Conservatives will stand by peace process in North, says Hague

 

The shadow foreign secretary says he wants the North to return to the mainstream of British politics, writes GERRY MORIARTY

A CONSERVATIVE government would hold to the commitment in the 1993 British-Irish Downing Street Declaration that Britain has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland, according to Tory shadow foreign secretary William Hague.

Mr Hague said in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, yesterday that the Irish Government had no reason to feel nervous over the Conservatives’ commitment to the peace and political process notwithstanding Tory leader David Cameron’s insistence that he would “never be neutral on the union”.

Asked if the principle of Britain not having a “selfish, strategic or economic interest” in Northern Ireland would hold under a Tory government, Mr Hague replied: “Yes, of course. This is not a selfish or strategic interest. This is about people who want to live and work together.”

Almost two weeks ago Labour Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward said the formal alliance between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservatives under the umbrella of UCUNF (Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force) was “highly destabilising” for the peace process. Mr Woodward added, “I think Cameron has created an impossible position for any prospective Conservative government because by readopting a selfish, strategic interest in Northern Ireland what they have done is to actually give away the very instrument that enabled the peace process to succeed, which is that Britain actually [pursued] no selfish strategic interest”.

Mr Hague in his speech at the UCUNF manifesto launch yesterday said the choice for British voters was between Mr Brown “who thinks that the British government should be neutral on the union, or David Cameron who has said that he will never be neutral on the union”.

After his speech he was asked had the Dublin Government any cause for concern based on Mr Cameron’s comments about the union. “They shouldn’t be nervous about that at all,” he said.

Referring to how the last Tory prime minister John Major saw through the Downing Street Declaration with former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, he added, “I am sure they will remember which party started that whole process, and which prime minister started that whole process. There would be no grounds for such nervousness. The Conservative Party has been committed throughout.

“It was committed when John Major was prime minister, when I was the leader when I came jointly with Tony Blair in the [1998 Belfast Agreement] referendum to appeal for people to vote yes in that very important decision by the people here.

“We have been committed to it throughout, we are committed to it to the future, and everything we have said and done is very much in line with that.

“We were the original champions of the peace process and we remain utterly committed to it and dedicated to it,” said Mr Hague.

“You will find a very positive approach from a Conservative government, but of course as a Conservative party we have always been believers in the union.”

Amid speculation over Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey, were he elected to the House of Commons, getting a post in a Tory cabinet, Mr Hague referred to the possibility of UCUNF MPs from the North serving in a British government. He said, “Imagine the message that would be sent around the world if, in time, the foreign secretary or the home secretary, the environment secretary or even the prime minister in a UK government sat for a constituency in Northern Ireland.

“There would be no better way of saying that the semi-detached status of Northern Ireland had come to an end and that Northern Ireland was back in the mainstream of British politics.”