The leader of the British Conservative party, David Cameron, has reversed two decades of Tory policy on Ireland by telling the annual conference of the Ulster Unionist Party that the he, like the United Kingdom, has a “selfish and strategic interest” in the north of Ireland.
The Tory party leader also said the region had made great strides forward over the past 15 years and he wanted a move away from old politic rhetoric.
His address to the UUP’s annual conference on Saturday underlined the renewal of unionism’s traditional ‘Orange Card’ alliance with the Conservative Party.
In a chest-beating speech, he told gathered delegates, without irony: “its time for Northern Ireland to be brought back into the mainstream of British politics.”
Cameron mixed traditional Tory imperialism with Blairite zeal and spin in an address which cheered the Ulster Unionists, desperate for a revival following a series of devastating election losses.
And in a clear reference to the Thatcher-backed Anglo-Irish Agreement which divided the Tories and UUP in 1985, he said the Tories had regrets for the pact, which allowed the 26 Counties a direct influence on northern matters.
He claimed the Irish “bring strengths to the mix” of English, Welsh and Scottish.
Explicitly, Mr Cameron went on to reverse the words of former British Direct Ruler Peter Brooke, who in 1985 proclaimed his party had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in being in the North, a statement considered fundamental to the subsequent peace process.
He provocatively declared that having the Six Counties firmly controlled by the United Kingdom was “in the interests of Northern Ireland” and “in the interests of the United Kingdom”.
And he added, as a nationalistic Briton, “It’s in my own selfish interests too”.
It was a pivotal moment in the speech, on what could prove to be a pivotal day for Mr Cameron.
It was also confirmed that he UUP and Conservative Party will cooperate at next year’s European Union election and the next election to the London parliament.
A decision has yet to be made as to whether the arrangement will be expanded to a future assembly election.
FF SETS UP
Meanwhile, a ‘forum’ of the 26-County Fianna Fail party has been set up across the border in the Crossmaglen/South Armagh area. The initiative may eventually lead to the party developing a political base in the Six Counties.
This move is different from speculation in earlier months of some kind of political link up with the SDLP, now seen as unlikely.
It is understood that at this stage the initiative is considered as a step in terms of organising branches, or cumainn, in the Six Counties. There are no plans at present to field Fianna Fail candidates in northern elections.