It is an honour and privilege to have been appointed as Northern Ireland Policy Director for the Centre for the Union. I look forward to working with the strong UK-wide policy team, including Ethan Thoburn in England, Matthew McKinnon in Wales and Ross Thomson in Scotland, to develop shared policies which can strengthen our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Alongside that work, each of us will be working regionally on relevant local issues, whilst feeding into shared UK policy objectives.
In Northern Ireland our 2023 plan will focus heavily on developing constitutional law capacity and knowledge, particularly across working-class unionist communities, to equip and power a new generation of activists to advance the cause of the Union, and to do so with informed policy and legislative ideas.
Inherent within this objective is obviously increasing awareness as to the constitutional damage inflicted upon the Union by the NI Protocol.
In addition, we will be looking at reform of the Belfast Agreement to ensure a balanced settlement which respects the rights of unionists as well as nationalists.
A key area of focus will be on the principle of consent, and ensuring that the safeguard operates to protect the substance rather than merely the symbolism of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
On this the Northern Ireland policy team will continue to work closely with our Parliamentary Chairman Ian Paisley MP on the progression and development of his constitutional bill aimed at ensuring balanced protections for the United Kingdom and ensuring the principle of self-determination is properly recognised as being truly a matter to be exercised by the peoples of the Union as a whole, rather than on a regional basis.
Of crucial importance is, at the very least, ensuring the principle of consent in the NI Act 1998 applies in a manner which protects the substance of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the Union. In the absence of the present inherent imbalance (whereby the principle of consent only guards against the final handover of sovereignty and nothing else) being corrected, there is no basis for power sharing involving unionists.
We will further be undertaking detailed work on exploring the imbalance across various influential professions and institutions, and looking at ways in which this can be combatted in the short term, but more fundamentally rectified in the short term.
This, inevitably, will involve young unionists entering professions such as media, law and academia and using their positions therein to advance the cause of the Union.
These are just some of the areas we are initially focusing on. The NI Policy team will also be reactive as well as proactive and aim to respond quickly with detailed policy documents and analysis to any political developments, with particular focus on the ongoing dispute arising from the subjugation of Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, caused by the NI Protocol.
I look forward to planned engagement with a range of pro-Union stakeholders both in Northern Ireland and around the rest of the United Kingdom in the coming months as we seek to strengthen the Union.