Our first interview with an MP here at the Youth Voice and certainly an interesting one. Gregory Campbell of the DUP, MP for East Londonderry since 2001. We discussed votes at 16, mandatory coalition, a border poll and whether the DUP needs to modernise.
The DUP haven’t been particularly vocal about votes at 16, in Ireland both North and South it isn’t an issue that seems to be particularly important to any of the major parties however as a young person it’s an issue that is very important to me. According to Mr Campbell the DUP will certainly engage in the discussion however would rather focus on increasing turnout amongst the 18-21 age group who are notorious for a low voter turnout. The DUP fear that allowing votes at 16 may make turnout percentages even worse however the DUP will engage in the debate and will consider both arguments.
This lead to a discussion about political education in schools, Mr Campbell agreed that we need to start considering reforming political education in schools. He went on to say that there historically appeared to be an unwillingness amongst teachers to discuss politics within the classroom however times have changed and it’s time to start getting people educated and involved. At the minute politics is not part of the syllabus other than for A level and GCSE politics however these subjects are not offered in many schools.
Our next topic was about the modernisation of the DUP, I put forward the idea that in recent elections the DUP saw significant losses due to their conservative position on social issues. Mr Campbell disagreed, he believed that those losses were possibly due to the lack of a Stormont Assembly when the election took place as both Sinn Féin and the DUP saw losses. However Gregory understood the importance of the DUP being aware of the social changes around issues like Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights. He understands that if a party does not change with the times and buries its head in the sand eventually it will get left behind or drowned in the tide.
Another topic of discussion was mandatory coalition, with parties like Alliance supporting a transition to voluntary coalition in Stormont. We discussed how mandatory coalition inhibits change and allows the big 5 to remain relatively complacent in regards to their position in the Executive due to the 5 party coalition. A move to a voluntary system would force the larger parties to engage properly with their electorate and to gain public support.
We also discussed the idea of a border poll and the factors that would decide the result. We agreed that a poll on the constitutional position of NI is almost inevitable, and that it would be decided by the economic situation for example the Brexit situation alongside social issues. Mr Campbell raised the idea about accommodation of British and Irish identity, in his opinion the U.K. is a lot more accommodating of Irish identity in comparison with Irish accommodation of British identity. We also discussed the importance of the campaigning in the event of a border poll, there must be a degree of respect and political toxicity should be avoided in order to protect the people of NI having had to deal with the controversy of Brexit NI is in a period of uncertainty and in the event of a border poll it must be done to protect people’s peace of mind.
This was one of the more interesting interviews that I’ve done so far. Going into it I undoubtedly had built an opinion on Mr Campbell simply from watching debates and his controversial “curry my yoghurt” moment in the assembly. However I was pleasantly surprised, Mr Campbell was far from the aggressive unionist figure as portrayed in the media but was rather a politician who believes not only in looking after his constituency but what he feels is best for NI. He was our first unionist politician to take part in an interview and I hope to have many more in order to encourage dialogue and diversity of opinion.
By Dermot Hamill