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Trevor Ringland criticises 'emboldened' nationalists amid Brexit uncertainty

Trevor Ringland has criticised nationalist 'rhetoric' around Irish unity
Paul Ainsworth

Former Irish rugby international player Trevor Ringland has accused nationalists of having "no space in their Ireland" for moderate unionists.

The anti-sectarian campaigner, who quit the Ulster Unionist Party in 2010 when then-leader Tom Elliott refused to attend a GAA match, said nationalists were "emboldened" due to Brexit uncertainties and increasing calls for a border poll.

The News Letter reported that Mr Ringland, who is a former solicitor and co-chair of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, became increasingly concerned after a nationalist conference in Belfast in January.

Speaking of the 'Beyond Brexit' event in the Waterfront Hall, Mr Ringland said: "The message that meeting at the Waterfront sent to me was 'Boy, are we going to get our own back when we get control'. All of this needs hand-braked very quickly and a touch of reality brought to bear."

However, Mr Ringland said his concerns first arose in 2017 when he challenged a senior Sinn Féin member in the wake of that year's election.

"I said 'you have pressed the hate button during that election campaign and it's going to be very hard to put back in its box'. His response was 'I'll not take lectures from the likes of you'. I went back to my wife and said 'No matter what I say, there's no space in their Ireland for me."

He continued: "People are believing their own rhetoric without facing up to the reality that our future is intertwined, and the only way we can succeed socially and economically is by making Northern Ireland work and great relations across these islands and between these islands."

Mr Ringland was especially critical of Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald after she attended a 'civic unionism' event in Queen's University in February. He accused her of offering "the same old rhetoric" in a speech she made to attendees.

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