TV personality Eamonn Holmes has floated the idea of a ‘non-political’ president for Northern Ireland, a suggestion he said could help people come together.
The broadcaster from Belfast also suggested a new flag and a new national anthem for Northern Ireland were a realistic prospect.
He said the role of a non-political figurehead would be someone both DUP and Sinn Féin supporters could look up to, and said sports people, businessmen and scientists would be good candidates for the position.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s William Crawley, the presenter of ITV’s ‘This Morning’ programme said people in Northern Ireland have “more in common than divides us”.
He said: “Genuinely, I respect people’s political allegiances and, do you know what, we have more in common than divides us.
The truth is, if you are Sinn Féin you’re Sinn Féin, if you’re DUP you’re DUP, if you’re official unionist or SDLP, if you’re Alliance Party.
“Whatever it is, you see the pyramid that we’re drawing here and you’re either far apart or closer together. “
He contrasted his hypothetical ‘Northern Ireland President’ with the positions of First and deputy First Ministers.
Mr Holmes said: “How do you get more people on a one-off basis to say ‘well look, I may be DUP or I may be Sinn Féin but do you know what, our President, we can all stand behind the President.’ We can all do that, that’s fine, whereas you mightn’t be able to stand behind the First Minister or the deputy First Minister. I think it creates a problem that we don’t necessarily have to have.”
The journalist, who is perhaps best known across the UK for the many years he spent presenting ‘GMTV’ on ITV, said a presidential figure could provide a ‘feel-good factor’
“It could be a good solution for us – a non political focus point, a feel-good factor,” he said. “Someone for high days and holidays, if that makes sense to you.”
He continued: “It has to be people that people trust. Sports people could be good. People who bring other people together. Someone who gives you common interest, respect. Business people, scientists.”
Interviewer William Crawley asked: “President Eamonn Holmes? It has a ring to it.”
Eamonn replied: “Anybody who would do it, anybody who would do the job has to love where we’re from, has to believe in what we do, has to want the best for us, amd has to genuinely put hands across the divide.”
He also suggested a national flag and a national anthem for Northern Ireland could be a positive move.
“You look at England, Scotland and Wales and even our rugby team where you stand behind ‘Ireland’s call’ and you sometimes think ‘why do we make it unduly complicated?’ Why don’t we just have something we all love, we all can stand together. Let’s move forward.”
Asked about a possible referendum on a flag for Northern Ireland, Holmes said: “Let’s keep it positive. It could be done. I don’t wish to be controversial, I’m just saying. I just see us as a collective, you know, all for one one for all.”
Eamonn Holmes was speaking in a pre-recorded interview with BBC TalkBack due to be broadcast on Easter Monday, excerpts of which were played on Thursday.