Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the UUP, at the UUP Annual Conference, 13 November 2004
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Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), at the UUP Annual Conference in the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, Saturday 13 November 2004
It is a privilege to follow on from the Marquess of Salisbury, a member of the most distinguished dynasty in British political life, the Cecil family, and a loyal friend of Ulster and this party.
We meet in the aftermath of an American presidential election. Unlike any other party leader in the House of Commons, I made a point of publicly supporting the re-election of President George W. Bush, not least at the recent Oxford Union debate.
We are well aware of all the difficulties, but basically I think that President Bush was right. Bin Laden declared his war on the US in 1993. His first attempt to bring down the Twin Towers occurred the next year. The President of the day failed to respond effectively to the threat, thus building the Islamist belief that the US was weak and irresolute. That made essential a decisive response after 9/11.
The danger has not yet passed and this is not the time to have a weak and vacillating occupant of the White House. The fact that Kerry´s original position on Ireland was closer to Sinn Fein than Ted Kennedy´s ended any doubts there might have been. With Bush in the White House, the world is a more hostile place for those who practice terrorism.
We meet also on the eve of a general election and of local council elections. What is at stake for unionism is our reputation for fairness and decency.
To an extent not grasped here, the DUP, in a House of Commons completely dominated by Labour MPs, are held in scarcely concealed contempt. Five years of their sourness will do unaccountable damage to the Union. Unionism cannot afford a representation that will make Gerry Adams appear good before the court of English public opinion.
Our task is simple: we must add to the five seats we presently hold. This can be done. Already the party has selected four excellent new candidates in winnable seats. Can I introduce them?
Tom Elliott, who is ready to remedy one of the DUP´s greatest crimes, when in 2001 they gave Fermanagh and South Tyrone to republicans. Today we call on those who split the unionist vote then to rally round the only unionist who can win the seat.
Reg Empey, who is ready to put an end to 25 years of misrepresentation in East Belfast. The DUP lead there has been whittled down last November to just 1,900, while thousands of votes were wasted on candidates who will not count next year.
David McClarty, our Assembly Chief Whip is our champion in East Londonderry, who is planning to send Gregory back to the Maiden City he briefly abandoned.
Gareth McGimpsey will show that he has more than one surprise up his sleeve. Isn´t it nice to see a young candidate of such ability and assurance? He will not be the last to come forward.
In addition, I am confident that as the selection processes take their course, there will be more excellent candidates, all ready to reverse last November´s result.
Those elections were tailor-made for a party of opposition, skilled at manipulating justifiable feelings of frustration at republican failures and Governmental weakness.
But it is unlikely that the DUP would have got their head in front of us had they fought a simple "No" campaign as in 2001. What may have made the difference were the hints of a new pragmatism summed up in the ´fair deal´ slogan. Their manifesto, however, was a commitment-free zone without any specifics on what that deal might be. So afterwards, there was some interest in what new ideas the DUP might have.
That has been the big story of 2004. It is now clear that the DUP do not have a new big idea. They have not in fact proposed a new deal at all. In their discussions, they have not pursued any objective other that the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement. Oh, there are some modifications they would like, and I will deal with those later.
But, in fact, they have accepted the Belfast Agreement. Let me repeat that. In 2004, they have stated that they accept the fundamentals of the Agreement. What then were the last six years about? How much further down the road to decommissioning and disbandment would we have pushed republicans if all unionism had been united!
As on policy, so too on tactics.
Years after attacking us for doing so they dropped their refusal to share TV studios with Sinn Fein. Indeed, they now share platforms and debate with republicans, culminating in West Belfast in a public exchange with a major figure in the IRA - none other than the suspected architect of the Castlereagh raid.
So too with talks.
The party that ran away in 1997 and derided participation in talks in Hillsborough, Downing Street and Weston Park, has followed the same trail, though this time including the scenic Leeds Castle, under the guardianship of the architect of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. There the DUP negotiated with Sinn Fein. On that occasion it was through intermediaries, but it was negotiation all the same. That is without the persistent reports of direct encounters in private.
Of course, the most historic reversal of all, the man who often inaccurately accused others for taking the "Dublin Road" in fact traversed all of it to be the second leader of a Unionist party to enter Government Buildings in Dublin. A senior DUP official was reported as saying, "not an inch has given way to a symbolic hundred miles". You know, there is a phrase to describe the way the DUP has progressed - flip-flop, flip-flop!
Some new ideas were introduced into political discussion by the DUP. First, a moratorium on Border polls for 25 years. I called for such a poll myself not so very long ago: I am utterly convinced that a referendum on a United Ireland would be handsomely defeated. Perhaps that is why the NIO will not give us one. But calling for a moratorium is rank defeatism.
The other dangerous idea appears to have been ditched. The corporate assembly would have given Sinn Fein a share in the exercise of power without decommissioning and disbandment. Moreover, such an unworkable assembly would have inevitably drifted towards a conventional legislative and administrative model. The guns would then have remained under the table forever.
Of more significance are the two matters raised at Leeds Castle which are the ostensible reasons for the current deadlock.
The one institutional change they want is to split the joint ticket currently used to elect the First and the Deputy First Ministers. This would be of little practical consequence. What is the gain if the DUP is not required to vote for a Sinn Fein DFM but it is prepared to accept a Sinn Fein DFM voted in by other means? This is merely stripping out one of the few cross-community provisions of the Agreement to spare the blushes of a sectarian party.
Of more importance is the issue of accountability, where the legislation does not fully reflect the Agreement. We believe the solution lies in greater collective responsibility. But I do not mind so much if a Review gives the DUP cover for its increasingly explicit acceptance of the Agreement.
There is, however, a very important issue that has hardly broken the surface: the devolution of policing and justice. You will recall the exaggerated attacks on us last year. We were accused of having already agreed to a Sinn Fein Justice Minister. Gerry Kelly was mentioned.
In fact our position was that devolution was not possible as things stood; that confidence would have to be built, first by republicans explicitly supporting policing, going on the Policing Board and by their conduct there proving that they were now supporting law and order, and then by effectively ending the IRA as a private army.
We were simply not prepared to discuss the structures of devolution let alone who would be the Minister or Ministers responsible.
By contrast, the DUP now say that devolution of policing is "no big move". Robinson and Dodds say that no-one with a criminal conviction would be acceptable. A concession that any Shinner who had evaded justice could take charge! Adams apparently would be OK; de Bruin, if she were still in the Assembly, likewise!
Just a week ago Mr Robinson said that his party would accept a target date for the devolution of policing. Why volunteer this concession?
So it was no surprise to read in a Dublin magazine, a senior DUP source saying "We can´t have this ministry set up immediately. If Sinn Fein secured it and Gerry Kelly ended up Justice Minister, it would blow everything. Unionist grassroots would never accept that so quickly."
Note the words ´immediately´ and ´so quickly´. Have they already accepted the idea in principle? Has this been communicated to Sinn Fein? Is this why the issue is not mentioned by republicans?
What this year so far boils down to is that the DUP say they will share power with Sinn Fein in return for decommissioning and disbandment. This is an acceptance of our position. It validates our policy over the last six years.
They are talking of doing the same thing, and claim they will do it better. But there are two flaws. First, they have not managed to do anything yet and, second, some of their ideas and statements are thoroughly bad.
It is all very well to make fun of the DUP´s cack-handed first steps at negotiation. Others, however, must also bear a considerable share of the blame for the lack of progress.
At Lancaster House, just before the summer, the Government advised the parties to spend the summer preparing for the compromises necessary in the autumn.
There were signs that the informal networks, which linked loyalist and mainstream republican paramilitaries in Belfast, were preparing to deliver another peaceful summer. It is a pity the NIO did not take equal care of its least useful quango, namely the Parades Commission. Its incredibly stupid decisions nearly destroyed the summer.
When Sinn Fein arrived at Leeds Castle, the cry was ringing in their ears that they were the government´s Stormont Fusiliers. I suspect that they had been unable to persuade their grassroots to make what they would regard as big sacrifices. Like other parties, we do not know what republicans supposedly offered to Blair. I suspect the offer was more a bluff than anything else.
Blair should have nailed it down, but with characteristic optimism he rushed at it. The DUP could have covered themselves by confronting republicans and insisting they give clear details. But rather than engage in serious negotiations, they hid behind the other issues mentioned earlier.
I did warn the DUP that they were letting republicans away in the smoke. Unfortunately, they did not listen. But that should not obscure the fact that the main responsibility lies with the government and republicans.
The post-Leeds talks have run out of steam. It is said that the government is preparing a paper to put before the parties. We have advised government that they first nail down republicans.
There must be genuine acts of completion that satisfactorily resolve decommissioning and paramilitary issues. Without that prospect, there will be no progress. With it, there is something to do and we will be ready.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks, next year will be special, for it is our centenary. While the parliamentary party and constituency associations existed in the final decades of the nineteenth century, it was on 5th March 1905 that the Ulster Unionist Council was founded.
It is also the centenary of another, less honourable, organisation. Sinn Fein started life supporting a dual monarchy, along the lines of Austria-Hungary. A hundred years on, it has had to reconcile itself to life under one monarchy. As one author recently put it, "for the Provisional IRA, the struggle in Northern Ireland ended in defeat, if defeat is measured by whether an organisation´s objectives are attained. The scale of that defeat…is apparent in the private discourse of republicans and the public utterances of British and Irish political leaders."
But our own objectives have remained constant. Ulster is still British, thanks to generation after generation who understand that true loyalism means more than sectarianism.
Led by Carson and Craig during the difficult years of the Third Home Rule crisis and the establishment of Northern Ireland in 1921, the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party has always known the importance of British public opinion. Carson was a figure of the first rank both nationally and locally. I recall once passing some time in Downing Street when Blair walked past. "That´s the sort of cabinet you should have." I said, pointing at a photo of Lloyd George´s War Cabinet, "It has got two leaders of Unionism in it." They were Sir Edward Carson and his predecessor Walter Long.
Sir James Craig was just as ready to face down Lloyd George as to have dealings with Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins. The latter, of course, were denounced by some unionists. Craig won out for Ulster in both situations.
During the Second World War, both John Andrews and Sir Basil Brooke were conscious of Northern Ireland´s need to contribute to the war effort - just as we are conscious of the need to oppose the fascist forces of our day.
Captain Terence O´Neill, James Chichester-Clark and Brian Faulkner were all very conscious of the need to promote and preserve Northern Ireland´s good name elsewhere in the UK. One can argue about whether they moved too fast or too slow, but we know that their principal aim was the preservation of the Union, and that modernisation was necessary.
Sadly, earlier this year Harry West passed away. Harry was known for his cheerfulness and dogged persistence. His support for the Agreement was based on a profound assessment of the political realities in Co Fermanagh as well as the rest of the Province.
I pay tribute to Jim Molyneaux who, in his time and his inimitable way, exercised a cool and calming influence and took risks when they had to be taken. Jim will well remember taking that historic trip to Dublin in 1992 and being denounced as a Judas by a Christian pastor. How Jim must have smiled to himself when he saw that same Christian pastor in Government Buildings in Dublin, taking tea and sandwiches with a Fianna Fail Taoiseach.
We have been the main vehicle for Unionism for by far the greater part of the last 100 years because our core values reflect those of the Ulster-British people.
What are these values?
Our party really is democratic. I think it was Malachi O´Doherty who wrote, how can you trust a party that isn´t democratic internally to be democratic externally? Our leadership team is elected annually by the Council. I am accountable to you; the whole team is accountable to you.
We are pluralist in our culture too. For us, unionism is not the same thing as Protestantism. We know the Union is in the best interests of all. But we accept difference. We accept other points of view. We want a Northern Ireland where everyone irrespective of religion, gender, race or lifestyle, can be comfortable and proud to call home.
So, when people in Ballymena cannot attend their place of worship, we stand with them. When people who come here in search of a better life are attacked and intimidated, we stand with them too. And we don´t call journalists we disagree with ´Romanists´. That´s Ulster Unionism. Sectarianism is not in our DNA.
We try to be responsible, seeking what is best for Northern Ireland. We are not sectional in outlook. We are not a permanent party of opposition. On the Policing Board, we do not break confidences in order to grab a headline. We support devolution because we want to improve democratic accountability, not to build a wall against progress.
For us, Britishness is not just a flag too often waved to annoy others. It is a living, organic relationship with our fellow citizens elsewhere in the Kingdom. We are for a big United Kingdom, not just a little Ulster. We embrace British values; we do not hold our national parliament in contempt - even if we do not support all the policies of the government of the day. We want to see Northern Ireland fully involved in all aspects of the life of the nation.
Once, this party divided on the issues of integration and devolution. But devolution necessary for local accountability, as in Wales and Scotland, and to reflect, again, as in Wales and Scotland, the national variations that exist within the United Kingdom, affects only a limited range of political issues. The big matters - defence, foreign policy, taxation, expenditure and the broad sweep of public policy - are not devolved, and on these matters we can and should be fully integrated into the Kingdom, without any prejudice to the devolved matters, again, like Wales and Scotland.
I think that such a duality can also engage and be satisfying to those who see themselves as Irish. Such Britishness is inclusive. Emerson Tennant, one of the MPs for Belfast in the mid-19th Century put it as follows: we wish to add to the glory of being British, the distinction of being Irish.
Above all, this party is honest. There is no limit to our aspirations or to our ambitions for Northern Ireland. But we try to deal in realities, even uncomfortable realities. We do not lie to the electorate. We do not put forward false prospectuses. We set achievable goals. We don´t pretend we´ve achieved them if we haven´t. If we have to change our tactics, we say so.
In the last decade, we have had to face Unionism´s greatest challenge since 1912. Had republicanism succeeded in focussing the pan-nationalist front on the British government - with unionism, marginalised, outside the door and regarded as the problem - then the outlook would have been very bleak. The very Union itself would have been in grave danger.
It is the historic achievement of this party that alone, unaided, constantly sniped at, we carried unionism through the time of threat to now. Yes, there have been some knocks along the way.
But the measure of our success is that for the two years after the collapse of the Assembly it is republicanism that has been in the dock, under pressure to move, and that during this political hiatus, the economy has continued to grow and the quality of social life has continued to improve. Indeed there is the sense that society is stabilising.
But there are dangers.
The position of the republican movement is not stable. It is in the midst of a transition. But it has not yet completed that transition. In such a situation, you cannot mark time. They must complete or if they do not complete soon, there are risks.
Neither unionism, nor society as a whole, can be content with continued Direct Rule. We have to take responsibility for the community we live in, particularly as Direct Rule is now becoming more hostile.
We are threatened with rates reform and water charges designed to bear down unfairly on those who have a stake in society.
The want to sweep aside local democracy - local district councils replaced by a handful of large regional bodies, gerrymandered against unionists.
The plot hatched by the current Education Minister to destroy grammar schools has been widened into a general assault on the whole system.
It is now two years since the Assembly was suspended.
The year since the Assembly elections has been wasted.
The clever thinkers who thought problems would be solved by putting the extremes centre-stage now look rather foolish.
Will the Government´s paper next week have a way out of this stalemate?
Like me, you may be sceptical.
But this party will, as throughout its history, be ready to meet the challenge.
Today, next week, and next May, we will present our positive alternative.
We will be true to the heritage and values of this party.
Unionism, confident, responsible, persistent, seeking the best for Ulster and for the whole country.
A hundred years of service behind us,
The next century before us,
Let us go forward together with pride.
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