Mary Kelly: This place needs serious change - and Arlene Foster isn't going to convince anyone that the union is the only option for Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster is on a mission to sell the benefits of the union with her Together UK group
Arlene Foster is on a mission to sell the benefits of the union with her Together UK group

THE cheerleaders for Irish unity have been getting a lot of stick for their attempts to debate the constitutional set-up via Ireland's Future events. But where is the argument for those supporting the delights of staying within the UK?

Step forward Dame Arlene Foster, who recently launched the Together UK campaign, though it seems to be aimed more at Scottish nationalists than those of us in Norn Iron who might need even more persuasion.

It could be argued that she isn't the best person to be championing the union since she has a knack of winding up those people she should be trying to win over.

Chief Brexiteer Steve Baker was at the launch in a posho Kensington gaff and told those present that the union was the greatest constitutional, political and social union ever formed.

He didn't mention the wholesale damage he and his ERG chums did to that union in probably the worst incidence of self-sabotage in British history. It's led to a rejuvenated fight for independence in Scotland and fresh impetus in the campaign for Irish unity. Census results also show more people in England now identify as English, not British.

Meanwhile the DUP seems hell-bent on proving Stormont is unworkable with their current tactic of keeping the house on the hill closed for business.

How do these people convince anyone?

Our free health service was once the best argument for maintaining the status quo, but now it's in tatters with staff forced to go on strike to draw attention to poor wages and chronic staff shortages.

How do you persuade young school-leavers and students that Northern Ireland can offer a decent future? Two of my three left at 18 and the other is itching to leave too as the economy is offering little in the way of steady work, despite having a trade.

Even Arlene Foster seems to be bettering her own fortunes by leaving her beloved province for what she probably calls "the mainland".

This place needs serious change – we've had more than 100 years of the union. Convincing people that it's the only option is whistling in the wind.


I sympathise with former colleagues in Radio Foyle, some of whom face redundancy after the announcement of BBC NI's plans to make £2.3m of savings.

"Hard decisions had to be made" is the usual management mantra. But there have also been plenty of costly and stupid decisions made in recent times.

Was there any real need for a new set for Newsline to match the one in London? Does anyone notice? And how much was spent on the planning and preparation for a bigger building in Belfast? It went on for years and then the scheme, which would have cost £77m, was quietly shelved.

The government's freezing of the licence fee inevitably has its consequences, but losing locally based programming doesn't show much commitment to the BBC's public service remit and the sense of community Radio Ulster used to foster.

There's a headlong rush to throw money at online services to attract younger audiences but it shouldn't be at the expense of the older generation for whom local radio is a lifeline.

It used to be a joke that Derry wans were always complaining that Belfast got everything. Maybe they were right all along.


A smartly dressed young woman was having an argument on the phone with her partner as I passed her in Forestside. "Look, there is absolutely no chance. I'm just not having it."

She was so vehement, I had to linger to find out the cause of her rage. "I don't care. It's not happening. We are NOT having tinsel on the tree."

She spotted me smiling. "There's a woman here who's laughing at the very idea," she said, dragging me into the controversy. "Are we in the 1970s, or what?"

It reminded me of when the children were small and brought home tacky confections of red papier-mâché, glitter and cotton wool 'stockings' to hang from the tree.

My sister had the best idea. A small tree in the kitchen, filled with tinsel, coloured lights and what she called the "tat" from school, while the elegant, glass-baubled one, festooned in tasteful white lights, graced the living room.

But I'm glad the mad 'elf on a shelf' craze was not around when mine were young. And who's to blame for the idea of Christmas Eve gift boxes? Are new jim-jams not enough?