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Speaking at the Alliance Party’s Quarterly Council Meeting in Bangor, Cllr Stephen Farry, called for the party to work to ensure that any Talks agreement is not simply a carve-up between Unionism and Nationalism.

Cllr Farry said:

“There is a growing sense of cautious optimism that the Talks could produce a political agreement. The parameters of that agreement are reasonably clear: a regional power-sharing government, meaningful North-South bodies, and entrenchment of the Principle of Consent.

“However, even with a political agreement, Northern Ireland will remain a deeply divided society. A huge effort will be necessary to overcome sectarianism and polarisation within society. There will always be a role for a party like Alliance in helping to build such a society based on peace, prosperity and equal opportunities for every individual.

“The Talks must build an agreement that recognises that Northern Ireland is politically divided. However, there is a danger that the wrong type of agreement could inadvertently entrench sectarian divisions rather than provide the means to overcome them. There are powerful interests in our society who could accept a sectarian carve-up between Unionism and Nationalism. Anything based on the idea of institutionalising ‘two communities’ by giving formal political recognition to Unionism and Nationalism is very dangerous.

“Not every person in Northern Ireland chooses to be labelled as a Unionist or a Nationalist. Many Protestants and Catholics recognise that they sometimes have more in common with people from other denominations than their co-religionists. People like these, many of whom Alliance represents, would be effectively disenfranchised by a sectarian carve-up.

“Furthermore, how could a normal society be built here if we accept that the politics of Unionism and Nationalism are to be permanent fixtures on the political landscape.

“I believe that Alliance can play several important roles in the Talks. We can represent the interests of our constituency. Because of who we are we can often help Unionists and Nationalists to find agreement. We can be a powerful engine of ideas. And finally, we can be the bulwark that makes a Unionist-Nationalist carve-up a nonsense.”