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David Trimble, then leader of the UUP, Speech to annual conference, 19 October 2002



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Text: David Trimble ... Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to the party's annual conference, Londonderry, 19 October 2002


"It is a particular pleasure to be here in Londonderry. No Unionist can come within the walled city without a sense of occasion.

Our presence here in such numbers is a sign of our commitment to the Unionists in the west of Ulster. Being here on the West Bank of the Foyle is a sign to everyone here that Unionism is relevant to their lives and their future.

It has been a personal pleasure to welcome Iain Duncan Smith here today. Not just because I was one of the first to support him for the leadership. Iain thank you for your speech. You have always been clear on the challenges here. Just as you were clear years ago on the need to tackle Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. We are all united on the need to tackle terrorism. The terrible events in Bali - 30 British dead - but hitting Australia proportionately as hard as 9/11 hit America has reinforced the nation’s determination on this.

Returning to home we have been reminded that, “A week is a long time in politics”!

And just over a week after the discovery of the Republican spy ring, we are, for the third time in three years, out of office.

Does this make us downhearted? Not really.

We will just roll up our sleeves again and get down again to the job of forcing Republicans to behave democratically.

Sticking to the job - it's something we are good at!

After all, we expected something like it to happen.

That Friday, as the story broke, my first thought was that the Castlereagh case was breaking.

Some of those the police were going after that morning were those suspected of raiding Castlereagh.

But, if anything, this was bigger than Castlereagh.

Over 1,000 stolen documents.

The security of some 2,000 prison officers compromised. Transcripts of calls involving the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, even President Bush.

Probably minutes of our meetings and those of other Parties with John Reid.

On 24 July John Reid gave Republicans what he called the yellow card. He promised that if they were caught with their hands in the till again the Government would support the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Executive.

Which would be the just result. Not the unfair result of suspending everyone - punishing the innocent along with the guilty!

Reid and Blair have not bothered to justify breaking their word. Evidently they do not need to explain. It’s just what they do.

When the Police entered Parliament Buildings to search Sinn Fein’s offices it was not just another crisis in the peace process.

It was the moment when the republican spin machine ran out of road.

No longer can the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland refer to a unionist ‘perception’ of republican wrong-doing.

The problem was not our perception, but the reality of a republican movement mired in its anti-democratic, conspiratorial and criminal past.

Our scepticism about the oft-stated republican commitment to ‘conflict resolution’ has proven to be well-founded.

Frankly, republicans’ words are as devalued as Argentina’s currency. Words like ‘The War is Over’ that might once have meant something cut no ice today.

Neither will deeds if, again, they are grudging and minimalist.

We will not be satisfied with some phantom disbandment. The paramilitaries really do have to go away. Their day is over.

But please note, I said “paramilitaries” - plural!

This message goes out to loyalists as well. People are fed up to the back-teeth with the racketeering and feuding that is disguised as loyalism.

We congratulate the Police on the raids of Friday fortnight. We also congratulate them on the recent arrests arising from Loyalist violence. We hope there will now be consistent action to bring charges and obtain convictions against all racketeers.

Fellow Unionists, I do not regard the last five years as a mistake. I think this party has a lot to be proud of!

Five years ago, faced with the challenge of confronting republicans politically, we did not flinch.

Even after the DUP ran away, we did our duty and defended the unionist cause in the talks.

And we did not just defend, we advanced!

All the constitutional issues - the consent principle - removal of articles 2 and 3 - the Republic’s improper constitutional claim - the end of the Anglo-Irish Agreement - ensuring that cross-border arrangements were balanced and subject to a Stormont veto -

on all these issues we succeeded!

We also laid the basis for a return to Stormont. Yes it was a new Stormont with safeguards. But for years, right back to the mid eighties, we had talked of partnership with nationalists. Naturally, they expected our words to be followed through in the structures for the new Stormont.

We went into that Assembly with two key commitments.

First, to make the Assembly work.

Second, to make those with a terrorist past change and abide by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

It was a mixed message. We discovered we could not achieve both at the same time. We had the courage to take the hard decision.

I know just how difficult that decision was for so many of us. But never forget, last year, the Unionist electorate showed that they preferred a party prepared to stretch itself to make progress to one that at every stage hung back, let others do the hard work, and then sneaked forward to take advantage of other peoples’ efforts.

Plenty can see through the emotional rhetoric that is used to cover this moral cowardice.

But we did not forget our determination to make sure that republicans reformed.

Three times we went forward on the basis of promises and the beginning of a process.

Three times we gave republicans an opportunity, but opportunities are also challenges.

Three times republicans failed.

Three times we blew the whistle on their failure.

Please note, we were the only whistleblowers!

Has there ever been a case of politicians who have voluntarily put themselves out of office three times in three years on a matter of principle. We have gone the extra mile, not once, not twice, but three times!

Now, we have to be fair, republicans have done some things too - not enough - but they have moved. They are not wholly unreconstructed, but this spring and summer the evidence of serious backsliding was overwhelming.

So, Mr Adams, its up to you, only this time do not expect promises or beginnings to do the trick.

It is time for conclusions, time for the transition that republicans say they are making to be completed. After a three fold failure to honour obligations, I have no intention of coming back to my party until it is demonstrably clear that this time obligations have been fulfilled.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister came here on Thursday to address the issue. A pity he did not do it in June when we asked him to! He has pointed the finger unambiguously at the IRA. The real question is how he will follow through in terms of actions in coming months. He must not repeat the mistake of government actions in advance or in response to republican promises. This time he must insist on completed acts.

As always these occasions are not without their funny side. Once again the DUP provided the humour. The raids were on Friday. Over the weekend, in consultation with colleagues I decided on our action, although for tactical reasons I decided not to announce this until after the meeting with the PM. I briefed the Assembly group, who were content.

Coming out of that meeting at 11.30 am, I was given a letter from Dr Paisley. Its key sentence said that he had given the Speaker a letter which would take effect after the Ulster Unionist Ministers had resigned. It did not say what the effect of this letter was. Its effect could not be assumed because legally Ministers resign by notice to me as First Minister. The letter also asked for my response to “this offer” although it had not actually offered anything. I wrote back making the obvious comments and heard nothing more.

Just before 3 pm, during First Minister’s questions, in reply to a question from David McClarty, I said that I had difficulty seeing how the Executive as then constituted could ever meet again. I did this to reassure folk in the country.

It caused the DUP to panic. There were rumours of meetings, rows. The media were told that the DUP Ministers were going to resign at 5 pm. Sky News broadcast that it had happened. But my office had received no resignations.

Just after 5 pm the DUP told the press that they would resign on Tuesday morning. I then, tongue in cheek, told Martin McNeely to tell journalists that if the DUP resigned, we would wait a week, run d’Hondt, take their Ministries and then get suspension.

On Tuesday morning the DUP announced that they were going to go on Friday, but right up to the last moment they did not clarify whether they were “withdrawing”, “rotating” or resigning. Actually in the end Dr Paisley dismissed Peter and Nigel. Presumably this was the only way he could prise Peter out of office.

There is a serious point here. Despite their anti-Agreement rhetoric, the DUP have accepted it. They accepted it when they accepted their seats. They accepted it when they accepted office. They accept it when they accepted their part in an administration which included Sinn Fein.

That's the DUP for you: the party of the Big Lie and the half-truth.

Unfortunately some Ulster Unionists have been taken in. They should remember that the closer you get to the DUP the higher you go on their hit list. I hope the lessons of June 2001 have been learnt. The DUP are no friends of Ulster Unionism. They are short-sighted political opportunists. Their own personal ambitions are of much greater importance to them than anything else.

If they really cared about Ulster would they have so cheerfully handed over Fermanagh and South Tyrone to Sinn Fein!

Increasingly, Peter Robinson is touting himself as the unionist Dublin has always been looking for. He is the darling of the nationalist press. Peter is trying to fulfil their agenda. He pleads all too obviously for a specious renegotiation to spare his blushes while he courts Sinn Fein. And, it's not just in TV studios you know.

Sleek mandarins in Dublin's Department of Foreign Affairs wonder - can Peter deliver? Let’s be honest. Peter Robinson couldn’t even deliver the milk!

The record shows that Peter can’t lead, but he can mislead. He has misled the DUP into not seeing that they have been sharing power with Sinn Fein. He has manoeuvred Dr Paisley into becoming, in deeds, if not words, a supporter of the Agreement. That is the extent of his achievement. Well done, Peter!

It is not the only mistake they make in Dublin. There is an ideological blind-spot there. The doctrine of consent is widely accepted in Irish public life but its implications are not fully grasped. There is still an unwillingness to accept the depth and solidity of our community's commitment to the Union and the political and cultural implications that flow from that. An example was this week’s astonishing regurgitation by the Irish Foreign Minister of the 1980s phrase about a failed political entity. That rhetoric failed a long time ago.

Too many people in nationalism see unionism as a problem to be got around rather than a noble tradition to be accommodated in a spirit of genuine engagement. Their blind spot can be seen in the ideological laundering of Sinn Fein propaganda and IRA misdeeds.

Far too may Dublin politicians regard the burning issue of the last fortnight to have been a few police Land Rovers at Stormont. They turn a blind eye to the sustained act of subversion which has threatened the integrity of the institutions and threatened the democratically expressed will of the people.

Compare this with the Irish News’ front page editorial of 7th October which recognised that as long as the IRA exists “there is an obvious danger that it will engage in enterprises which cause incalculable damage to the search for stability and reconciliation."

How many Dail members have had the courage of Ruairi Quinn to point out that the Agreement will never be secure until the IRA disbands?

Most nationalists know that Irish unity is unobtainable. But too many nationalists compensate by expecting unionists to tolerate the continued existence and regular misdeeds of the IRA.

Equally dangerously is the loose talk about joint authority. This is totally lacking in any shard of realism. Under the arrangement that we all agreed Her Majesty's Government retains sovereignty as they have just demonstrated by suspending the institutions yet again.

Like anyone else the Irish can put forward their ideas. The danger lies with the direct rule Ministers and the Northern Ireland Office where there are too many unreconstructed minds, dark corners where the notion of consent has not penetrated.

Furthermore if we must all be punished for Sinn Fein's espionage and Stormont is in suspension there can be no question of the North-South arrangements continuing to function as if nothing had happened.

The cost of what Sinn Fein has done must be brought home to everyone, Northern nationalists and the Irish Government as much as anyone else.

I have dealt for some considerable time on the failures of nationalism and republicanism. But we must be honest. Regardless of who starts it, the much recent violence has emanated from the fringes of our own community.

The same Irish News editorial rightly earlier talks of "a loyalist campaign of intimidation and terror across Northern Ireland".

Some unionists try to ignore this. But they are ignoring too the corrupting influence of loyalist violence and crime on their own communities. This - not human rights education - is the major issue for the Police.

I say to those loyalists who are seeking a political path and want to work for the development of their communities, please take up the challenge and make a positive contribution to the creation of lasting stability. But to those still addicted to violence, drugs and criminality, we say in the name of God, go!

Earlier this week, we left government for sound reasons. But we left Northern Ireland better than when we first walked up the steps of Stormont.

Devolved Government has been making a real difference to the lives of all the people of Northern Ireland. Our Ulster Unionist Ministers and Assembly team have proved themselves. There is a record we can be proud of, a record of solid achievement. Ulster Unionism has had an input across every field of government. The contrast with the bad old days of Direct Rule could not be more stark.

I could go through, Department by Department the achievements and the problems. Moreover, we were planning more reform - two key examples.

The large investment deficit in public services during Direct Rule. To tackle the infrastructure shortcomings we were putting in place the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative with the potential to release billions of pounds to fast-forward Northern Ireland - an Ulster Unionist-SDLP initiative.

We initiated a comprehensive review of public administration which will strengthen local government and overhaul local service delivery to make government better and more responsive to local needs.

But the biggest reform we need is political. We all know that Unionism was punching below its weight. There were two reasons for this.

First, the Unionist majority in the Assembly was not reflected in the Executive. The votes cast for the small parties and the independents were wasted. If those ten seats had been added to the two major unionist parties it would have been a 7/5 Executive not 6/6.

Most people have now got that point, but the second point is even more important. More Ministers will not matter if they don’t turn up to vote in the Executive. We need a strong executive capable of enforcing collective decisions. The DUP should be ashamed of how they deprived unionism of votes in the executive.

We must persuade the voters to maximise the unionist strength in the Assembly and in its executive. They must send a clear message to the DUP - “Stop playing games and get to work properly.”

The best way to send that message is to vote Ulster Unionist. Voting DUP will only reinforce their silliness and bring closer the nightmare scenario, which is the greatest threat to Ulster and the Union. The Union is only safe with this party.

But this party must be united.

Unionists must realise that they can’t afford to go on squabbling or else they will see Sinn Fein as the largest party in Northern Ireland.

That had to be said. But could I return for a moment to the events of the summer. And no I don't mean the tensions at interfaces. I refer instead to Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee.

There were those who said the British people's attachment to a constitutional monarchy was fading. They got their answer.

As the Prime Minister said recently, "There is a patriotism that has developed in Britain that is not backward-looking and is not insular in which people can feel comfortable with the British flag and with Britain as a country, from whatever political or ethnic background they are from."

As New Labour's guru Professor Anthony Giddens has put it, a pluralist people should support the building of a 'cosmopolitan nation' in the United Kingdom, resisting the extremes of identity politics and integrating Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of one country. He added: “We need to limit the endless fragmentation of nations along the lines of ethnicity which identity politics produces. The extremes to which a such a process can lead can readily be seen in ex-Yugoslavia."

The future lies with multinational, multicultural democracies. That is our Union. That is modern Britishness.

I know that many feel that Britishness here is being eroded and that the Government in London is largely to blame. I say, lets not just complain let us do something about both parts of this issue. We can promote Britishness, we can engage with the political and cultural elites in London.

We promote Britishness by showing how Britishness accommodates and includes. The really good thing about the new police badge is that it gives pride of place to the symbol of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. It underlines the ability of multi-cultural Britain to include Irishness and is in stark contrast to the inability of the mono-cultural Irish state to include Britishness.

We engage best with metropolitan indifference by taking Ulster Unionism to the heart of British politics. Maybe we do not realise how many people in Britain - across the board share the same vision as us.

Northern Ireland needs to be more closely engaged in British politics. Our political system here will not be really healthy if it is apart from the British political system. Those who would still keep our politics separate from the rest of Britain are unconsciously helping those who want to separate us from Britain. This is not the old integration/ devolution debate. We can in today’s Britain be both devolved and integrated.

Part of the reason why people like the Assembly is the opportunity it gives for integrating nationalists fully into the political life of Northern Ireland. We all know that is necessary.

I believe it can be better done if at the same time we try to integrate everyone in Northern Ireland into the political life of the United Kingdom.

We are still open to partnership government.

We are committed to building better relationships.

We are committed to building a better society, socially and economically.

We continue, determined to achieve real peace

We have the experience.

We have people with proven ability.

If we are and remain united.

We will succeed in getting this job done.

We will deliver a Northern Ireland.

New. Peaceful. Prosperous. Proud."


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