Belfast Telegraph

Claire Hanna: The general election cannot be fought along battle lines of Green, Orange and Other... for what happens in the next few weeks will shape our future for years to come

Avoiding a no-deal disaster at the hands of Boris Johnson is more important than party politics, says Claire Hanna

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The border

By Claire Hanna

The last three years have been awash with political "firsts" and "unprecedented" events, but the Supreme Court judgment last Tuesday hits home the scale of the challenge facing our collective peace and prosperity here in Northern Ireland.

Not only has the Prime Minister acted unlawfully in suspending Parliament at a time when our voices need to be heard most, it's as clear as day that it was a calculated, deliberate and reckless tactic to prevent democratically elected Members of Parliament holding him and his Government to account.

And, as we have come to expect, this unlawful decision was supported by the 10 DUP MPs, who still claim to represent the best interests of Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland we've been without an Assembly for nearly 1,000 days. While there is no doubt this is doing considerable and lasting damage to people's trust in their politicians, the truth is that representative democracy is still the only show in town.

We elect people to make decisions on our behalf and hold those in power to account for their actions. What and whom people vote for is important and in Northern Ireland we voted to Remain in the European Union.

The events of last week confirm what many of us expected about Boris Johnson's intentions and his approach to Ireland, north and south.

Not only has he demonstrated that he does not understand the issues we face, it has become clear, if we didn't know it already, that he doesn't care.

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It's crucial that we recognise what happened this past week, and over the past few weeks, for what it is.

It confirms that we are facing the biggest danger to our collective peace and prosperity since the end of violence and conflict.

Whether you're a unionist, a nationalist, or someone who prefers not to define as either, what happens in the next weeks and months will shape our future together for years to come.

It is now more vital than ever that we send a clear message to Westminster and get the representation that Northern Ireland has largely been denied in this debate.

The forthcoming general election is our chance to choose a different direction at this generational crossroads. It's a decision that transcends party politics.

It's not about "Orange", "Green", or "Other". It's not about accusing each other of sectarianism; it's not about the Union and it's not about a border poll.

It's about the chance to address the threat that impacts us all - our economy, our jobs, our NHS, our environment, our agri-food sector - and this is much bigger than any party, or ideology.

In recent weeks I was endorsed by the members and leadership of the SDLP to contest the seat in South Belfast as the person best able to win in a constituency where nearly 70% of people voted to Remain.

I'm aware that my decision to accept this has raised questions on my views on the exclusive partnership between the SDLP and Fianna Fail, after which I resigned my role as SDLP Brexit spokesperson.

The truth is that my views on this issue remain unchanged, although of course I remain a party member and SDLP MLA, including campaigning extensively in May's election.

I still believe in maintaining good relationships with all parties in Ireland who are committed to democratic and peaceful means and, indeed, further afield, through the Party of European Socialists.

However, sometimes some things are more important than party politics. On some occasions we stretch ourselves beyond our own parameters for something more important. For me, this election is one of those times.

Northern Ireland and South Belfast are my home. As a passionate and unashamed pro-European, I know the value of the EU to people here and I know the damage a no-deal or a hard Brexit would do to our hard-won peace process, our collective social and economic wellbeing and our ability to work together to respond to the biggest global challenges of our age: our changing climate and a fair future for those in the southern hemisphere.

The SDLP has been a major part of my life and I owe many of the values I try and use in my day-to-day work to its rich European heritage and social democratic credentials.

Since I entered elected politics, people in South Belfast, from right across its diverse communities, have placed their trust in me as someone who will stand up for our local interests, values and services.

I believe that the people in South Belfast deserve to have their voice properly represented in Westminster and I am asking for the chance to provide that representation to the best of my ability.

This is an election like no other; it cannot be fought along rigid battle lines of "Green", "Orange" and "Other". Those who try to frame it in this way are doing the people of Northern Ireland a disservice.

This election is about our future together; about forging a new path towards a truly shared society, where our people, our health, our economy and our happiness are our priority.

Claire Hanna is SDLP MLA for South Belfast and the party's prospective Westminster candidate for the constituency.

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