A former senior Ulster Unionist has defended his assertion that nationalists are not entitled to full political equality – if that equality exceeds the level of their political mandate.
Lord Kilclooney, the former UUP MP and MEP now sitting as a cross-bench peer, sparked outrage when he said that while nationalists “must have equal opportunity with everyone else,” they are “a political minority in Northern Ireland”.
The remarks were initially made on Twitter but Lord Kilclooney elaborated when invited to do so by the Irish News.
“I get worried when Gerry Adams talks about equality – and I make the distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of political support. The distinction is to ensure that each individual in Northern Ireland is equal in life’s opportunities, whereas politically it means nationalism is a minority political force,” he said.
Then known as John Taylor, in 1998 Lord Kilclooney helped negotiate the Belfast Agreement which ensured Northern Ireland was governed by cross-community consent.
On Wednesday evening he said he found Twitter’s 140-character limit per message “restrictive” resulting in tweets which were “sometimes misconstrued”.
He added: “What I’m saying is that all people, nationalists in particular, must have equal opportunity with everyone else.”
The former minister in an earlier Stormont government went on to say that although nationalists were entitled to their seats on the Stormont Executive, they had to “recognise they are a minority and can’t dictate terms”.
Lord Kilclooney further defended his position on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme yesterday.
“It’s very important that in a modern society...that we have equally opportunity for everyone, whether Irish or British, nationalist or unionist, Catholic of Protestant. Equal opportunity is essential for everyone.
“But, when it comes to equality that is a different issue. In political terms, in democratic terms, the pro-united Ireland vote is not equal to the pro-united Kingdom vote. It’s not equality in political terms, but certainly we are equal in individual terms.”
Asked what he meant when he used the word ‘equality,’ Lord Kilclooney said: “That each individual, irrespective of politics or religion, has an equal opportunity in our society to get a job, get a house, to live a free life.”
He also said that while he had concerns about the cost of an Irish language act, he believes “we have a duty to preserve” the Irish language.