Those who suggest abandoning devolution should consider their decision very carefully.
They should weigh up the consequences.
Since 2001, we have been advocating that the best form of devolution is a voluntary coalition. However it has not been achievable, the reason for this is that courtesy of the 1998 model, agreement between the parties is required. Simply demanding it won’t get it.
We have been working bit by bit to improve the current model of devolution. The decision to reduce the number of departments was a result of DUP pressure. The decision to reduce the number of MLAs from six per constituency to five was a result of DUP pressure.
Getting to a better system is a process. It’s taking much longer than we would like but what we have is better than direct rule ministers, with no electoral interest in Northern Ireland, making decisions over our heads in cahoots with Dublin.
I remember the last direct rule decisions. They wanted to make people pay twice for their water and bring in double digit rates increases. As a result of devolution N.Ireland has the lowest household taxes of anywhere in the United Kingdom and we are second only to the region of London at attracting jobs into the UK. Our older folks have free travel on public transport.
The Open Golf Championship coming to Royal Portrush will demonstrate to the world that we are open for tourism as well as business. It would not have happened without devolved government and the DUP. Walking away from the current system doesn’t leave us with a better system. It leaves us with a worse system. With Sinn Fein trying hard to be part of the Republic of Ireland government next year for the 1916 commemorations, direct rule would be unacceptable for unionists.
There are three options on the table for unionists:
1. Build on the current system, make it stable, show that it is working and delivering, while not allowing SF or anyone else to re write the past, this helps to demonstrate why we didn’t have a stable government in the past.
2. Walk out and leave the government to it. London would then operate in consort with Dublin and we do not know who will be in the Dublin government next year. This option leaves unionism outside of any government but there is a Dublin government having direct influence. This would either have direct SF involvement if they were in that government or indirect influence if they weren’t.
3. Complain that option one is very slow and laborious and two is very unfair, and that nobody else has to put up with this and then wait for the government in London to see sense and implement a new system which would be what we want.
Option two is NOT a good idea. Option three is fantasy land. This leaves option one.
There are unionist politicians who want to exploit the current difficulties for their own short-term gain. They are not thinking for the longer-term and they are certainly not thinking in the best interests of Northern Ireland. Their sole motivation is to undermine the DUP.
If there had been a miracle cure for Ulster’s ills someone would have discovered it in the past forty years. They didn’t, because there isn’t one. We must continue the building work now, get the structures right for the future, while confronting those who caused the misery of the past.
At times the process won’t be pretty but bit by bit we will get there.
• Gregory Campbell is MP for East Londonderry