Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Catholic UUP man can be an inspiration

Editor's viewpoint

Stephen McCarthy and the Ulster Unionist Party are the strangest of bedfellows in a province bedevilled by tribal politics.

He is the antithesis of the stereotypical unionist - born a Catholic on the Falls Road.

His grandfather was shot by loyalist paramilitaries and the family believe collusion was involved.

Yet Stephen, who was co-opted onto Antrim and Newtownabbey Council in October, believes in the Union.

He joined the UUP eight years ago as a teenager, and while his decision caused surprise among his SDLP-supporting family, they didn't try to change his mind.

This is a remarkable story. He is believed to be the first person from a working-class nationalist background to have joined the party in recent times. Indeed, Catholics active in unionist politics are as rare as hens' teeth.

The most notable Catholic unionist in the past 30 years was Sir John Gorman, a man with a distinguished military and business background who also was chief executive of the Housing Executive.

Yet, as Stephen says, there are significant numbers of Catholics who believe in the Union, mostly for its economic benefits, even if Brexit has introduced some doubts on that front.

The question for unionism - in particular the two main unionist parties - in the broadest sense is, how to assure these pro-Union Catholics that there is a place for them within their political ranks?

Stephen's experience has been positive, but it is not the impression most Catholics have of political unionism.

They see the DUP and UUP default position as exclusive, not inclusive.

Yet logic would dictate that unionism should have a greater outreach.

The Union is protected under the Good Friday Agreement as long as a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the UK.

Demographics suggest that such a tipping point could be reached within a couple of generations.

The best way of ensuring the preservation of the Union is to assure everyone living in Northern Ireland is equally valued, that society is truly inclusive, and political debate is about issues that affect daily life. We must not beat a sectarian drum to appease the greater number of backwoodsmen on either side of the political divide.

Stephen McCarthy's vision of politics is one that we should all aspire to.

Belfast Telegraph

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