Tribal divisions exclude us from debate on future of UK

John McCallister
John McCallister

I note Nigel Dodds’ reaction to Gerry Kelly’s election leaflet which he described as ‘blatant sectarian head counting’.

I condemn Mr Kelly’s leaflet, but Nigel Dodds, the DUP and the UUP must acknowledge that the only difference between Sinn Fein’s leaflet and the unionist electoral pacts is the word ‘blatant’.

Unfortunately politics in Northern Ireland has historically been reduced to lining people up according to their religion on either side of a binary constitutional question.

The real economic and social needs of the entire community have repeatedly been ignored.

This is particularly depressing when opinion poll after opinion poll tells us that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, from all ‘community’ backgrounds and none, would actually vote to stay in the United Kingdom.

This should be telling all parties here to get on with the politics of governance, policy development and delivery.

Ironically a real debate about the future of the entire United Kingdom is taking place in Great Britain, yet, we are incapable of engaging in that debate in a meaningful way because our sectarian divisions have polluted our discussions about the UK in Northern Ireland and they have equally polluted our conversations with the peoples of Great Britain – leading us to ignore the debate and equally be ignored.

The current state of constitutional flux, resulting from the Scottish referendum and the pledge of English votes for English laws, has the potential to significantly influence the future of Northern Ireland’s economy and public finances.

The outworkings of the current constitutional debate may significantly impact upon every household here; much more than the rhetoric which surrounds our local electoral politics.

Northern Ireland’s politics needs a different narrative; it needs to shift to the politics of delivery and away from tribal division.

However, when the constitutional question does arise in a meaningful way – as is currently the case – we need to find a different and non-tribal language which allows us to engage in a grown up and inclusive conversation with our counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, as to be left out of such discussions is in no one’s interests.

As a package the Union serves us well and it still offers the best deal for all the people currently within it; but the case for the United Kingdom needs to be made in a much broader, inclusive and productive way.

l John McCallister is an independent MLA for South Down