Slowly but surely Northern Ireland politics is emerging from their sectarian past. The Tory/UUP deal may even encourage a few Tory minded Catholics to transfer their allegiances. It may not happen overnight, but this move will be seen by many as not only David Cameron, but the UUP opening up a bigger tent.The official statement put out by Owen Paterson, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland puts it succinctly...
The Northern Ireland Conservatives have agreed unanimously and the Ulster Unionist Executive with virtual unanimity to back this agreement. I very much hope this new force will reach out to all voters, particularly those who feel they have been alienated by the current political landscape in Northern Ireland and want to influence national Government, putting sectarian divisions behind them.”It remains slightly unclear as to what banner candidates will stand. Apparently there are a few difficulties with the electoral authorities over this. I would have thought Ulster Conservatives was as good a compromise as any. After all, we have the Scottish and Welsh Conservatives.
But this agreement is about far more than party politics. It is a sign that the Good Friday Agreement is succeeding and a further sign that sectarian politics is on the wane. I really hope that the LibDems and Labour Parties follow suit with the Alliance and the SDLP respectively. If they do, the sectarian interests which dominate Sinn Fein and the DUP will, over time, diminish in importance. They are certainly still there at the moment.
If Northern Ireland is to succeed it needs to attract the very best people into politics - the kind of people who, for the last twenty or thirty years wouldn't have given a political career a second thought. This move will encourage them to do so.
Well done to Owen Paterson for his tenacity and dedication in pulling this off. It's a real achievement to be proud of.