Opinion: Arms Issue at the Very Heart of Democracy; Platform: Ulster Unionist Assembly Member for South Down Dermot Nesbitt Writes an Open Letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair

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You display much effort, determination and commitment in your difficult task as Prime Minister in a complex, ever changing and shrinking world.

Your Government has brought freshness to many aspects of politics, both nationally and internationally.

I am very conscious that your party strongly recognises the importance of human rights.

In your party document, "Bringing Rights Home" (February 1997), it stated: "Parliament itself should play a leading role in protecting the rights which are at the heart of a parliamentary democracy."

Your commitment to human rights is most clearly demonstrated in your approach to the Balkan crisis, where you have been in the vanguard of an international commitment to human rights.

Since your Government places human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, how much greater is its responsibility to ensure that these are honoured within the United Kingdom itself?

Here in Northern Ireland, most people wish to live in peace with their neighbours while recognising the right of those neighbours to be different from a cultural, linguistic, educational or religious perspective.

I believe, as you clearly do, that democrats throughout Europe should accept that the best foundations for peace and justice are laid by effective democratic government and a shared understanding and observance of human rights.

I also believe that we have made real progess in endeavouring to resolve our central problem, where community identity and allegiance do not coincide with the State.

There are of course other aspects to our situation but they are only facets of this central problem of conflicting national identifies.

I believe our problem is soluble, but what threatens to make it insoluble is pretending that Northern Ireland is so unique within democratic Europe that it can be tackled only by permitting a fudge between democracy and terrorism.

I firmly believe that the Belfast Agreement goes further than any other European settlement of conflicts in reflecting the international principles for the creation of stable political structures.

I am mindful of your statement in Belfast on May 14 last year, when you stated that you believed "most people would be ready to accept even the hardest parts of the Agreement if they had genuine confidence that the paramilitaries were really ready to give up violence for good".

The majority of the Unionist community - if not the whole community - has by and large accepted what is for them perhaps the hardest part - prisoner releases - but remains to be convinced that paramilitaries will keep their bargain to end the violence for good. …