Unionist common sense prevails in seats where SF might win

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Common sense has prevailed.

The DUP is to stand down in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the general election, and the Ulster Unionists are to stand down in North Belfast.

In both seats, the likely outcome of a split unionist vote would be a Sinn Fein MP.

Unionists across Northern Ireland, from the most liberal to the most hardline, view current republican leaders with contempt. They have, more than ever in recent years, been celebrating IRA murderers. They have been allowed by aTory government to bring down Stormont, and set conditions for its return. And they have created new nationalist grievances.

It is understandable that Steve Aiken, as an incoming leader, wanted to make his mark. There is a plausible argument to be made that unionism has suffered one disastrous setback after another since 2016, and that it needs radical new direction. But realistically, the UUP standing in North Belfast would either have meant a humiliating result, of a vote measured perhaps in the hundreds, or John Finucane as MP, a prospect that most unionists would view with contempt.

The loose pact that has (in effect) been agreed between the two main unionist parties does not for a moment mean that relations between them are good, or that either of them has a clear and deserving route to widespread unionist support.

The UUP came under fire for even contemplating standing in North Belfast, but it deserves rich credit for its unwavering opposition to the mooted legacy Historical Investigations Unit. It is worrying plans for a police misconduct element to the proposed body ever got so far, and that Stormont House has so many openings for chasing the UK state but no obvious routes to examining Irish state failures in the Troubles.

The UUP is also right to oppose an Irish language act.

In most seats, unionists will have a choice of candidates in the coming election and voters can grill those candidates as to where they stand on such issues, and to ask how we have ended up in the disastrous situation of an Irish Sea border.