May 24, 2022

“The solution will be found not on the basis of victory of both the parties but on the basis of agreement and partnership between the two parties.” He is credited with the late John Hume, who is considered by some to be the architect of the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 2022, the heart of nationalism in Northern Ireland seems to have changed. The principle of coincidence promoted by its famous founder has been set aside. Despite a single Unionist elected representative supporting the protocol, nationalism demands its strict implementation.

Development in our province is possible only if the arrangements rely on both traditions. Setting up a border in the Irish Sea without the support of unionism is a departure from this basic principle.

Trade checks between the UK and Northern Ireland cost 2.5m per day. That’s £ 100,000 per hour. Businesses no longer have uninterrupted access to and from their primary market. A market responsible for the majority of trade reaching Northern Ireland. In fact, we buy four times more GB than the Irish Republic.

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Consumers no longer enjoy the same rights and freedoms as their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales. Many of the products available there are not available in Northern Ireland. The people who make it here are worth more. There is still a risk of major drug overdose. The EU is even demanding that people traveling within the Common Travel Area be screened.

All of this represents a vague change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Those who suggest such a change are likely to lose the big picture only through a referendum. If Northern Ireland’s UK membership benefits are systematically stripped away – and our economy turned to Dublin – without our consent, the border referendum becomes less of a question and more of a formality.

The Protocol should not have been agreed or enforced without the prior and explicit consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It is so clear. The ultimate responsibility lies with the government. The Secretary of State has expressed outrage at the lack of an active executive to make decisions. This is despite the fact that it has tried to override such decisions of locally elected ministers on important issues such as abortion, Irish language and voting reservations. Its irony will not go to the Unionists, among whom there is now a crisis of confidence in the value of deviation.

It is time to restore justice in Northern Ireland and build a better future. A future where the interests of unionism are respected, and one side is not superior to the other. We have a vision to transform our health services, tackle waiting lists, create more jobs, tackle living expenses and provide a fair start for every child. However, this vision cannot be realized while the impact of the Irish maritime border still hangs over Northern Ireland like the sword of the Democrats. We cannot build a better future while simultaneously engaging in daily losses against costly and disproportionate protocol barriers.

Short-term answers to very few problems will not eliminate the inactivity and democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol. We can’t just move the edge of the rock. Businesses deserve confidence. The Prime Minister talks about the need to correct. There is a need for a new way forward.

What unionism demands is a fair deal. One that opens the door to a successful and stable future for each community while maintaining the benefits of the union – including the NHS – for everyone. It is time to restore Northern Ireland’s position in the UK’s internal market. But most of all we need to look at the principle of coincidence, on which the future of deviation depends, has been restored to the heart of advancing this new path.

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