'The Irish community's needs and aspirations are as important as anyone’s'

'The Irish community's needs and aspirations are as important as anyone’s'

CONOR BURNS has been Conservative MP for Bournemouth West since 2010, and in this year will be defending a majority of 5,583.

But Burns may be one of the unlikeliest candidates in the general election — because the MP for this genteel, prosperous and quintessentially English seaside resort is Belfast-born, Catholic and gay.

“Yes, I’m a Catholic unionist, born in the Royal Victoria Hospital on the Falls Road,” he says. “But neither my religion, my birthplace nor my gayness has been mentioned by a single person throughout this campaign.”

Neither have these been a barrier to his rise through the ranks of the party. “That’s because,” he says, “the Conservative Party is the party of meritocracy.

"The Tories judge people, not on where they came from, but where they’re going. Which is why it was the first party to elect woman as leader, and in John Major - the son of a trapeze artist - the first to elect a truly working class leader.”

Despite representing a constituency that almost embodies middle England, Burns remains proud of his Belfast roots.

“I have still have strong family ties in Belfast, and visit on a regular basis,” he says.

He is also happy to discuss the dichotomy of his Irish/British heritage. “My family in Belfast would have regarded themselves as Irish, I’d say.

"They certainly would have enjoyed a session, sitting around singing the Fields of Athenry. But if faced with a choice of remaining part of the UK, or joining the Republic — well, the economy, and indeed the romanticism, of the Fields of Athenry would soon have melted from view.”

Burns was able to put his personal knowledge of Belfast to good use when he became parliamentary private secretary to the Northern Secretary Owen Paterson.

Today, he believes the situation in the North has improved insofar as the problems are now social and political, and no longer military.

But anxiety and anger - particularly on the loyalist side - remain. There are some encouraging signs, according to Burns — notably, that a whole generation has grown up knowing only peace.

“Recently Ian Paisley [the younger] told me that his young daughter had come home from school with instructions to write something about the Troubles. ‘What are the Troubles Daddy?’ she asked.”

His own constituency of Bournemouth has little in the way of an Irish population.

Consequently the plight of some of the older, marginalised members of our own Irish in Britain community is included in the Tory Party’s general welfare policies.

“The Irish community is one of the best-integrated communities in Britain, their needs and aspirations as important as anyone’s. The Conservative Party aims to make Britain a better place for everyone to live.”

Conor Burns’ conservative values and ethos were developed at an early age. His family left Belfast when he was eight, and settled in Hertfordshire.

“I was educated by American Christian Brothers at St Columba's College, St Albans. They were very keen on history,” he said. “I was strongly influenced by this and soon developed a deep interest in history myself. And history teaches you one thing - that life, and its events, are invariably, conservative.”

His views were soon galvanised by a meeting with Margaret Thatcher.

He met her during his first year at Southampton University and became enthralled by her politics and her personality.

In later years she became a close friend, and she spoke in support of him at several election rallies.

His admiration of Lady Thatcher remains undimmed: “In the House of Commons there are busts of the two war-time leaders of Britain, Lloyd George and Churchill.

"And then there are the two who challenged and changed peace-time Britain: Atlee and Margaret Thatcher. They were all great figures And Margaret was one of the foremost political figures of the 20th century.”

His views today, still have echoes of the Thatcherite era. He would be regarded as Eurosceptic.

“Quite simply, a large percentage of our laws are made by people we don’t elect and can’t remove. We need substantial change in the EU no matter what happens,” he says.

Burns is also passionate about a militarily strong Britain, just as Lady Thatcher was, and believes that the country needs to maintain its military spending, including the replacement of Trident with a new nuclear weapons system. “Times of great uncertainty are also times of great danger. “

Conor Burns resigned from his post as PPS in 2012 due to his opposition to the Lords Reform Bill.

As regards further advancement in the Conservative Party, he is phlegmatic.

“I don’t want to sound trite,” he says, “but I believe you can have an extremely successful career in politics without ever touching the front benches.

"Also in politics, you don’t tend to get what you want, but what you deserve. But if I were to choose a ministerial department, it would be education. Young people are our future, and they deserve the very best we can deliver in terms of education.”