UUP leader calls for ‘voluntary coalition of the willing’

Robin Swann sick of progress in North being held up because one party ‘being swung by the tail’

A "voluntary coalition" of parties willing to serve together in Northern Ireland should be established if Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists cannot agree, the Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann has urged.

"It is time for the institutions to move on, it is time for politics to move on, it is time for that change that allows Northern Ireland politicians to form an Executive of the willing. A voluntary coalition," he said.

Calling on the Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire to act quickly, Mr Swann told the UUP annual conference parties that "either can't do it, or aren't willing to do it" should " get out of the way!"

Referring to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, Mr Swann said: "I am sick of progress in Northern Ireland being held up because one party is being swung by the tail by a TD who has no mandate in Northern Ireland."


Get out of the way’

Saying the Ulster Unionists must become radical moderates, Mr Swann continued: “Look at what the extremes have done for our country. Crisis and stalemate and talks process after talks process.

“I am not content just to leave them to it. It’s time to leave behind parties that cannot govern, parties that are incompetent at governing, parties that cannot agree a way forward.

Making clear his opposition to SF’s demand for a free-standing Irish language Act, Mr Swann said he had no issue with helping those who cherish the language, but “the language and an Irish language Act are two separate issues”.

“It is not scaremongering to express concerns that legislation would lead to further division in society. We would no longer be reliant on flags or painted kerbstones – we would know whose territory we were in by the road signs.”

Saying that Northern Ireland may have more to lose than any other part of the United Kingdom from Brexit, Mr Swann said people in NI should focus "all of our energies" on making sure that NI's voice is heard.

‘Totally unacceptable’

However any exit deal “that puts a de facto Border up the middle of the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and pulls us out of the UK single market would be totally unacceptable”, he warned.

The Brexit debate should not raise questions about Northern Ireland’s place in the UK: “The constitutional position was settled in 1998. We should be looking to the future together,” he said.

People should not get “ drawn into using Brexit as a proxy vehicle for a United Ireland. It won’t work, but it will further divide what we have already got,” he said.

Directing a message to Loyalist and Republicans groups, he said the UUP will not give “political cover” to people who try to be “community workers by day and extortionists or political bullies by night, loyalist or republican”.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times