Northern Ireland news

No united Ireland for generations to come, says UUP leader Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie at the UUP manifesto launch at HMS Caroline today in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell 

UUP leader Doug Beattie claimed there will not be a united Ireland for generations as he urged voters to set aside the constitutional question to focus on the cost-of-living crisis.

Launching his party manifesto ahead of May’s Assembly elections, Mr Beattie said he believes there will be no constitutional change during his lifetime or the lifetime of his children.

Making his pitch to voters, the Upper Bann MLA characterised the UUP as a pro-Union party that will “do more than just say no”.

The decorated military veteran said problems with Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol need to be resolved but that uncertainty over the fate of the contentious trading arrangements will not prevent his party re-entering a powersharing Executive post-election.

The Executive collapsed in February when DUP first minister Paul Givan quit in protest over the protocol and the barriers it has created on the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Beattie rejected claims of other unionists that the protocol will result in a fundamental change to Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, and accused his rivals of using it as an election “slogan”.

However, he again failed to be drawn when asked whether his party would, in principle, serve as deputy first minister in an administration with a Sinn Féin first minister.

Both the UUP and DUP have repeatedly failed to confirm whether they would take the post of deputy first minister if Sinn Féin, as opinion polls indicate, emerges as the largest party and is entitled to the first minister’s job.

Mr Beattie insisted the UUP would only determine its approach to serving in an Executive after post-election negotiations on what a potential programme for government might look like.

First World War battleship turned visitor attraction HMS Caroline provided a striking backdrop for the manifesto launch event in east Belfast this morning.

Mr Beattie has faced criticism from other unionist parties for his decision to withdraw the UUP from attending contentious loyalist rallies against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The party leader, whose office in Portadown was vandalised after he announced the move on Sunday, has claimed the demonstrations are being used to raise tensions within the community ahead of the election.

Addressing the outdoor manifesto launch on a bitingly cold spring day, with UUP election candidates seated behind him, Mr Beattie said: “Regardless of what others are saying, there will be no fundamental change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

“Issues around the protocol can and will be dealt with. So, instead of using the protocol as an election slogan, let’s get to work, real work, to get the issues dealt with.

“There will be no united Ireland in my lifetime, there will be no united Ireland in my children’s lifetime.

“If you believe that as a fundamental truth, and I believe that as a fundamental truth, then we can set it aside in order to concentrate on the issues affecting the daily lives of our people who live here, work here or visit here.

“So, I make an appeal to all of those who believe in Northern Ireland, in its long-term future within the United Kingdom, to put their shoulder to the wheel, to raise your voices and promote the positives while we work together to deal with the negatives.

“We need to show our young people that coming out to vote gives them a voice and it is part of their civic duty.

“And we all need to understand civic duty – that includes those who are disaffected, those who are disenfranchised from politics – to see that there is a party, a pro-Union party that will do more than just say no, when we have a positive vision for the future, because Northern Ireland deserves better and the Ulster Unionist Party are that party.”

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