A Newry and Armagh DUP Assemblyman has tonight defended himself against accusations by Markethill Orangemen that he had “gone against the wishes” of his electorate by voting for an Irish Sea border.
Markethill District LOL No 10 issued a lengthy social media statement on Friday night when they accused William Irwin – the sole Unionist representative of the Newry and Armagh constituency – of letting his voters down.
Mr Irwin has said the claims levelled against him are “untrue” and voiced his disappointment.
Markethill District had expressed “complete opposition to the NI Protocol” and re-affirmed our “total commitment to the maintenance of the Union”.
Their statement said: “In this year of 2021, which should be one of great celebration as we look back on the glorious and illustrious history of our beloved country over the past 100 years, instead we are faced with the greatest crisis since its formation.
“The NI Protocol is an act of absolute betrayal of the Unionist community and our position as a sovereign part of the United Kingdom by all those that both agreed to it and those who fail to do all within their power to stop it.
“In the last election in the Newry & Armagh constituency area, William Irwin, was elected as the sole representative of the Unionist community.
“It is with sadness and anger that we note that he has gone against the wishes of his electorate and voted for the Irish Sea border.”
The District called on “the entire Unionist community to realise the consequences that the NI Protocol has” and cited: “An all Ireland economy; Customs & trade barriers between NI and GB; Internal UK Border; Subject to EU Laws in which we have no vote or say; and Restriction on the movement of the Ministry of Defence”.
The statement added: “The District once again see lip service from the Unionist parties which express their opposition to the NI Protocol in word but take no practical action to either hinder it or bring about its end. The lack of leadership is astounding and is a true reflection on how out of touch they are with the community which keep them in their positions.
“Markethill District calls on the Unionist parties to take all necessary action to veto the implementation of EU laws through the Stormont Assembly.
“The District further call on our fellow brother Orangeman, Edwin Poots, the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to immediately stop officials within his department from implementing the Irish Sea border checks.
“Now more than ever we need Strong and United Leadership from those in positions of authority in the Unionist community. If this is not forthcoming from within the Unionist parties they cannot expect the continued support of the Unionist community. The tactic ‘vote for us to stop Sinn Fein; has worn thin and is now meaningless.
“In this time of disillusionment and discouragement within the Unionist community, Markethill District LOL No.10 call on our entire community to unite, remember our Glorious past and how the Lord has always maintained our cause. We have a culture and heritage to be so rightly proud of and one that has been maintained by our forefathers.
“Let us not be the generation to lose heart and to give up the fight. Together we can and will overcome, the Lord being our helper.
The District urge our people to pray and seek Almighty God’s intervention and deliverance, that our Protestant faith and heritage may be preserved. 1 Samuel 17 v 29 “Is there not a cause”. No Surrender.”
Mr Irwin has tonight responded to the accusations against him and denied he had voted for the NI Protocol.
In a lengthy explanation, the MLA – who has been an Orangemen for close to five decades – set out his stall after the publication of the Markethill District statement.
Said Mr Irwin: “I am well aware that elements of the statement, aimed at myself and colleagues in the DUP, does not reflect the views of everyone attached to the District.
“As an Orangeman of some 48 years, in the District of Loughgall and as WM of Ballytyrone LOL104 steering the considerable task of rebuilding our Orangehall after an arson attack, I am very disappointed by Markethill District Orange No10’s untrue claim, published as part of their statement, about me.
“I am absolutely at one with the many thousands of Unionists across Northern Ireland who find the imposition of this Protocol and its outworkings offensive and running contrary to everything we stand for. No sovereign country should have barriers to trade and customs arrangements placed within it. When others were campaigning for a backstop we strongly warned of the dangers.
“As a fellow brother Orangeman (omitted in the District’s published post) I can state categorically that I did not vote for the Protocol nor have I supported it. That is the unalterable fact of the matter. To suggest otherwise is wrong, disingenuous and it would appear politically motivated. Nothing I have done in the Assembly has brought about any border in the Irish Sea.
“The reality is that the Democratic Unionist Party opposed the Protocol in Parliament and when its votes mattered on the floor of the House of Commons prevented the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement, containing the Protocol.
“After the 2019 General Election however the Conservative Government had sufficient votes to pass it against DUP and other opposition. The notion that anyone has ‘failed to do all within their power to stop it’ is simply untrue, recognising that the sovereign Parliament in London democratically voted in favour of it against the wishes of the Unionist representatives elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
“As Unionists we cannot ignore the reality that Westminster is master over us and whilst we can use all democratic means at our disposal to oppose and expose the folly of the Protocol we cannot wish away the reality that it was brought into law by a Conservative Government. You would think listening to some that it was supported by the DUP.
“I, like all unionists, wish to see the protocol removed and no barriers to trade exist between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That can only ultimately be brought about by the British Government. For my part and those of my colleagues we will continue to highlight the problems created by the imposition of the Protocol, many of which we highlighted as part of our opposition to the Protocol, in every democratically elected forum where we have a presence. We are using these platforms to constructively highlight the inherent unworkability, and unfairness of arrangements imposed upon us and to put forward alternatives that should be adopted.
“Both yesterday and today my party has been talking to the Prime Minister and other members of the British Government to press the case for the removal of the Protocol. Those who claim that “the Unionist parties which express their opposition to the NI Protocol in word but take no practical action to either hinder or bring about its end” are simply wrong and in some instances have a history of attacking fellow unionists who are trying to advance Northern Ireland’s short and long-term interests.
“I have worked with unionists of all shades in my constituency throughout my time as a public servant, as well as helping anyone who comes to me for assistance, and I will continue to do so. Now is the time for unionists to be working together rather than openly sowing the seeds of discord and attacking fellow brethren without taking the time to check the facts.
“I have spent my hours in the last three weeks seeking to help hundreds of my constituents with practical problems that have been brought about by this Protocol. Both I, and my staff, have been able to help on some of those issues through a team effort with my colleagues in Stormont and Westminster. I am grateful to all those who have contacted our office to show their appreciation for those efforts.
“I will continue to work against the barriers to trade that the EU/U.K. Protocol has created. Unionist infighting, and adopting the tried and failed tactics of the past, will do little to advance the demise of this hated protocol. There are some who are more comfortable attacking and belittling their fellow unionists. That is their choice but we should all reflect on what our Lord said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12 v 25, “..every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”
“For me I have not, and will not, attack fellow Unionists and sow division. I will continue to represent my constituents to the best of my ability and my office remains open to everyone needing help and anyone wanting to discuss these matters at any time.”