By Stacey Graham
As a community and youth worker in the loyalist and unionist community of the Shankill and a member of the Progressive Unionist Party, I have always encouraged those within our community to place their faith in democratic politics as a way to affect change in Northern Ireland.
I am therefore deeply troubled by the recent reports that unelected civil servants, who have never received a single vote from my community and who are not accountable to the public at the ballot box, are acting on behalf of nationalism, with the seeming intention of defying a pending order from a democratically elected unionist Minister to stop the unlawful Irish Sea border checks.
I would ask, what message does this send to my community? These unelected people, who are using their position as civil servants to advance their own political agendas, have no idea of the political and societal instability that will flow from such actions.
How do those who are working day and night in loyalist communities encouraging people to put their faith in democracy go back into those same communities and explain that the principle of democratically elected and accountable government doesn’t matter and that if those elected by the PUL community take a decision nationalism does not like, then unelected civil servants will just thwart it?
Not only will the actions of these civil servants greatly impact upon political and societal stability; it goes against the very foundations of the constitutional principles of the United Kingdom itself.
Elected Ministers are accountable to the electorate and Parliament (or in our case devolved authorities). If you do not like their decisions, you can vote them out at the next election.
But, how can we democratically hold to account the unelected civil servants if they decide to sabotage our democratic system of governance by using powers themselves which belong to those who have been elected by the public?
What gives these people the right to blatantly defy the will of the PUL electorate and impose upon us a Protocol which rips the heart out of the United Kingdom?
How do we hold these people to account? How do we vote them out?
The answer is we can’t, and thats why the present situation is so worrying for all those of us who value democracy.
It is reckless and shameless that Sinn Fein have sought to give cover to the actions of these civil servants without any care for the destructive effect it will have on peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
It will politicise our civil service in the same way the likes of the media, law and academia has been politicised; and will create the situation whereby if nationalist civil servants are weaponising their positions in public service to further their own political objectives, then surely those from a unionist background will have to do the same?
And what does this say about the Belfast Agreement? Unionism is using the cross-community protections in section 28A of the NI Act 1998. However, it seems civil servants believe they have a right to thwart that, and to defy the very principles of democracy itself; all for the cause of implementing the NI Protocol.
I would say to these civil servants, if they want to take decisions such as this then they should stand for election in May. That way people can judge them at the ballot box.
If they aren’t prepared to do that then they should back off and realise the long-term damage their actions will do.
Do these people really want to put themselves forward as the implementers of the Protocol? I would urge the civil service to step back from the brink and to refrain from doing nationalism’s bidding. They are only attempting to use you as cannon fodder for their own political agenda.
Do you want to be remembered in history as the unelected people who destroyed devolution and stability in Northern Ireland?
I sincerely hope not.