Tory alliance with UUP 'destabilising' peace process

 

ELECTION PACT:THE CONSERVATIVE Party’s alliance with the Ulster Unionists is “highly destabilising” for the peace process and an act of “political stupidity” by Conservative leader David Cameron, Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward has claimed.

In some of his toughest criticisms yet of the alliance, Mr Woodward, speaking to The Irish Timesin London, said Mr Cameron had threatened his ability to act as “an honest broker” in Northern Ireland if he is elected prime minister on May 6th.

“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,” he said. “I believe that however much it was an issue of poor judgment, the alliance that Cameron has created in Northern Ireland is deeply unhelpful for political stability, should that be required,” Mr Woodward said.

The Conservative leader, he said, had turned his back on the policy adopted by his predecessor John Major in 1990 that Britain no longer had “any selfish strategic interest” in Northern Ireland.

“Let’s be really, really clear about this. In 1990, to John Major’s credit, Peter Brooke made a speech in which he said Britain was abandoning the selfish strategic interest in Northern Ireland.

“I think it was a terrible mistake and very poor judgment by David Cameron 18 months ago to interfere in the politics of Northern Ireland by forming an alliance with one of Northern Ireland’s political parties.

“My experience of driving this peace process for three years is that you need to be the honest broker. You need to be able to sit in a room, whether it is with Sinn Féin, or with the Democratic Unionist Party, and for all sides – whether nationalist, unionist, or republican – to feel that you are not doing this because you have any advantage point of view.

“You can believe in the union. That is not a problem, but you have to believe that the people of Northern Ireland have their right to self-determination above all else. That’s the principle of the Belfast Agreement above all else.”

Criticising the Ulster Unionists, Mr Woodward said the Conservatives have created an alliance with “a section of unionism that after all on March 9th actually voted not to complete devolution.

“You can’t on the one hand be for the peace process and, yet, be in an alliance with people who voted not to complete the process and I think it at best highly confusing and, at worst, highly destabilising. I think it showed Cameron’s very poor judgment.”

UK prime minister Gordon Brown had put “the national interest above everything else”, he said: “He actually believed that peace in Northern Ireland and securing agreement was above any party interest and I still cannot for the life of me understand what drove David Cameron to put that at risk.”

Mr Woodward also cast doubt on whether there will be a new Northern Ireland secretary of state in the British cabinet after May 6th, if Labour wins.

“I always said it was the strangest thing when I took on the job: how would I know that I had succeeded? I wouldn’t have a job. But I have to tell the pride I felt on Monday [when policing and justice powers were devolved] was just amazing,” he said.

Now that devolution is up and running, the British cabinet does not need to have “their person in Northern Ireland”, but it is important that one of the four British nations has someone representing it in the cabinet, he said.

“That is not about making the decisions for Northern Ireland: that is about devolution, but . . . you need to have a sense about the economy, you need to have a sense about foreign policy.”

But that does not necessarily mean a stand-alone secretary of state: “There are many ways you can skin this one, but I don’t think because devolution is done that you can say that the people of Northern Ireland can be left out of everything.”