The British Conservative Party has said “Northern Ireland would be a better place” if politicians agreed to end power-sharing structures negotiated in the Good Friday Agreement.
The Tories recently formed an alliance with Reg Empey’s Ulster Unionist Party. Outgoing MEP Jim Nicholson will be the first Ulster Unionist to run in June’s European elections under the banner of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (UCU-NF).
Owen Paterson - the Tory spokesman for Ireland - said if the Conservatives form the next British government at Westminste they would renegotiate the 1998 Good Friday Agreement with all political parties in the north for “voluntary coalition”, which would permit unionist majority rule.
The suggestion has already been rejected by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
The deputy First Minister made Sinn Fein’s position on voluntary coalition clear at last month’s Ard Fheis in Dublin.
Martin McGuinness told delegates: “Unionist majority rule is gone and gone forever. Like apartheid in South Africa it is consigned to the dustbin of history.”
The new electoral pact between Ulster Unionists and Tories includes plans to field joint candidates in elections to the Westminster parliament.
Mr Paterson said the merger would ensure unionist MPs elected under the new banner would play a central role in any future Conservative government.
He said the pact offered the North a chance to “move on from the age-old argument about the constitutional position”.
Close co-operation between the two parties, both of which will continue to exist separately, will help to end what UUP leader Reg Empey said was “a two-tier” union between Britain and the North of Ireland.
“By coming together in this fashion,” Empey said, “we are going hopefully to move quite significantly on to the ground of people discussing real, national political issues in Northern Ireland in a more normal way.”
However, in a late development today [Friday], the new alliance suffered a major setback when a Conservative member of a committee set up to increase co-operation between the two parties suddenly resigned.
Jeffery Peel launched a furious attack on the Ulster Unionists accusing them of “using” the Conservatives to get out of its financial crisis.