Conservative Diary

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Owen Paterson refuses to be diverted from the task of building a party that represents the everyday corncerns of people in Northern Ireland

Lots of fuss this morning about the Conservative Party's relationship with the Ulster Unionists given the UUP's opposition to the recent devolution deal for Northern Ireland.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, was on Today this morning, defending the Tory position and has set out his key arguments in an op-ed for The Belfast Telegraph. In the article Mr Paterson underlines the extent to which the Tories have approached devolution in a bipartisan way and why the UUP-Tory alliance is part of a worthy ambition to normalise politics in the province:

"The Conservative Party has been consistent in its support for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We agree with the Government that these are best exercised by local politicians than by ministers in Westminster.  For us it is the final and hugely important piece of the devolution jigsaw.

That is why we backed the necessary legislation at Westminster this time last year. In the autumn David Cameron met Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness who sought assurances that a Conservative Government would honour the huge, open-ended and post-dated financial package that they had agreed with the Prime Minister. David Cameron immediately gave that assurance. We also welcomed the Hillsborough Castle Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein in February and expressed our hope that it would succeed. Throughout we have upheld the bi-partisan consensus with the Government. We may be the Official Opposition but on this issue we have been consistently supportive.

At the same time we have always said that the final details were for the parties in the Executive to decide, working as a proper four-party coalition. For months I have been urging the Secretary of State to include the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP in real and meaningful negotiations.

The Ulster Unionists have a number of real concerns about the functioning of the Executive and the future of education in Northern Ireland. Yet there is little evidence that sufficient efforts have been made to address them.  I hope that even at this late stage any outstanding issues and concerns can be resolved in a spirit of compromise.  Ultimately, however, we are simply not in a position to force our colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party, or any party in Northern Ireland, to vote in a particular way in the Assembly.

We are determined to make the political process in Northern Ireland work. Our overriding objectives remain the establishment of a peaceful, prosperous and stable society in which people have a shared future. Conservatives will continue to use our influence in Northern Ireland to move things forward. The Conservatives have an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionists for the Westminster elections.  We remain totally committed to establishing national, mainstream politics in Northern Ireland; we want to end Northern Ireland’s semi-detached status.  We want to move Northern Ireland politics forward – to focus on the issues that affect people in their everyday lives – rather than remaining stuck in the past. Conservatives and Unionists will not be deflected from that task."

This piece in the Belfast Telegraph examines the ways in which national newspapers have been trying to cause problems for the UUP-Tory Alliance.

Tim Montgomerie

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