An admirable plan from three men who tried to make Stormont work

Morning View
Morning View

Three politicians who were once prominent in the Ulster Unionist Party have unveiled an interesting plan to revive Stormont.

David Campbell, David McNarry and Michael McGimpsey are proposing that the people of Northern Ireland vote in referendums on three contentious issues in the talks: Irish language, gay marriage and abortion.

Some observers will be suspicious of the intentions of these three men, thinking that they are suggesting polls likely to get the result they prefer.

In fact, as David McNarry says, public views on these issues are far from clear cut, particularly the two social-ethical matters, where pro and anti opinion is not closely correlated to cultural background.

It is almost certain, for example, that same sex marriage would pass comfortably in such a referendum, with growing support across the community for it (there are polls that show unionist support for gay marriage is in decline since republicans made it a red line, but even they show very high levels of backing among Protestant voters now).

Mr Campbell, Mr McNarry and Mr McGimpsey were all supporters of David Trimble in the late 1990s. They have a track record of trying to make devolution work with the support of the two main communities. But their new proposal, while admirable, has been dismissed by nationalist voices, who are intransigent about what they describe as ‘rights issues’.

Sinn Fein is unlikely to do a deal unless the DUP caves in on republican demands. That would be a disaster for Northern Ireland and would lead to fresh demands in the future.

Yesterday, Simon Coveney spoke at Stormont as if he had an equal say over Northern Ireland. Why did London allow that?

He referred to implementation of outstanding agreements: that is code for a wish list such as a Bill of Rights, a Pat Finucane inquiry and a standalone Irish language act.

Fresh evidence how London weakly indulges Dublin as a joint voice over the talks, even when the Irish behave with a disgraceful partisanship that would never be accepted from the UK.