25 challenges for political unionism to build a better (and more successful) “us”…

A group calling themselves the Northern Ireland Development Group have published a fascinating document today, which you can find as a PDF here. At the core of it is 25 challenges for political unionism to take build a better future for Northern Ireland.

They are, as follows:

1. Emphasise Northern Ireland as a place for all; as a shared home, in shared isles and a shared island, and with a shared (if also divergent) history. Also recognise that the future should be based on representingNorthern Ireland as a modern and diverse part of the UK.

2. Stress that some 200 all-Ireland bodies exist. Cooperation already happens between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic. Represent Northern Ireland as a place where you can do anything you want and where there is no need for constitutional change in order to realise aspirations and opportunities.

3. Win-lose politics has entrenched division and hostility. There is now a need for a more collaborative politics that stresses progression rather than protection.

4. Understand that unionism is getting weaker because of an inability to change. Unionism must recognise the pain of partition and take responsibility for leading debates on the past. That past should be envisaged in terms of a new, collaborative and respectful future that values partnership and dignity with those who willwork for the betterment of all the people.

5. More needs to be done to ensure that Northern Ireland works for everyone. Draw on examples of success such as the IFA’S

Football For All campaign. Deliver that message consistently and coherently.

6. What are the values and needs of the next generation that unionism should respond to and address? Define and use citizenship as a basis for social responsibility and seek to support and grow the work of the voluntary sector for social development and shaping political action. Use the voluntary sector to highlight aspiration, creativity and potential.

7. Stress the importance of social justice through anti-sectarian legislation and confront all forms of discrimination. Act strongly to diffuse points of tension and soften hardened boundaries betweencommunities.

8. Work to build the middle-ground to end the dominance of the two-party system and address class differences as a basis for division. This means viewing loyalist communities, not as paramilitarycommunities, but working-class communities. Strive to address working- class concerns and issues. Develop task groups to work closely and systematically with loyalist communities. Involve loyalism in developing a social contract of responsibilities and priorities for change.

9. Develop platforms for women’s voices to be heard. Underrepresentation of women legitimises the opinions of men which are

often at odds with women. This must be addressed and used as evidence of greater inclusivity.

10. Promote IT, film, science and medical advances as well as the considerable economic developments in Northern Ireland and use progress in these areas as a motivation and inspiration for what is possible. Develop a strong ethos of education and create more support for adult education in deprived areas. Emphasize the need to maximise the economic and innovation potential of Northern Ireland.

11. Re-open the civic forum (included in the Good Friday Agreement) to include non- party political diverse voices in political priorities. Use the vibrancy of grassroots activity to inform political priorities and let communities see that what they are doing also informs political choices and decisions.

12. Revisit the Good Friday Agreement and develop areas that underpin unionist transformation (such as parity of esteem). Draw from the language of agreement and be prepared to confront incompetence andarrogance in politics where it exists. Promote competence in government by focussing on shared responsibilities. Carry a demeanour of pragmatism. Constantly look for alternatives.

13. Realise that people who are not unionist in outlook are now more important for the longevity of the Union. Communicate to reach such people. Consider what unionists who do not come across as unionists might look and sound like. Who might personify that image? Address the negative media image that endures by providing young progressive voices to articulate inclusive positions

14. Do not defend the indefensible and be categorical about the impact of violence and criminality. But do not condemn whole communities to an affiliation with criminality simply because there are criminals in those communities. Most people want crime to be confronted and dealt with. Call for policing to build safe and secure communities and not just deliver enforcement.

15. Build external relationships and friendships across the Union, with the U.S., Europe and the Commonwealth. Work with the U.S. to try and influence developments in the Union and with Europe.

16. Address poverty as a manifestation of systematic and structural divisions. Acknowledge how poverty drives people into defending identity more. Be clear on the absence of a peace dividend and what must be done about it by developing and implementing strategies.

17. Transform tribalism into collective responsibility to develop the integration of education. Encourage local voluntary sectors to help educate on skills that bring individual and economic advantages to communities.

18. Recognise that hybrid identities are now driving social and political agendas and use this to promote the Union as dynamic and changing. Many people who are pro-Union also have difficulty identifying with being unionist. Embrace the diversity of Northern Ireland.

19. Prioritise the concerns of the young (such as climate change) as a basis for momentum and energy since many are now uninspired and uninterested in traditional portrayals of national identity. Their interests relate more to opportunity and individual development. This should be encouraged and used as evidence of the value of change.

20. Do not pick and chose issues only to serve short-term aims. Think long-term and strategically to support those goals. Work to a strategy of generating engagement and collaboration for building and promoting a shared society.

21. Seek to develop a culture of accommodation by using terms like respect, collaboration, potential, aspiration, opportunities, fairness and common good. Become a ‘consensus-building’ political movement.

22. Seek a range of diverse voices to help develop a more inclusive pro-union position in Northern Ireland.

23. Adopt a constructively critical approach to address genuine failings of the Protocol as well as identify economic potential. Use tensions as evidence of the need for more reconciliatory and respectful dialogue. Look beyond the issue and think what needs

to be done to get a positive outcome that reflects the genuine concerns of all and is consistent with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

24. Start claiming success, even if partial. Display confidence. Acknowledge that fear is the basis for regression not progression. Overcome intransigence by building confidence not fear. Become used to depicting disadvantage as advantage by using it as the basis for momentum rather than stasis.

25. Think ‘globally’ and give thought to how the pro-union position is seen outside of Northern Ireland. Think about how communities see each other and what they think they know about each other.

The authors are: Rev. Chris Hudson MBE, Cllr Dr John Kyle MRCGP, Trevor Ringland MBE, Professor Graham Spencer.

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