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Speech by Peter Robinson to an event at the Conservative Party Conference, Bournemouth, (2 October 2006)



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Text: Peter Robinson ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Peter Robinson, then Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to an event at the Conservative Party Conference, Bournemouth, (2 October 2006)

 

"It might be useful, in order to bring some shape and focus to events relating to Northern Ireland over the next few months, if I were to outline the issues, programme and methodology which will inform the DUP in the decisions it will make.

The issues are not new they have been the component parts of the DUPís agenda for many years.

[1] An end to IRA paramilitary and criminal activity.

In assessing this matter we will be guided both by the October Report of the IMC and other evidence of the state of the republican movementís activity. We will also need to establish the extent to which further time is needed to test the bona fides of the IRA. We need to be sure any new mode is permanent and not just tactical.

Moreover, as the central question in relation to this subject is about "certainty" we will study the statements and public stance of the IRA along with all available intelligence material bearing on their internal thinking.

Even if the party were to be satisfied that the IRA had ended its illegal activity the DUP would want to see how the government proposes to deal with any default by the Provisionals at any time in the future and in particular whether such a safeguard or sanction would apply solely to Sinn Fein or whether every party would be punished as on previous occasions.

[2] Support for the Rule of Law from all those who are to be in government.

Support for the Rule of Law is, to us, a vital pre-requisite from those who are to exercise Ministerial authority. We regard support for the rule of law to embrace both the police and the courts and must involve not only a verbal expression but a tangible demonstration of their acceptance of the policing and justice institutions. It must also contain a public recommendation to those they represent to also give such support.

The Belfast Agreement placed no such requirement on participants but the DUP believe without it an Executive would be unstable. The inclusion of those who were not tied into embracing such a basic and critical touchstone of peace and democracy would in a short time lead to the collapse of the institutions.

Coalitions of any kind are difficult vehicles of governance - mandatory coalitions even more so - unless the parties forming such a coalition are agreed on such an elementary principle there would be little hope of lasting devolution.

[3] Fundamental changes to the Institutions and Structures of the Belfast Agreement.

The apparatus of the Belfast Agreement provided government which was unaccountable, unstable, ineffective and inefficient. The government knows the nature of the essential changes which we seek in order to ensure the stop-go, wasteful and uncoordinated form of government, where Ministers were answerable to no-one never returns.

The changes we need cannot be left to the "goodwill" of a new Assembly. They must be legislated for and embedded in primary Westminster legislation.

Mandatory coalition government is not a democratic norm. It is not good government. It denies the electorate the opportunity to exclude and expel parties from government. Government does not change only its party strengths. This will never be the DUPís preference for governing Northern Ireland and it could only ever be accepted in very exceptional circumstances. We will want to ensure that any emergency structures and mechanisms which are by their character unconventional and less than democratic exist only for a short duration and a procedure is established for their replacement. The sooner Ulster can be governed by time-honoured democratic standards and values the better.

[4] Establishing a Financial Package to aid the transition from conflict to stability.

Devolution is only of value if it is capable of responding to the needs of the community. We must be satisfied that the Assembly has sufficient fiscal freedom and economic flexibility to make a difference.

An Assembly nailed down by unrealistic Exchequer budgetary restraints will not be able to correct the economic difficulties the Northern Ireland economy faces as it hopefully emerges from decades of conflict. An Infrastructure Fund is needed to redress the deficit from years of decline through neglect of our Provinceís vital infrastructure.

Any new Northern Ireland Executive must be in a position to lighten the burden on those facing massive rate rises and new water charges. It must be able to provide hope and chart a course for recovery and prosperity.

[5] Putting in place Fairness and Equality Confidence Building Measures.

During the "Trimble years" unionists watched, outraged and frustrated, as the government delivered a concession a day to the IRA. Unionists were left disadvantaged and while we have had some measure of correction under DUP leadership there is much more to be achieved before we reach fairness and equality.

The party has already set targets for the government on a range of issues to be resolved including parades, education, community and cultural funding etc. These measures are a vital element in re-building the confidence of the unionist community.

[6] Timetable and Programme of Work leading to Devolution.

We are not bound by the arbitrary deadline set by the government. We will be motivated only when satisfied on each of our key requirements. The timetable is therefore condition-led rather than calendar-led. There is still essential work to be completed before powers can be devolved. All such items should be timetabled for the months ahead.

The DUP will also take account of whether the nature of any final new agreement is such that electoral endorsement is required. If the content is not consistent with existing electoral mandates or raises issues not covered by past policy and the least doubt exists of the communityís support for the package then it is important to cement the deal with a referendum and/or election.

Conclusion

In short, even in circumstances where a judgement can be made that all IRA-sanctioned paramilitary and criminal activity has ended, time, is a key ingredient for providing certainty that any transition to peace and democracy is real and likely to be lasting. Only republicans and the government have the ability to shorten that timeframe. If the IRA provides convincing evidence of the new peaceful mode they talked about in July last year by discernibly dismantling their terror machine it is bound to create greater certainty as would the provision by the government of a meaningful sanction for default by republicans at any later stage on the terms of a deal.

DUP Talks Strategy

Those are the issues, but what is the strategy the DUP will follow?

We go forward as a united party. The Party Officers have, without any division or dissent, agreed our approach for the process ahead.

1. The DUP will not be taking decisions at the Talks in St Andrews. We will seek to make maximum progress on each element of our six-point agenda. It is likely that discussions on these matters will spill over to other meetings in the weeks ahead. We will, as always, painstakingly, constructively and enthusiastically negotiate the best possible deal for those we represent.

2. When it is evident that we have reached the point where no further advances can be made on those elements of the package which have to be negotiated we will move our consultation process into top gear - not just extensively within our own party - but within the unionist community as a whole. We would intend to listen to peopleís views on the negotiated package and also hear their assessment on the state of the republican movement and the level of its democratisation, its adherence to peace and its support for, the rule of law. The Party Officers have agreed that this consultation will take the form of both written and oral submissions as well as testing views through questionnaires. We will also undertake some opinion polling (rather than being influenced by the polling undertaken by others).

3. When in receipt of the results of our consultation process, and armed with our manifesto commitments, the Party Officers will take a view on the overall package.

4. The Party Officers shall discuss its assessment with our Assembly team who are specifically mandated by the electorate to make a judgement on these matters.

5. After receiving the views of MLAs the Party Officers will make a recommendation to the Partyís Central Executive Committee which, under our Party Constitution and Rules, is the body whose endorsement is required for any new policy initiative.

This is a heavy work programme which ensures the decision made has taken into account the views of our community in a way that our political predecessors at the helm of unionism avoided. The UUP leadership barely listened to its own membership never mind the wider unionist community.

We believe the process we have set will ensure compliance with our policy pledges; take full account of the views of our support base and provide the most secure route, in whatever timeframe, to a stable, workable and lasting agreement."

 


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