Letter: Deterrents to a career in politics in Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online
Sir: I agree with a good deal of your leading article on the lack of involvement of the Protestant middle class in politics in Northern Ireland (1 September), though middle-class rejection of politics is not confined to those of one religion. However, it is illogical to conclude that such people will be attracted to politics by a glorified county council at Stormont, with responsibilities but very few real powers, and with constant interference (not co-operation) from a foreign government.

It is not surprising that politically ambitious and able people have been reluctant to enter politics in Northern Ireland. They have always been deterred by a very low glass ceiling. At Westminster they could never aspire to be more than backbench MPs of small, obscure, powerless provincial parties, or county councillors with high-falutin titles at Stormont. Unlike UK citizens resident in Great Britain, those living in Northern Ireland could never aspire to becoming Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, etc, or even Leader of the Opposition or a shadow minister. Brian Mawhinney would not have become a minister if he still lived in Northern Ireland,

However, since 1989 there has been a change. The Conservative Party is now organised here and this does give an outlet for politically ambitious and bright young (or middle-aged) people of any religion - or none. Unfortunately the Conservative Government and hierarchy have failed to support this way forward and out of sectarian, dead-end politics. Instead they have done all they can to encourage the old guard in their narrow rigidity, thus condemning Northern Ireland to be locked in a sectarian ghetto.

Apart from not attracting people of calibre into politics, a devolved government or administration will do nothing to improve the financial and security situation. We do not need the tired old guard bickering over a few bones tossed from Westminster or Dublin. We need a settled, confident community, and this will not be achieved unless Northern Ireland has an assured future as a full part of a fundamentally economically-sound state, with all the attendant privileges and responsibilities.

The UK economy is going through a bad patch, but it is still grossly superior to that of the Irish Republic. Any suggestion of joint sovereignty would create uncertainty about NI's future, bringing instability, on which terrorism thrives, and lack of inward investment and new industry.

Yours faithfully,



1 September