Editorial: ​Northern Ireland needs more than gushing ministerial praise

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News Letter editorial on Wednesday October 4 2023

​The last fringe meeting on the last main day of the Tory conference began at 11pm last night.

​It was held by Finnebrogue, one of the UK's leading food producers, a family-owned business in Co Down. There was great shock when its founder Denis Lynn died in a quadbike accident two years ago, and there is huge goodwill that in his absence the company will continue to thrive.

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Last night’s popular event offered Tory conference delegates the opportunity to gather over drinks and bacon baps made by Finnebrogue. The reception was a smart way to gain publicity among people who work in and around government, and to showcase the best of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker spoke warmly about Finnebrogue at the reception, and about NI and its potential, as his secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris did at the NI Conservatives reception. Such ministers are right to praise the province, with its skilled and keen workforce and long industrial culture. Yet the tradition of ministers coming into Northern Ireland and gushing about its people and its charmed way of life is nowhere near enough if, as they so often claim, they care about the Union. Mr Heaton-Harris joked about NI being as British as Finchley when the Windsor Framework elevates the Irish Sea border to a more forceful level than it has been. Such a joke would once have irritated nationalists, now they can laugh at its detachment from reality.

The government is working on some legal pledge to woo the DUP back into Stormont. If NI is to thrive, indeed survive, in the UK much more needs to be done, including a root and branch reform of the NIO so that the succession of uninformed ministers who arrive here do so to an informed bureaucracy that is working night and day to keep NI in the UK. There is no sign of a move towards such an outcome.