Unionists to meet in Forum in 2013

Strands of unionism to meet in forum next year

Published 19/12/2012
BY
John Manley

A FORUM bringing together different strands of unionism to address
flags, poor electoral turnout and educational underachievement will be
convened next year.

The Unionist Forum is seen as a reaction to recent loyalist anger at
Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union flag on designated
days only.

The council vote has led to more than two weeks of street protests
across the north, some of which have turned violent.

The Irish News was not invited to a round of interviews but in a joint
statement, the DUP and Ulster Unionists said party leaders Peter
Robinson and Mike Nesbitt would convene the forum for an initial
meeting at Stormont’s Parliament Buildings “as soon as is
practicable”.

It is expected to address the flags issue, parading, and measures to
increase voter registration and turnout in unionist areas.

The forum will also examine ways of “strengthening British cultural
identity” in the north and look at proposals to redress deprivation
and educational underachievement in unionist areas.

The first meeting will see invitations extended to other unionist
political parties, representatives and interested groups.

“The participants in the forum will be discussed at the first
meeting,” Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said in their statement.

“The purpose of the forum will be to seek to engage with the entire
unionist community and seek to address issues of concern.”

The statement said the forum would seek to “channel unionist efforts
through political means”.

“While participants in the forum will be limited, working groups may
be established to provide a more extensive reach across the wider
unionist community,” the statement said.

“The forum will be a body through which unionists could meet to
consider matters of interest and concern to the unionist community.”

Those taking part will be expected to “share the core values of
support for the maintenance of the Union between Northern Ireland and
Great Britain”.

The statement said they would be committed to “exclusively peaceful
and democratic means, nonsectarianism, commitment to a shared future
and commitment to the successful operation of devolution in Northern
Ireland”.

No decisions will be taken by the forum but it will seek to build
unionist consensus while leaving any actions to individual
organisations.

The statement concluded by saying the forum would seek to engage
positively with representatives from all sections of the north’s
community.