Doug Beattie: Health is a top political priority for UUP but our main effort is the NI Protocol
I have a huge respect for Ben Lowry who I view as a friend; that has not changed.
Yet it is important to challenge Ben when words are used in a manner that does not reflect nuance or understanding of a particular position (‘Ben Lowry: It is clear that Edwin Poots is not taking the DUP in a remotely hardline direction,’ June 5, see link below).
Ben is right when he said I made it clear health was a priority for me.
Of course it is, we have over 300,000 people on waiting lists, some getting sicker, some dying.
For any political leader to say that is not a priority would be a dereliction of duty.
Yet health can be linked to so many other things such as poverty or drugs misuse.
Dealing with those is also a priority. The same can be said of the Northern Ireland Protocol which, if not addressed, will prevent drugs commissioned in Great Britain being allowed into Northern Ireland.
So the protocol is a priority.
This argument that we can only deal with one issue at a time in some kind of sequential priority order is simply wrong.
If you are dying on a waiting list and treatment can save your life then that becomes a priority, if you are a teacher and the majority of your class is on free school meals then poverty may be your priority, if you are in the police then dealing with some aspects of crime is your priority.
The same can be said of business owners where the Covid pandemic is strangling their business so dealing with that becomes their priority.
None of that means that the Northern Ireland Protocol is not something that they do not want addressed be that for health reasons or business reasons.
So for me the Northern Ireland Protocol is not just a priority but it is the political main effort.
It is the main effort because if we don’t deal with it then it could lead to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and all those issues, poverty, health, justice, the economy will be left floundering with no direction.
The Ulster Unionist Party have been raising concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol since October 2019.
We warned of what will happen yet now, purely because I show a degree of compassion, empathy, understanding and prioritisation of our health service and those sitting on waiting lists, my unionist credentials and those of my party are challenged in this manner.
I have said before and I will say it again.
Do not confuse friendship with weakness. We know what the task ahead of us is and we are working to address all the issues that face our society.
We are a union because of the people; ignore their needs and we lose the union.
Less tactical posturing and more strategic thinking wouldn’t go amiss amongst some influencers in our society.
Doug Beattie MC MLA, Ulster Unionist Party leader
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