After three years of deadlock and a number of failed attempts to restore power-sharing, this week will mark an historic moment in Northern Ireland as we enter the week with an assembly back up and running in Stormont. The general mood around the deal has been one of anger and frustration from many Unionists, with the terms ‘sell-outs’ and ‘traitors’ being hurled at many Unionist politicians . However I, for one, simply do not understand these hollow insults and think quite the opposite of our politicians. Not only can we rejoice as nation at this time, when we so desperately required a fruitful deal, but as Unionists we have much to be cheerful about in this deal.
Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room that is, for many Unionists, the establishment of a new Irish Language Commissioner. This has caused some discontent within the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist) community, but let’s lay out the facts. The Irish Language Commissioner’s role is primarily to ‘prepare, in accordance with guidance from Ministers, best practice standards for the use of the Irish language by public authorities - these standards are to be agreed by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.’ Therefore, this is not equivalent to any form of an Irish Language Act. There will be no Irish road signs, no forced education, and no form of discrimination against non-Irish speakers. The role of the Commissioner is to facilitate the Irish Language, not to force it upon anyone. Simply put, there is no stand-alone Irish Language Act. In fact, the term ‘Irish Language Act’ is not mentioned in the deal at all. To add to this, if Unionism is to progress, it must appeal to a new group of people outside of the generalised ‘Orange brigade.’ The face of Northern Ireland is changing with the number of immigrants rising and the Protestant and Catholic population disparity narrowing as time goes on. It is now time for Unionism to have a greater outreach than the traditional Protestant population. This is not a cause for discomfort, as the case we have to make for our great United Kingdom is one of pride and excellence. Our economic status, our cultural ties, and our traditions are all best served by maintaining our place within the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that a a United Ireland would bring economic devastation and place our living standards under great peril, with the NHS almost certain to crumble under the weight of such economic downturn. The case for our Union is one that makes sense and one that continues to benefit everyone currently living here in Northern Ireland and right across the UK. However, in order to bring these economic and cultural arguments to the forefront of the debate, we must first make those who are not from a traditionally unionist background aware that our arms are wide open to welcome them in, and we can only do this by acknowledging the religious and cultural differences that may exist, and accept those of all creeds and colour as an integral part of the Union.
Moving on from this, let’s focus on what we, as Unionists have gained from this deal. The first clear gain is the introduction of an Ulster-British Commissioner. This role will involve enhancing and developing the ‘language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots / Ulster British tradition in Northern Ireland.’ There will also be a legal duty on the Education Department to promote British Culture in schools. This is a massive gain for Unionism and will help to progress our British Culture in Northern Ireland, and provides key opportunities to advance Unionism in our education system and promote it in an efficient manner. There will also be a new Veterans Commissioner who will serve to promote our Armed Forces and deliver the implementation of an Armed Forces Covenant. This will come as welcoming news to all of those who have served our country, past and present, and sets a benchmark for Northern Ireland’s commitment to our Armed Forces.
The New Deal also ensures that the number of days that the Union Flag will fly from Stormont, Council buildings and Counts will also increase to match UK designated days. This change will come as a well-needed change to many and serves to enhance our position in the Union, by further aligning ourselves with our British counterparts in GB.
Pay parity for Health staff was always a key objective. The strikes that had been on-going show the necessity for this pay parity. This deal grants that much-deserved respect to our health workers, and allows them to be paid equally to their counterparts on the mainland. This is yet another example of how this deal strengthens the bonds with the rest of the United Kingdom and benefits Unionism as a whole.
The deal may not be perfect, and it may not be what everyone had in mind, but it allows us to move forward whilst serving the progression of the Unionist cause as a whole. Many may have grievances with the deal for various reasons, but we must understand that, in order to get Stormont working again, compromise must be made by both sides of the divide. Ultimately, this deal was desperately needed to get things working and moving again for everyone in Northern Ireland. As for advancing Unionism, the positives most certainly outweigh the negatives and allow us to move forward as an integral part of this United Kingdom.
Jonny Mearns is a 19 year old currently in his first year of studying Politics with Criminology at Ulster University. Jonny is a political activist who considers himself a Conservative Unionist.