being a democrat, all of that is in the laps of the electors.

Q: Have you considered joining UKIP?

A: I have a lot of time for UKIP, I worked closely with UKIP when I was a member of the European Parliament.

I have a lot of common cause with them. I embrace their concept that we'd be better off out of the EU, but they have a focus which is wider than the TUV focus, which is, I suppose, Northern Ireland-centric.

I see complementary roles for the two parties in Northern Ireland. That doesn't mean there can't be things like voting pacts in proportional representation elections and that sort of thing.

Q: Have you held those discussions with UKIP in terms of electoral pacts?

A: No I haven't had those discussions. You are asking me what my view is on co-operation with UKIP and I've given you an example of where something like that might be worth pursuing. I can't proscribe UKIP's response to anything like that.

Q: Is it true they asked you to join in 2007?

A: I had discussions and invitations, which I considered. I don't want to say anything more about it than that.

Q: Why didn't you accept their overtures?

A: Because my future representation, I believed, lay in Northern Ireland.

Q: What is your relationship like with DUP members?

A: There are some who, every time I met them, had a great interest in their shoe laces. I maybe see less of that now. I think now they are getting a crick in their neck looking over their shoulders because TUV has been a restraining influence.

Q: Do you lie in bed at night thinking of ways to embarrass the DUP?

A: (Laughs) No I don't. I lie in bed at night thinking of ways to improve a situation which isn't working.

Q: You spent a large proportion of your life campaigning and fighting for the DUP. Do you regret it?

A: That's the most difficult question you've asked. Maybe not. If you had said to me, "Come and join the party" in 1971, which I did, and said, "It is robust and irreproachable in its stand against republicanism... but in the end will bring an IRA commander in as joint first minister", I'm sure my answer would have been no.

Q: Do you feel betrayed by the DUP?

A: It doesn't matter what I think. There are a lot of unionists who struggle to understand what the DUP and, in particular, Ian Paisley's battles were about.

Q: Some might say you have taken the mantle of Dr No, a sort of cartoon character, the one-man opposition.

A: Well, if you expect me to say there will come a day when I say yes to the IRA, I believe you will be sorely disappointed.

Q: What's your proudest moment in politics to date?

A: Getting Ann's Law through. Particularly in the present political arrangements, the most forgotten and the neglected group, I think, are the innocent victims, who are almost an embarrassment to the present political arrangements. The victim-makers have been given a position of ascendancy.

  • A production error in the print edition of the Belfast Telegraph led to one question answered by Willie Frazer being wrongly included in the interview with Jim Allister. In the question Mr Frazer had said five members of his family and six friends had been murdered. We apologise for the error.

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