Peter Robinson, then Deputy Leader of the DUP, Speech to Annual Conference, 8 May 2004
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Speech by Peter Robinson, then Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP),
"Our day has come. We are a party with a mission. In the last six months we have begun the transformation of unionism and with it the course of history in Northern Ireland. At our party conference, in the Europa Hotel, eighteen months ago I recall, as Director of Elections, committing the party to the goal of victory at the ballot box and a change of direction for unionism. The unionist people delivered us a great victory and they did it handsomely.
We are the largest party in Northern Ireland by the will of the people. Last November changed everything. Its significance was not simply that we won more seats than any other party, but that unionism is now under new management. The names of Trimble, McGimpsey, Empey and Nesbitt used to strike fear into homes across Northern Ireland. Unfortunately they were unionist homes. Now they are but a bad memory.
Let us not forget the scale of that victory. Last October we had 20 Assembly seats, in November we won thirty and today we hold thirty three seats, nine more than the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein and fifteen more than the SDLP. We are the only party to have representatives in every constituency – including West Belfast.
It was a remarkable election campaign. Who will forget "the fuss at the bus". Do you recall the question that left Mr Trimble speechless? "Where’s Jeffrey? Where’s Jeffrey? "Well David – let me answer my own question - he’s here.
Can you remember Gregory chewing up Martin McGuinness on TV – and thankfully spitting him out. And what about the SDLP with those "Stop the DUP" posters. It didn’t quite have the outcome they planned. A party that can’t stop Mark Durkan talking shouldn’t take on more ambitious tasks.
Will anyone who saw the first party election broadcast ever forget "David and Daphne the Movie". It is ironic that just as Arnold Swarzenegger was moving from films to politics David was trying to move in the opposite direction. I’m told he was approached by one movie company – the Hammer House of Horror.
But wasn’t the Ulster Unionist campaign truly inspired. Making a fish supper the centre piece of the election was a flash of brilliance. It didn’t do anything for the Ulster Unionists – they got battered, but the sales of fish and chips went up all over Ulster.
The election was more than one for the record books it was one for the history books. Since the election we have been coping with an unparalleled growth in our party organisation.
Our membership is increasing at the rate of over 100 new members every month. Many are coming from the Ulster Unionist Party but scores of others have never been in any political party before and still others are rejoining the party. Yet most of you have been with us from the start, together we have struggled through the difficult years and difficult times. Without you there would simply be no party today. The sturdy core and the new blood – together, a formidable team.
Mr Chairman, there has never been a better time to be a Democratic Unionist.
Some of our new members are better known than others – I join with previous speakers in saying how delighted I am to have Jeffrey, Arlene and Nora in our ranks – they have a tremendous contribution to make and have already thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the task of delivering a fair deal. And they’re doing it with gusto. Yes, Gusto’s another of our new members. We welcome all our new members, warmly, genuinely and enthusiastically. And isn’t it great to have Jim Allister back? Jim was my election agent when I won my Westminster seat in 1979. He knows something about winning campaigns and between now and 10th June we will all be working to help Jim notch up another great victory.
In just over four weeks we have the first test of public opinion in Northern Ireland since last November. As you will have seen this morning in Jim we have a candidate for Europe who is head and shoulders above the other candidates. Since selection Jim has been travelling the length and breadth of the Province. He will spearhead our campaign into Europe.
Today sees the formal launch of our campaign. It is a critical election for the party. Having defeated the UUP in November we must consolidate that victory and stay ahead of Sinn Fein.
Now, the Ulster Unionist candidate knows his way around Europe. In fairness to Jim Nicholson he has proved adept at extracting money from Brussels – unfortunately, according to a recent report, it has been for himself rather than the people of Northern Ireland.
When Ian announced he was intending to stand down in Europe Jim Nicholson immediately brightened up he thought his prospects were improving. That lasted about as long as a Britney’s Spears marriage.
The real contest at this election will be with Sinn Fein’s Barbra de Brun. Republicans have a track record of exiling people from Northern Ireland but this may be the first case of them trying to get rid of someone by sending them to the European Parliament. I wonder if, in true republican fashion, she will travel on a false passport.
At our last conference I quoted James Cooper who likened Jeffrey and David Trimble being in this hotel at the Ulster Unionist Party Conference to a wedding ceremony. Well in January the marriage was annulled. The Divorce papers were served and I’m pleased to say we got the assets and David keeps the liabilities.
For many years now we have been working alongside Jeffrey at Westminster, now he is working with us as part of our group. His move to the DUP has strengthened our team in the House of Commons making us the largest Northern Ireland party and the fourth largest in the United Kingdom - a position which will be enhanced at the next General Election.
All of our newly elected Assembly members are settling in – making their mark in the community – opening new offices – and delivering for their constituents. In fact, at the rate things are going at the moment, there will soon be more DUP offices opening than Post Offices closing.
Let me serve notice on the Ulster Unionist Party. Last November was no flash in the pan. The Westminster elections are probably only a year away, council elections the same.
In 2000 there were ten Ulster Unionist MP’s at Westminster – today there are five – and there is not a single safe Ulster Unionist seat left in the country. Look out boys we’re coming for you – and that goes for you too, Sylvia!
Roy Beggs is merely serving out his last months in East Antrim – the DUP has already moved ahead of the Ulster Unionists in South Antrim, there is an anti-agreement majority in Upper Bann and we are close on the heels of the UUP in both South Belfast and North Down. And that was before our best known new recruits joined us and the further boost that gave to our fortunes. We are on the march and they are in retreat.
With Arlene’s support we are also now the leading unionist party in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Let me make this absolutely clear to James Cooper and the Ulster Unionists. The party that lost Fermanagh and South Tyrone should step aside for the unionist candidate who can win it. James Cooper lost the Fermanagh seat because many unionists, even without a DUP candidate in the field, could not bring themselves to vote for him. There is absolutely no doubt that Arlene Foster is the right candidate to win Fermanagh and South Tyrone. If the Ulster Unionist Party had selected her in 2001 she would be the Member of Parliament today.
We will not be standing aside, unilaterally, in any constituency. There will be no free ride for any Ulster Unionist candidate.
Mr Chairman, today we have much to celebrate but we gained our victory because people trusted us to do a job. We must continue to work and plan for the future. Our mission has not been completed, but in just a few months we have made enormous progress.
After the defeats imposed on unionism by the UUP in the Belfast Agreement, at Weston Park and in the Hillsborough Joint Declaration – some of which is still unfolding - unionism is emerging confident and determined.
The pages were not clean when we were handed the book of unionist authority but our task is to make good our pledges. In the referendum we warned that some of Trimble’s blunders, once made, would be irretrievable. I told you at conference two years ago that some of his concessions could not be undone.
However, we pledged to deal with the unaccountable form of devolution and North/Southery.
We are committed to ensuring there will be no Executive places for those who have not demonstrably left terrorism behind.
We are in the business of blocking the development of the united Ireland process.
We do not find acceptable a Union based on a grudging "if you must stay you can" mentality. We will work to strengthen our great Union.
We are changing the direction of unionism. The revival has only just begun and there is still an enormous amount to achieve but the change of mood in unionism cannot be denied. Having been on the back foot for the last six years we can now take control of our destiny.
We need spend little time looking back at the also ran parties. We have a job to do and we must dedicate ourselves to accomplishing that task.
Of course we will ready ourselves for the electoral tests ahead but we will still focus on the task of replacing the failed Belfast Agreement with a Fair Deal. The Belfast agreement lies discredited, impotent and wilted. It is barely alive enough to summon the strength to die.
We will put it out of its misery. We believe there is a better way for Northern Ireland and our dedication will take us there.
What a difference a year makes - David Trimble has gone from being a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who led unionism, to become yesterday’s man with nothing to offer and an incurably divided party. Nora Beare when she spoke to Democratic Unionists in East Belfast pointed out that the internecine war in the Ulster Unionist Party has lasted longer than World War ll. In the last eighteen months only Saddam Hussein has had a greater fall from grace.
Saddam Hussein, had gone into hiding in a small spider hole in a remote part of the country, out of sight of his people. The talk is that he copied this tactic from Jim Nicholson.
Just remember where we were just a few short years ago. We were castigated by our opponents, written off by the commentators and ignored by the Government. Our political obituary had been written and those who had only a fraction of our mandate were lauded and elevated.
Unionism was on the road to destruction under the leadership of David Trimble. Sinn Fein was in Government with the IRA still armed and active and Unionism seemed in terminal decline. The Ulster Unionist Party had given up the fight and was resigned to managing that decline.
I am happy to report that the era of Trimbleism is over.
The only thing preventing its burial is the fact that mortician McGimpsey hasn’t finished dressing up the corpse. Michael will be out of work soon but there’ll always be a job for him at Wilton’s.
Happily the DUP leadership has had a great year. Dr Paisley must find tremendous joy in realising a hard worked for goal, now that the DUP is Northern Ireland’s main party. Ian is not merely our leader, he is an inspiration to us all. Few people in Northern Ireland will have been the subject of more criticism and taken more abuse over the last forty years than Ian. None of this has stopped him in his work for the Union. His electoral record in the European elections is unequalled and a most enviable one. Five times he has received the endorsement of the people of Northern Ireland at the polls beating off all comers. In the Assembly election he travelled the length and breadth of the Province for the party. He is far more than a politician, he is and always will be a crucial part of the history of Northern Ireland and the cause of the Union. His time in Europe may be coming to an end but happily his work for this party and for Ulster continues.
We are now clearly the leaders of unionism. Whilst the UUP remains in disarray, we are growing from strength to strength. We have been taking our proposals to public meetings across the Province consulting, informing and recruiting as we go. Meanwhile from their bunker the Ulster Unionist Party claims that it is they that have gained new members. There is something strange about these new members. They seem to be more difficult to find than Bin Laden.
Where are they? Sorry, Mr Chairman, I forgot about that red white and blue hero, Eddie Haughey who Mr Trimble tells us has made a great contribution over the years. I don’t doubt it. Mr Haughey joins the UUP from Fianna Fail – the Republican Party. He’ll feel at home in the UUP.
For the first time in a generation there is a fresh confidence within the unionist community. For once, it is not unionists who are under pressure but republicans. The Ulster Unionist Party has failed to learn the political lesson of the last six years. They made the same mistake time after time of trusting the IRA.
How could anyone take the word of an organisation which has repeatedly lied about every aspect of this process. A David Beckham denial would have more credibility.
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler argued that the great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one. In keeping with this doctrine, Gerry Adams, the political prince of lies, tells us he was never in the IRA.
He was interned because he wasn’t in the IRA and picked by the Provos as part of their delegation to meet Willie Whitelaw in London because he was never a member of the IRA. The belief that he led the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and has for many years been on the IRA Army Council, printed in many publications and never challenged in the courts by Mr Adams, we are asked to believe was erroneous. The many members of the IRA who have published books which chronicle his leadership role in the IRA were all inaccurate – though he never sought to seek defamatory damages for the lies.
You’ll remember the photograph of Gerry with his dark glasses, black gloves and beret, well that was just a fashion statement. The An Phoblacht column he wrote in 1976 saying, "Rightly or wrongly, I am an IRA volunteer .. the course I take involves the use of physical force", he claims, had been written by someone else that day. The details of the many terrorist attacks he had been personally involved in over the years were a fabrication – he had instead been hugging trees, writing books and trimming his beard.
So why is Gerry in denial? It is all part of the IRA’s attempt to rewrite history. They seek to airbrush from the records their evil deeds. They want history to ignore their heinous crimes and their grotesque conduct. They want no recollection of their murdering and their blood-letting. They want no record of their extortion and their criminality. That’s why everything that doesn’t happen is because others did not do what was required and anything that happens but goes wrong is everybody else’s fault. That’s why enquiries are demanded to focus attention on other people’s actions – but never their own. They want people to forget.
But this party will not forget. We will not forget the decades of death and cruelty. We remember how each day tears welled up in our eyes as the IRA butchered our fellow-countrymen and women. We remember the blood spilt, the lives given up, the broken hearts for loved ones slain. We remember the dark lamentable catalogue of terror and its ever present price to those who have lost – those are the real victims of the troubles.
We will not forget La Mon, Warrenpoint, Teebane, Enniskillen, and the thousands of other murders. And in the remembering of them we shall put freedom and democracy before a qualified peace. It is the desire of all our hearts that those who are born into this generation shall not know war as we have known it. It is a stable and lasting peace we shall struggle to win. It can not be achieved by suing for a respite from terror or abandoning the cause of freedom.
No people can make better use of peace than we can. However, no people know better that you can’t kill off terrorism by smothering it with concessions.
We know who we are dealing with and that is why, unlike Trimble, we will not take them at their word.
For the best part of the last decade the flame of unionism has burnt low. Unionism has been led up bypass alley. Instead of focusing on the key issues we have been treated to train-spotting and lectures on trivia. While the UUP followed academic analyses and sought to weave unionism into the republican agenda the unionist interest was diluted and diminished.
In the Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle illustrates Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson camping out on the Dartmoor for the night. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes up and shakes Watson –
"Look at the sky Watson. What do you see?" asks Holmes. Watson replied, "I see stars, millions and millions of stars."
"And what does that tell you, Watson?" Holmes demands. Dr. Watson pauses for a moment. "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and countless planets in them.
Horologically, it tells me that the time is a quarter past three. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Theologically, it tells me that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a nice day tomorrow."
Holmes says nothing.
Watson finally asks, "Well Holmes, what does all this beauty and grandeur tell you?" The detective snaps back, "Watson, you idiot, it tells me that someone has stolen our tent." Sometimes in their desire to seem clever and profound or by focusing on only part of the problem, they miss the obvious.
The DUP will keep its eye on what matters. The DUP will focus on the issues that go to the heart of our survival as unionists.
The approach of the DUP is distinctly different to that of the UUP. The UUP sought as its strategic goal to seek peace with terrorists. The DUP wants an end to their existence!
There is a world of difference between those two positions and there is a world of difference in the consequences flowing from those two strategies.
If your strategy is to seek peace with the terrorists then you will inevitably be sucked into paying for the silence of their guns – and so it has been. You will find yourself co-existing with the terrorists and always having to appease them for fear they turn up their terror. That is the rationale of the Belfast Agreement.
If, on the other hand, you have a clear strategic goal of eliminating terrorism and your prime aim is not peace but rather a determination to face down terrorism, it makes no sense to negotiate peace with terrorists.
I do not want peace with terrorists! I want the destruction of terrorism!
The strategy to follow is therefore to ensure that the door is closed to terrorists and only open for democrats. Instead of bringing the terrorists inside and hoping to wean them off violence you keep them outside until you can verify that they have left violence behind permanently.
I note from the newspapers that Dublin sources believe the DUP is "setting the bar too high" for republicans. Where the bar is placed is not aimed at being awkward or obstructionist. With us the bar represents the standards that define democratic acceptance.
So while compared to the UUP’s standard it is clearly set higher, when it has been met then everyone is on all fours and each has the same access, opportunity and democratic entitlement. There can be no place in government for those who have not mastered the alphabet of democracy.
I can hear a voice from Connolly House saying – "But we have a mandate." Let me make it clear, electoral success is no substitute for democratic legitimacy.
For all parties the qualifications for Government have been set. To divert from these fundamental democratic tests would be to legitimise terrorism and merely delay the final end of violence in Northern Ireland. Let us not allow the pressure to be taken off Sinn Fein/IRA. Today they are under more pressure than at any time in their history. They know the opportunity of an easy way out - with another sham deal - with a pushover unionist leader is off the table. We can work with democrats. We will not work with terrorists.
No one can be the servant of two masters of opposite and conflicting wills and faithfully obey both.
Sinn Fein must choose who is to be its master - is it to be the Army Council of the IRA or democratic decisions taken in and by a democratic forum.
It is not for us to accept that republicans are capable of change. It is for them to convince us, and the world, that they have changed. On this issue this party will not budge.
Our election slogan last November was "Its time for a fair deal". This year already we have taken the political initiative by publishing our proposals for devolution and for Northern Ireland’s relationships within the British Isles. These documents are the culmination of work which has been going on within the party for several years and are based on principles which were endorsed by the electorate. They have been well received both at home and abroad - in Westminster and in Washington. Never again can anyone seriously argue that there is no alternative to the Belfast Agreement. I believe that these documents represent the best chance for progress in Northern Ireland.
We want to see devolution returned to Northern Ireland but we will not take devolution at any price. Let me make this commitment to you today. Over the next months we shall work night and day to bring about the return of devolution but we will not shift on matters of principle.
We are a party which keeps its word. What we promise, we will do and what we agree we will deliver.
It is the inability of those involved with paramilitarism which is holding up progress. It is time for the democratic parties in Northern Ireland to spell out the simple choice to Sinn Fein/IRA. Give up your terrorism or get left behind. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland should not be held to ransom by those who cling to the ways of the past unable to exist by argument alone. Whilst the Government continues to give republicans a veto on political progress it merely increases the demands Sinn Fein make and delays the day that devolution can return.
I wonder can any of you remember seeing the Candid Camera show that had the sketch of a man entering an elevator. He did what we all do. He pressed the button for the floor he was going to and turned to face the door. The cameras are following his every move and closely scrutinising his every expression.
The lift stops at the next floor and two men enter – they are part of the Candid Camera team – but instead of turning to face the door they walk in and face the man and the back of the lift. The man looks a little embarrassed but he stands his ground.
The lift stops at the next floor and another two people enter again they face the back of the lift and the cameras pick up the victim swallowing and looking most uncomfortable but still he holds his position.
The elevator stops at the next floor and once more two people enter and face the back. The poor victim can take no more, he uneasily and slowly swivels round to face the back of the lift.
This party positioned itself in the right direction and was best placed to deal with the situation unionism faced. At regular intervals people told us we had got it wrong. They were facing the opposite direction. They vilified us because we would not conform. They told us we were going the wrong way and they pressed us to turn around.
We held our ground. We are facing in the right direction. The DUP is not for turning.
Unionism was blown off course in the Trimble years but we have charted a course to firm ground. No mariner charts his course from where he was before the storms blew. He takes his readings from where he now rests. Following that prudence, we cannot chart our course from where unionism was before Trimble took the helm. We cannot chart our course from where we would like unionism to be placed. We must chart our course from were we now are. We have to deal with the landscape as the UUP have left it. We have to claw our way back, over the rubble Trimble left behind.
We inherited the leadership of unionism at a time when unionism was alienated, defeated, demonised and on the run. Unionism was weak and angry. Already we are changing that. The anger has changed to resolution. There is a new dynamic. Unionism has awakened. It is rejuvenated, confident, proud and growing stronger. We shall not beg for our rights.
We are a party on a march, a cause on the move. Our strength is our unity of purpose and clarity of direction. We will hold our nerve. We will keep to our principles and we will see our efforts rewarded.
I ask you all to lift your eyes beyond the ordinary cut and thrust of politics.
This party has accomplished so much, and it has the capacity to soar to greatness. We have been chosen to uphold our great traditions. We have been charged with the task of guarding the Union. We have been called upon to defend our democracy and stand as the guardians of liberty.
We will answer that call.
As the people continue to give us our democratic authority, may God continue
to give us wisdom, strength and courage."
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