Cross-community consent the foundation of political progress

DUP Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has reminded the SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood that restoring cross-community consent will be essential for the return stable devolved government in Northern Ireland.

By Carla Lockhart Candidate

Upper Bann

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Mr Eastwood was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry into the effectiveness of the local political institutions.

Commenting afterwards, Carla Lockhart said:

‘‘If devolution is to deliver for communities it must have strong foundations. Progress will only be made when the political institutions command the broad support of both unionists and nationalists.

The Protocol has driven a horse and cart through the principle of consent - which the Belfast Agreement is absolutely clear should apply to all key decisions. As a result, Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, both economically and constitutionally, has been altered against the wishes of unionists and in the absence of the consent of a majority of our people.

This damage must be rectified if the Executive and Assembly are to be re-formed. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market must be restored and our constitutional arrangements respected going forward.

The SDLP needs to acknowledge the significance of the Irish Sea border, not just for our economy but for those of us who have a British and unionist identity. Nationalists were not prepared to accept checks on the border with the Irish Republic. Why then should unionists tolerate harmful trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

We also need to debunk the myth that a restored Executive is a silver bullet to the enormous financial challenges facing our public services. These pressures existed when the institutions were functioning and they are a result of chronic underfunding by the Treasury. Only the Government has the financial firepower to fix the problem and the other parties need to be honest with the public about this.

Anyone who thinks devolution can succeed without the broad support of the communities we represent is living in a fool’s paradise. The current impasse will not be resolved by simply changing the rules of the game to sideline unionists and impose majority rule on the people of Northern Ireland. Unionism should not be viewed as the problem but rather part of the solution. The late John Hume recognised that when he said that ‘‘only the most extreme and self-deluded believe it is possible to govern without inclusiveness.’’ Colum Eastwood should heed the warning of his former leader and belatedly accept that addressing unionism’s concern around the Protocol/Windsor Framework cannot be treated as an optional extra.’’

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