18 January 2006

UUP told: reach out to Catholics

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
18 January 2006

A senior Ulster Unionist has called on the party to "reach out" to pro-Union Roman Catholics in a bid to move away from old political battlegrounds.

Recently-elected officer Johnny Andrews said it was important the UU deliver the message that the party has changed and continues to change.

The political unknown, who has been appointed to head up the UU's election strategy, also admitted that "too many" branches of the party are not functioning properly.

Mr Andrews, great-grandson of former Northern Ireland Prime Minister John Millar Andrews, said: "We must demonstrate we have moved on from the confrontational politics of the past ... and become a tolerant, inclusive Unionist party uniting a pluralist and progressive Northern Ireland.

"We must reach out to pro-Union Roman Catholics who are increasingly recognizing the benefits of the Union."

Mr Andrews argued all Unionists now recognized the Union is safe for the foreseeable future and a united Ireland is not a practical reality.

Nationalism had broadly accepted the principle of consent, he said and more people are prepared to remain in the Union - as evidenced in a recent Northern Ireland Life and Times survey showing that as many as 25% of Catholics would vote in favour of retaining the Union in a border poll.

"We must make Northern Ireland work," Mr Andrews added. "It is the responsibility and, indeed, raison d'etre of this party to provide a political home for all pro-union citizens of Northern Ireland. We have always been a broad church; however, we must become broader.

"We have a duty to identify the factors that prevent a section of our target electorate from voting Unionist, and counter them. We need to create an identity that is more tolerant, inclusive and pluralist that will broaden our electoral support."

He added. "There are too many branches not functioning properly and it is important that branches re-group and re-organize into proper working units."

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