Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland should have a president, says Holmes

Eamonn Holmes Image copyright Sky
Image caption The 57-year-old broadcaster said he wanted to see Northern Ireland work as a collective

Eamonn Holmes has said he believes Northern Ireland should have its own president.

The Belfast-born broadcaster said there needed to be a "non-political" figurehead who could unite communities in Northern Ireland.

He said the role could be filled by sports people, business leaders or scientists - but suggested it was not the job for him.

Holmes also suggested the creation of a new flag and anthem.

He was speaking to BBC's Talkback programme, as part of a special to be broadcast on Easter Monday.

'Across the divide'

Northern Ireland's political institutions collapsed in January, after Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness quit as deputy first minister in protest against the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme.

A snap assembly election was held in March, but since then, the two largest parties have been unable to reach agreement on issues including the Irish language and legacy, meaning Stormont remains in a political deadlock.

Holmes has often spoken about his Northern Irish roots, and said he felt the concept of an overarching president would help society to move forward.

The journalist, who now presents This Morning on ITV, pointed to the deep divisions between unionists and nationalists adding that it "created a problem we don't necessarily have to have".

Image caption Holmes was a breakfast TV anchorman for 23 years, leaving Sky News in 2016

"How do you get more people on a one-off basis to say, 'I may be DUP and you may be Sinn Féin but we can all stand behind the president', we can all do that," said Holmes.

'Feel-good factor'

"Whereas you might not be able to stand behind the first or deputy first minister."

He suggested the president would need to be someone who "loves where we're from, believes in what we do, has to want the best for us and has to put hands across the divide".

"Someone with a feel-good factor, someone for high days and holidays who brings other people together and gives you a common interest and respect," added Holmes.

The issue of flags and anthems in Northern Ireland is often contentious, and has failed to be addressed by Stormont's parties over the course of various political agreements.

Holmes said he would like to see a new flag and a new anthem specifically for Northern Ireland, which did not have any political connotations.

"You look at Scotland and you look at Wales - why do we make it unduly complicated? Why don't we just have something we all love, let's move forward," said the broadcaster.

"I just see us as a collective, all for one, one for all - let's do this."

You can hear more of this interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback at 12:00 BST on Thursday and the full programme will be broadcast in a one-hour special on Radio Ulster on Easter Monday at 12:00.

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