What do young unionists make of political crisis? – BBC.com

Tee Rasheed
6 Min Read

They're young, they're unionist and they aren't short of opinions on the current political climate in Northern Ireland.
The Unionist Youth Network was formed in February by teenage and student unionists who met on social media.
Just as their party preferences differ, so too do their views on the DUP's boycott of Stormont.
Jay Singh Basra chairs the group. He's 19 and comes from a Punjabi-British family.
He's also an Ulster Unionist voter and understands his party's position when it comes to calling for the restoration of an executive.
"I know people in my local area who are part of youth programmes and didn't have the funding because Stormont wasn't up and running," he says as the group gathers in a Belfast coffee shop.
"They want to see Stormont return – I'd like to see an executive return too because we need to ensure all citizens are fairly represented in Northern Ireland.
"But the Windsor Framework wasn't finished so I understand why the DUP has taken the stance it has."
Listening to that is fellow network member Jack Steele. He's a paid-up member of the DUP and voted for the first time in May's council elections.
So, after a-year-and-a-half without a functioning government at Stormont, does the DUP need to hurry up and make a decision?
"It's not a case of how long by month or week or however long this takes, it's a question of what deal we can get," insists Jack.
"I trust the current leadership to secure the best deal. We were told there would be no changes to the protocol, thanks to the DUP's position we saw a step forward with the Windsor Framework.
"They won't be brow-beaten into returning to Stormont."
Zac Taylor-Clarke has previously voted for several unionist parties, but he now finds himself more drawn towards the DUP's position.
He feels strongly that a politician's job is "not only to follow their mandate, but also to stand up for everybody".
He says it would be hard for devolution to work in an environment where one community remains unhappy.
That's a point also raised by fellow member Matthew Shanks, who says despite his mixed religious background he has always felt connected to the union.
"It does feel like there's a degree of obstinance from the UK government: Rishi Sunak wants to say Brexit is done but he can't really say that when one half of the community here feels it isn't," he says.
As a network, the four young men say they want to help create "something new" for unionism in Northern Ireland.
"Young people don't want to say they're unionist because it's associated with a lot of negativity, we want to be more positive," says Matthew.
But he argues that the question of widening unionism's appeal will largely remain on the backburner until a decision is reached on the DUP's future at Stormont.
And what about the union's future. Is it at risk if Stormont fails to return, as NI Minister Steve Baker recently claimed?
Zac is unconvinced and says he's more dubious about a Sinn Fein-DUP executive's chances of survival.
"Going into the executive in a week or two weeks' time, it would crumble within seconds because there's a massive, polarised issue that has divided people on traditional lines," he says.
But Matthew believes that things will eventually get up and running.
"All unionists can agree that maybe we are falling out of love with the institutions, but it is perhaps the only way to safeguard the union."
The conversations happening in the youth network reflect the soul-searching that political unionism has yet to face up to fully.
But if the DUP decides in the coming weeks not to re-enter Stormont, those discussions may have to accelerate.
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