Extract from Speech by Peter Robinson Marking his Reselection as the DUP's Westminster Candidate for East Belfast, 12 November 2004
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Extract from Speech by Peter Robinson, then Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), marking his reselection as the DUP's Westminster candidate for East Belfast, Belfast, 12 November 2004
"It is twenty-six years since you first selected me to contest the East Belfast seat. The fortunes of our party have risen substantially over those years. Within months of capturing the East Belfast constituency we firmly established ourselves as the dominant party in the area at every level – local government, Stormont, Westminster and Europe.
Our full-time advice centres and ethos of hard work has strengthened our electoral standing and at the last Assembly election we increased our vote by 8% from the previous one and gained our highest share of the vote at any Stormont election.
Traditionally and consistently we have taken an even higher share of the vote at Westminster elections but we will not become complacent. I have the privilege of being the longest serving Member of Parliament for any constituency in the City of Belfast in Parliamentary history. I have been incredibly honoured to serve the people of East Belfast and I am deeply appreciative of their loyal and steady support.
I renew my commitment to the task of working for all the people while fearlessly raising the unionist banner in this constituency and ensuring that this community is represented by a unionism that is confident of the strength of a noble cause and unflinching when under fire from the many shades of republicanism.
When I took over the parliamentary reins of this constituency, a quarter of a century ago, unionism was in retreat. The UUP was doing what it does best – dithering and squabbling. Some things never change.
At the coming election the UUP will be represented by a candidate whose fingerprints – according to the best forensic evidence – are found prominently placed throughout the failed Belfast Agreement. They can be detected on the page dealing with the release from jail of IRA murderers, they can be found on the page instructing Patten to destroy the RUC, they can be found on the page setting up unaccountable all-Ireland bodies and they can be found on the pages ushering the representatives of armed and active terrorism into government.
With such a CV I am surprised the UUP has the audacity to contest this election. Having determined to do so, one might expect that Reg would be able to draw the public’s attention to some other features and attributes of his party which might compensate for the embarrassing and unwieldy baggage he carries around with him.
Well yes, he does have something to say about his party. He even put it in writing. He gave a copy of it to Jeffrey Donaldson when, at private meetings, Reg was plotting and scheming to organise a coup to take over the leadership of his party. This was at the same time as he was publicly professing support to his party leader.
So what does Reg in his candid and reflective moments think about his party?
In a blunt and clear assessment he refers to of the UUP as being dysfunctional; the party’s head office he says is a "shambles"; the membership he admits is "ageing"; the youth wing he writes off as "small and ineffective"; the party’s performance on social and economic issues he slams as "poor and unfocused"; the party as a whole he describes as "distracted by divisions" and when it comes to the leadership and their negotiating team he states - "trust within the party is simply not there".
Well, if their own party members don’t trust them to negotiate they needn’t expect the unionist community to let them near a negotiating table ever again.
So next year the people of East Belfast will be asked to choose between the sitting member who will without apology speak up for unionism and has been tried and tested over many years in the hard school of Ulster’s turbulent history, and a challenger who was the architect of a deal which destroyed the RUC, put unrepentant terrorist spokesmen in government and who wants you to vote for a party which he confesses is a shambles, dysfunctional, ageing, ineffective, unfocused, divided and isn’t even trusted to negotiate by its own membership. I say let the people decide.
Since I contested – and won – the last Westminster election the DUP has become the largest party in Northern Ireland and has been entrusted by the unionist electorate with the task of stopping the rot and seeking a new agreement which represents a fair deal for both sections of our community and can provide stable, accountable, effective and efficient government.
The challenge is to have it established in a setting which ensures there is an end to paramilitary activity in all its forms and provides for the removal of all illegal weapons while making certain everyone within the process operates in an exclusively peaceful and democratic manner.
These are the principles and policies we put before the electorate both at the Assembly election and more recently at the European election. We received a massive mandate for those principles and policies and when they are met we will, eagerly, move forward.
I had thought, however, we were engaged in confidential negotiations and had agreed with both governments that until we reached agreement we would all refrain from publicly setting out the detail of the negotiations or engaging in leaking elements of the talks and briefing the press in an attempt to aid the position of any participant.
I regret that the government of the Republic of Ireland has decided to go public with a partial and perverted version of the negotiations, spinning the issues they say are causing difficulty and declaring who they find responsible for those difficulties. I also regret and dispute the Sinn Fein account of events.
The DUP have acted honourably throughout this process. There have been many occasions, even now, when publicity given to one aspect of the negotiations or another would have been very helpful to us. But we honoured our undertakings and will continue to do so. Those who do otherwise are acting in bad faith.
As the press have been briefed by those representing one viewpoint let me respond – but only to those matters they have made public.
The impression given after the Leeds Castle talks, that the IRA had made an historic offer which the DUP had rebuffed, was erroneous. At Leeds Castle an outline was given to us verbally by the government in vague terms of what the IRA might be prepared to do. We raised a series of questions to clarify the position but the clarification was not available at Leeds Castle. In addition we had agreed a four point agenda at Lancaster House for the Leeds Castle negotiations and only three items on the agenda had been properly addressed. The DUP is not in the business of signing up to hazy and incomplete concepts.
The DUP will not follow the UUP’s "make do" approach to negotiations. We entered the talks with clear mandated policies and principles. Cobbling agreements together has been the trademark of the UUP and it has resulted in abject failure. Those who criticise us and blame us for delay should survey the wreckage of past quick fixes. The DUP would rather take criticism for slow progress than suffer criticism for producing a failure.
We have been working to obtain certainty on those matters sketched out in outline form and attempting to overcome outstanding matters by ensuring all elements of the agreement are capable of gaining the support of the community. The standard might be high but the potential reward is enormous.
Moreover we want any outcome to be "self-sufficient". We want it to be comprehensive. We want it to be a settlement not just another part of a process. Our community – every part of it – needs long-term stability. We want an enduring outcome - a peaceful permanence.
If we had taken the advice we were offered by Mr Trimble and others to cash-in what was on the table at Leeds Castle we would have short-changed the people of Northern Ireland. It might have been an improvement on what the UUP produced in 1998 but that is not a gauge by which we want to measure. Even in the few months since Leeds Castle there has been considerable clarity gained on a number of issues to the advantage of everyone. If we had taken the advice of the cut and run advocates these gains would have been lost.
Before the Assembly election the public was showered with claims from our opponents telling them what we would never achieve. There would be no negotiations. Nobody would negotiate with us. There was no alternative to the Agreement. There would be no changes to the Deal. The DUP would never be able to achieve IRA decommissioning and were incapable of getting a better deal than the UUP. The DUP were conning people and would never get a fair deal indeed the DUP did not have the ability to negotiate.
Over subsequent months we have proved our opponents wrong and accomplished so much of what we were told would never happen that I do not feel pessimistic about the prospect of achieving a satisfactory result on the remaining matters. However, if people have a fixation with the clock it will damage the potential outcome.
I do not intend to respond in kind to the unhelpful comments of opponents. Their criticisms will have no impact on our support. Unionist voters will not be critical of the DUP because the party refuses to roll over. Unionists want negotiators who take care to get the details right and hold out for terms that are fair and reasonable.
Undoubtedly the issue of decommissioning is a critical factor in the negotiations. The criminal failure of the UUP to resolve this issue dogged them throughout the lifetime of the failed agreement.
Republicans need to understand that, in relation to decommissioning, the only objective the DUP has is to have all illegal weapons destroyed in a way that builds confidence in a community that has suffered so much from violence. People need weapons to be dealt with in a manner that is conclusive, verifiable and transparent. Certainty is the key. The day after decommissioning has occurred we want everyone to be completely satisfied that the guns have gone and a new brighter chapter in the life of our country is about to begin.
Having a visual aspect in the process is an indispensable aid to establishing community confidence – the kind of community confidence which will be needed to convince people who have lived through the dark days of the past decades that political arrangements they could never have contemplated may now be possible. The burden of convincing unionists that the IRA is serious about leaving the terror campaign behind lies with republicans. This is a responsibility that loyalist paramilitaries will also face if they are to play a full part in this transformation process.
The other nationalist spin story is that the DUP is divided and split into camps. Those who know our party know this is fanciful and wishful thinking on the part of our opponents. At first the claim was that there were two camps Paisley and the never, never brigade on the one side with Robinson, Dodds and the modernisers on the other. No amount of explanation about unanimous decisions at Officer, Assembly and Executive meetings reduced the media enthusiasm for this story.
Then came Leeds Castle and the new version! According to the whisperers, Paisley and Robinson were singing from the same Hymn sheet but there were dark and sinister backwoodsmen lurking in the shadows making life difficult for the leadership. One paper even named one of this nasty negative squad at Leeds Castle as Jim Wells our South Down Assembly member. Poor Jim! He wasn’t even present at Leeds Castle.
Now we have progressed in the media fantasy intrigue stakes. We apparently have a three-way division and Nigel has been promoted to being the deal-blocker during intensive talks held recently at Downing Street. My recollection, supported by our detailed minutes of each session, shows that Nigel did not make a single negative comment over the two days.
Let me make it clear, at least to those who allow facts to intrude into their lives, the DUP went into this process united and will come out the other end, united. There is but one camp in the DUP – it is the fair deal camp. Each one of us is bound by and committed to achieving our manifesto pledges. We will not settle for less and we will certainly not dawdle or dally when they are attained.
If agreement is not reached in any set of negotiations it is because two sets of proposals do not match. The gap is as much the responsibility of one participant as the other.
I realise that historically the government and other participants have become accustomed to the unionist representatives caving in and settling for scraps from the negotiating table. But times have changed. Trimble and Empey have been swept away. We live in a new dispensation. The DUP speaks for unionism. We demand a fair deal and we will not endorse anything less.
It is reported that a deadline has been set for November 26th. I am neither anxious nor impressed. Deadlines have peppered the process without the least impact on the outcome. Republicans have strung out the process for years. They have danced around deadlines. They have dodged deadlines. They have driven through deadlines. They have defied deadlines. Have they suffered as a consequence? Not a bit of it.
The DUP will determine its response according to the quality of the proposal not the threat of the alternative. We will accept a deal because we are satisfied it is right and will work, not because we want to avoid blame for failure or being obstructive. We will reject a deal, irrespective of the mutterings of what the government might do, if what we are asked to accept does not meet our publicly mandated commitments. The government and others may not thank us now but if we see this through to an agreed stable and lasting result future generations will salute us and rejoice in our perseverance.
It is on this basis that the unionist community can have faith that if we endorse proposals for the future those proposals are safe to handle and fit to support.
The DUP earnestly hopes that agreement can be reached in the next few weeks. We will play a constructive part in attempting to reach such a conclusion but if it cannot we know the unionist community will hold the line and trust us to finish the job. We will not let all that has been achieved be lost by a premature dash for the finish line.
We do not want another half-baked deal, our people deserve much better. They want society ordered by the rule of law and governed by the democratically expressed will of the people. They want to reverently remember their cherished dead and treasure the promise and worth of the living. They want to live in a tolerant and equitable society. They want to share all the benefits of our prosperity with every other race and group. They want to banish the blood-stained ghosts of division and shepherd in an era of peace and progress.
When I speak of "our people", I speak of those who share my unionist philosophy and those who do not. I speak of both the Planter and the Gael. I speak of those who will willingly and faithfully embrace the challenges of building concord and leave behind the conflict that has destroyed and embittered. The terror campaign must be consigned to history.
Together, as equals, in a wholly peaceful and democratic society, we can seize the opportunity and complete the task of realising our highest hopes and dearest dreams. I pray that soon or sooner we will arrive at that golden day."
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