LETTER: UNIONIST INPUT NEEDED AT FRAMEWORK TALKS

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From Mr Andrew Hall

Sir: I was born in Belfast in 1972, on the same day the Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued. I grew up in a middle-class Protestant area never experiencing the peace that now exists. On the day of the IRA ceasefire, I left Northern Ireland to take up employment in England. I would not suggest that my view of the Framework Document is representative of younger unionist thinking, but it may be of interest in the light of the gap that, it has been suggested, may exist between the unionist leadership and grassroots unionism.

When I read the Downing Street Declaration, the statement to the effect that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom while a majority of the people of Northern Ireland so wished it, greatly reassured me. The reiteration of this statement in the Framework Document again reassured me. However, as you pointed out in your editorial (23 February), although there may be a Protestant veto over constitutional change, there is no such veto over political change.

The agenda suggested by the Framework Document includes a powerful cross- border institution, an inclusion which, Conor Cruise O'Brien asserts (23 February), will cause unionist rejection of the agenda and the consequent imposition of a regime in which unionists will have no say whatsoever. Possibly, but I hope not. I believe some degree of cross-border co-operation is required to reflect our two cultures, something lacking in recent Ulster Unionist proposals.

I hope that the unionist leaders will take part in any political talks that may result from this framework agenda. Unionist participation is particularly important with regard to the cross-border institution, which must be accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. Unionist input at the talks stage is vital to the establishment of any such accountability. The "digging-in-of-heels" approach of many older unionists will no longer suffice.

If Northern Ireland remains stable, the long-term economic benefits will be considerable. EU and US investment, coupled with a very strong education system, could reduce unemployment hugely. Maybe then I would return home.

Yours faithfully,

ANDREW HALL

Harborne, West Midlands

23 February

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