LETTER:Northern Ireland's changing electoral map

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From Cllr James Winston

Sir: Whoever leads the Ulster Unionist Party, it will not be a fresh start (leading article, 29 August), it will do little to weaken the grip of the Orange-Green axis over political debate. It should be equally apparent that a political system determined by sectarian response means there is little scope for new or lateral thinking on either side, nor for addressing the "bread and butter" issues of the economy, welfare provision, and education with the energy they require.

Supporters of a secularised politics for Northern Ireland will be familiar with this impasse. There is a crying need among the electorate for more than mere lip service to be paid to their daily concerns - job losses, hospital closures, education cuts, the Tories' broken promises on tax. It is the tragedy of the Province's democracy that such issues are treated as no more than diversions from the "real" issues of the Union.

The only way Northern Ireland politics can move out of the sectarian bog is for the other political parties to take their responsibilities seriously and allow the people there to join in the wider political debate. The reasons why we campaign for Labour Party membership for the people of Northern Ireland - to realign Northern Ireland democracy on grounds of citizenship, not subjection, to realise the need for a social economy as redress for 16 years of Tory mismanagement - should be emphasised.

Bringing other issues into the debate will underline the incoherence and redundancy of what passes for social policy by both the Unionist and Nationalists parties. Breaking the mould will end the view of the electorate as knee-jerk Protestants and Catholics, but treat them as citizens, employees, consumers, benefits recipients, hospital patients - in other words, with the maturity they deserve.

Yours sincerely,

James Winston


Democracy Now

London, N5

29 August