The newly formed Unionist Forum met yesterday for the first time (see here for details). It included representatives from the DUP, UUP, PUP, UPRG, UKIP, the Orange Order, and Loyalist community leaders (Full list of people involved here). It did not include the newly formed Ulster People’s Forum (UPF), a group that has emerged out of the recent protests against the flag decision at Belfast City Hall (see here for a breakdown of the groups involved in the flag protests and here for my thoughts on the Ulster People’s Forum).
According to the BBC report, the UPF claim they were not invited and that even if they had been they would have refused to take part. Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionists, stated that he spent Tuesday night trying to convince one of the leaders of the UPF to be part of the Unionist Forum in the future.
The BBC report provides no source or quotes for their statement about the UPF refusing to be involved. Yesterday I asked Jamie Bryson, one of the leaders of the UPF, for his reaction to the Unionist Forum and if the UPF would be joining it. Unlike the BBC reported, he did not rule out the UPF engaging with the Unionist Forum in the future. He stated: ‘If the people want to meet the unionist forum we will, but only when the people say they want that.’ So, contrary to BBC reports, the UPF is open to the possibility of engaging with the Unionist Forum if those they represent wish to do so.
My personal opinion is that I hope this does happen. The UPF, which formed shortly after the Unionist Forum was announced, must engage with the wider unionist community or risk alienating themselves and becoming irrelevant. They claim their members are isolated from the political process. This is their chance to be part of the political process. They claim they want their voices heard. This is their opportunity for their voice to be heard. Although they position themselves as anti-power sharing and anti-Good Friday Agreement (GFA) they must find a way to represent their members as part of the political process. The Unionist Forum is not about power sharing or supporting the GFA. If the Traditional Unionist Voice, who take a similar position to the UPF regarding power sharing, can sent representatives to the Unionist Forum, then there is no reason why the UPF should not do the same. The Unionist Forum will be more representative of grassroots unionism and loyalism for having them there. If these protests have taught us anything it should be that we can not afford for anybody to be left behind. Democracy is a richer process when everybody contributes.
Jamie Bryson will be doing a live webchat tomorrow. For details click here.
His full statement to me regarding the Ulster People’s Forum is below:
‘The UPF is set up to provide the ordinary punter on the ground an opportunity to have their voices heard. A lot of the young people haven’t been involved in politics before and they view the Unionist forum as unrepresentative of them and feel further isolated. The UPF will attempt, through countrywide engagement, to build a consensus on the way forward. If the people want to meet the unionist forum we will, but only when the people say they want that. The protests are the property of the people and each and every man, woman and child must feel they have had a change to have their voices heard.’