CAIN Web Service
Speech by Mike Nesbitt, to the UUP Annual Conference, (19 October 2013)
Text: Mike Nesbitt ... Page compiled: Martin Melaugh
Speech by Mike Nesbitt, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to the UUP Annual Conference, Belfast, (19 October 2013)
[Check text against delivery]
"Good afternoon, Conference.
When we say Never, never, never, never!
We mean Never, ever, ever, ever!
Of course, other brands of Unionism are available.
Like the brand that did the deal to get into power in 2007.
We never did hear what the deal was, did we?
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know. It’s high time. Reveal the Deal, DUP. Reveal the Deal .
Because I see no benefit for Unionism.
I n fact, I see little benefit Northern Ireland.
I see a lot more benefit in voting for Jim Nicholson
Thank you Jim for Doing what’s right for Northern Ireland in Europe. You have experience and status – and contacts – like no other MEP. At this time of continuing uncertainty in Europe, it is so reassuring for Northern Ireland to know you are there for us.
Jim Nicholson stood firm against the Peace Centre at the Maze. You stood firm. Innocent victims stood firm. Even when Northern Ireland's First Minister said we needed taken away by men in white coats.
That was RUC widows he was talking about. And the RUC George Cross Association. And the UDR Regimental Association, and the Prison Officers, and thousands and thousands of innocent victims. And our First Minister says they need taken away by men in white coats! And one of his DUP colleagues used the word “nutters.”
And the deputy First Minister called the campaigners “extreme loyalists.”
And yet, these are the politicians the voters put their trust in two and a half years ago. They lead the parties the voters have supported at the ballot box for many years now.
But don’t you sense people want change? Don’t you get the feeling it’s time for parties who take responsibility, not just take power?
To those who are fed up with bad decisions, badly-timed decisions and the general lack of decisions, I say this: There is a better way, you know
It’s called Doing What’s Right for Northern Ireland.
It’s what we do.
We did it 100 years ago, to ensure there was a Northern Ireland.
We did it again 15 years ago, to ensure there was a Northern Ireland with a chance of building a better, peaceful future.
And we’re ready to do it again, because Northern Ireland once again needs a pro-Union party at the heart of government that will put the Country first, and take the responsibility that goes with power.
DEALING WITH THE PAST
It’s what we did with the Maze Peace Centre. The Maze proposal was wrong because it put too much emphasis on the victim-makers and trampled on the sensitivities of those they hurt. Our focus must always be on those who were given no choice about becoming a victim.
At this point, let me address some thoughts to Republicans on Dealing with the Past.
To Gerry Adams, who says he was never in the IRA; to Gerry Kelly, who shot a prison warder in the head, yet claims it was not an act of terrorism; to Martin McGuinness who told the £200 million Saville Inquiry there are some parts of his past he will not discuss "under any circumstances".
To Messrs Adams, Kelly & McGuinness and the rest, I have this simple message: you’re not always right, you know. And you won’t always get your way, you know. Because we’re not going away, you know.
We know how to conduct a successful campaign. We forced Peter Robinson into a massive U-Turn on the Maze, and we did it without a riot, without street protests, without so much as a White Line Protest. Brains, not brawn.
The Ulster Unionist Party did it over the Maze, and we did it over a scandalous set of teaching notes about the Hunger Strikes. For those of you who missed it, a constituent approached JoAnne Dobson with teaching notes for a book called Bog Child. Let me stress, we had no argument with the book. It was the notes that were the problem. The book is about hunger strikers. The notes suggested children should think of Northern Ireland in comparison to Nazi Germany, or Apartheid South Africa. The notes suggested if you went on holiday and said you were British but lived on the island of Ireland, foreigners would laugh at you. And the notes suggested that the sons and daughters of prison officers were ashamed their fathers worked at Her Majesty’s Prison Maze. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and we forced a re-think, and a re-write.
And there is another fight we are committed to – to resist with every brain cell the Republican campaign for equivalence.
The notion that there is no difference between a dead IRA man and a murdered policeman or soldier is wrong, it is abhorrent, and it has nothing to do with the spirit of mutual trust we signed up to in 1998.
What some Republicans refuse to acknowledge, as they rush to re-write history – is that they had a choice.
I was born just in time to live through the Troubles. It was a time of civil rights movements in the United States as well as here, of student riots in Paris, and the rest. The common thread was people attempting to transform the state they lived in, not destroy it. The Civil Rights movement here was cynically exploited by those looking for any excuse to try to terrorise Unionism into surrender.
If I forever associate a United Ireland with No Warning Bombs like Bloody Friday and La Mon, is that my fault? Republicans chose it should be that way.
The Belfast Agreement enshrines the right of Republicans to persuade me I'd be better off out of the United Kingdom. All available data suggests very few, on either side of our traditional divide are so persuaded. Frankly, I believe history will record that among the many things the IRA blew away was the chance for a United Ireland.
By contrast, in a few months time, Scottish nationalists will see a Referendum on Scottish Independence. Not a gun discharged. Not a bomb detonated. Not a single act of terror required. Yet in securing a Referendum on Independence, Scottish Nationalists have achieved more, peacefully, than Irish Republicans have ever done.
Republicans chose violence.
And let us remind the new generation - a generation I know by and large have little or no interest in these matters - that Republicans killed 60% of all those who died in the Troubles. Loyalists account for a further 30%, so there isn’t anything approaching an equivalence in the numbers of deaths, never mind the motivation.
The Ulster Unionist Party will not stand idly by as others attempt to re-write history to paint the State and its agents as the villains. That is simply not what happened. People made choices. To try to defend the state, or to destroy it.
The bottom line is this: there is no difference between the Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11 in America, the loyalist bomb at McGurk’s Bar, the IRA’s Enniskillen Bomb, or the Omagh bomb. They were all acts of terrorism, and all terrorism is wrong, period.
What is missing from the Maze debate is an alternative to a Peace Centre at that most controversial venue. Today, I offer that alternative, an alternative that addresses the hidden legacy of the Troubles – poor mental health and wellbeing.
I am sorry to report, we are world-leaders in this field.
So, having created the mental health problem, let us fix it.
This is my alternative to the Maze.
Let us create an International Mental Health Centre: a facility that will be a global Centre of Excellence to help those who suffer trauma, whatever the cause. I am talking about the best in the world.
Having spent 45 years creating more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers per head than just about any other country in the world, let us build a legacy project that cures the problem. Let us commit to helping restore good mental health and wellbeing to our people, not least the young who self-harm to the point of suicide. And be in no doubt, people born after the Ceasefires are among those suffering the trauma of the legacy of our Troubles. Let us do it for them.
But let us also raise our vision above our problems for a moment. The world has been generous to us, with their support and their money.
Let us repay them with a centre that will offer help and hope to everyone. Let Northern Ireland become known as the "Go To" place for soldiers traumatised in war, to children traumatised by a gun attack on their school campus, to the survivors of train and plane crashes.
Making Northern Ireland the world leader for Trauma care would be a fitting legacy project for our citizens and the world’s. And let me be clear, when it comes to our Past, this centre is for everyone, even those for whom we have no sympathy.
For everyone. Including those whose poor mental health is a consequence of making bad choices.
That just leaves Location. I am open to a debate on this. Wherever it is, it would only be a Hub; it will suit some to visit, but others will need our experts to travel to them - that's the nature of mental health issues.
But on location, here is one thought - a thought and no more. A number of years ago, the Assembly bought a building called Ormiston. It is down the Hill from Stormont. It’s in public ownership, but lying empty. It has over 15,000 square feet of accommodation, it is set on 13 acres. In short, it’s the ideal shell and it could be developed for a fraction of the 18 Million Euro the European Union had set aside for the Peace Centre at the Maze.
Obviously, you would need local buy in from residents for Ormiston, but whether it is at Ormiston or not, the International Trauma Centre is a proper Legacy Project, that can unite our people, and give thousands of our citizens the hope they so badly need that their dark days can come to an end.
Victims and survivors want hope. We all want hope. We want fair government, and we want responsible Government.
That’s not what we are seeing from the Sinn Féin / DUP carve-up at the heart of Government.
There is nothing responsible about reducing 80 year olds to tears because they think they are about to be thrown out of their care homes.
There is nothing responsible about ignoring the Defamation Act that protects freedom of speech.
There is responsible about OFMdFM mounting a power grab to take control of economic planning powers. In fact, it looks like the grab isn’t even legal.
There’s nothing responsible about denying the people who live and work in Northern Ireland the full protections of the National Crime Agency, especially when we are more aware than ever before that we have a problem with human trafficking.
There is nothing responsible about an irrational blood ban, or about the Education Minister’s attempt to change the Common Funding Scheme in a way that will rob 80% of our primary schools of funds - money the Head Teachers tell me they need for the most vulnerable in their classrooms – including those with Special Education Needs.
The Education Minister says he is consulting the people on the Funding Scheme. With three days notice, a public meeting he called in Omagh saw 4 people turn up. That is no way to run a country. The Ulster Unionist Party does not believe in doing business like that. We want to do what’s right for Northern Ireland, and that means being fair to everyone.
It also means taking the responsibility that goes with power.
The failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP is easily summarised. Their first response – their default position – is to shift the blame. I want a government that accepts the responsibility and gets on with finding a fix.
Everyone needs hope. Hope that better days are ahead.
When I was a guest panellist at Féile an Phobail’s “West Belfast Talks Back” event this year, I was surprised by the welcome I received with my opening statement. I thought I was stating no more than the obvious by confirming that any unionist who thinks we are going back to old-style unionist Majority Rule is badly mistaken. Those days are over. I said so in my Conference speech last year. I happily repeat it today, if it helps. The future is about building a warm house for all sections of our society.
It means a society where we can all aspire equally to a better quality of life - to a higher standard of living – to be healthy and happy - to have hope and to take pride in who we are.
That is what I want, for my children, for your children, for the children of nationalists, the children of republicans, the children of our ethnic minorities - for Everyone!
We have lagged and lagged behind GB for too long already in terms of prosperity. Politicians call it “The Economy” but what it comes down to is how much you have in your pocket, or your wallet, or your purse. Compared to too many other areas of the UK, the answer is not enough. Our average wage is ££22,000. It is £28,000 in Great Britain. We need to raise our sights. I want our average wage up there with the rest. And we need to remember we’ve done it before. Our past has moments of economic glory as well as terrorist shame.
As I said to Conference previously, 100 years ago Titanic Belfast was the Silicone Valley of its day. We were global leaders in cutting-edge technology, admired and envied around the world for all the right reasons. And in those days, we did not need a Block Grant or Subvention from Westminster. We were net contributors to the finances of the UK Government. And I would love us to try to get back there again - just try - because even in the effort, we will transform how we view ourselves.
I am talking about restoring ambition, and determination, and above all, pride in who we are and what we do.
We need to remind ourselves about what we have achieved in business - the world class feats in invention and engineering and manufacturing.
We need to go again, with our sights on another Golden Era for our economy. And remember, we are a nation of small businesses. Foreign Direct Investment is worth chasing, and worth celebrating when it comes - and stays. I applaud every successful inward investment the Devolved Government secures.
But that activity will never replace our own, home grown talent. The Ulster Unionist Party has a heart, and it beats to rhythm of local business.
My message to local business people is this - We'll support you, evermore.
We will listen and we will react positively.
You create wealth. You bring new jobs. Your determination means there is money circulating our High Streets. You provide the tax revenue that funds our schools and hospitals and roads.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness travel the world seeking inward investment. Quite right too! A sliver of any Chinese market is as much as we can handle.
But what's the easiest market to tap into today?
Our own £3 billion Procurement budget!
Between the NI Executive and our local councils, we have £3 billion to allocate. If you are looking for a pot of money to use to boost the local economy - no need to fly half-way across the world. The answer is on your doorstep.
I have yet to meet a local business person who thinks we could not do more to sweat that budget to the advantage of our people.
Let us look again at the basket of measures that we wanted to surround our big idea of Corporation Tax. Let us be bold in offering more support to local business - in terms of Procurement, rates, tax credits, energy costs and assistance to develop infrastructure. Let us start trusting people and fostering pride and ambition. It is time to consign the era where paperwork, and red tape, and process are King to the Shredder. Let us drive down costs and drive up demand.
There are modern day entrepreneurs out there, all around Northern Ireland. This Party will support them to the hilt.
Lets bring Silicone Valley back to Belfast!
Our Commitment Card makes clear that Education is our number one priority. Too many of our young people leave school without the qualifications they need to build a future. In too many cases, that is not their fault - it is ours.
We also have the highest achievers. As Charles Dickens might put it, being at school in NI can mean the best of times, or the worst of times.
The challenge is to fix it for those enduring the worst of times. The answer is not to attack those enjoying the best.
Sinn Féin’s relentless assault on the grammar school sector is pure ideology. When he was Education Minister, Martin McGuinness commissioned a household survey into post primary education. It was, in his words, the largest consultation ever undertaken on an education issue.
That was in October 2001, 12 years ago. While it made clear that the majority of households did not like the 11-Plus transfer test, the results were equally clear in reflecting support for selection. Martin McGuinness simply ignored the latter point.
If you believe, as I do, that every child is unique - than inside every child is a spark of ability, creativity and talent that may find its voice equally in the science laboratories, or the music room, or on the sports fields, or at the computer, then we must cherish all those talents and provide a curriculum that develops every scrap of talent in every child, and provides space for all to flourish.
The legacy of the decision to abolish the 11-Plus without an agreed way forward continues to poison education in Northern Ireland, as Sinn Féin remain fixated with the signs hanging over the entrance to schools. An Ulster Unionist Education Minister would refocus on the pupils and parents and teachers walking in and out of the door.
We want the Education Ministry.
And we will not bring back the 11-Plus, because it asked the wrong question. Ask not of a child, how intelligent are you. Ask a child, in what ways are you intelligent, and how can I help you develop?
Funnily enough, the two guiding principles of Martin McGuinness’s Household Survey all those years ago were that each young person should be valued equally and that that all young people should be enabled to develop their talents to the full.
If you think Sinn Féin are not politicising education, here are two facts for you. The Department of Education spent £22,827 consulting on its strategy to tackle the problems so many of our children have with Literacy and Numeracy. In the same year, they consulted on a Review of Irish-medium Education, something of interest to comparatively few. Yet the Irish Language consultation cost £46,448, over twice the cost of the literacy and numeracy review.
That’s wrong - in any language.
The words I want to hear from an Ulster Unionist Education Minister are very simple: as our Commitment Card says, we will Let Teachers Teach! And they will do it to bring out the very best in every child who walks through the front door of every school we fund - no exceptions - boy / girl, urban / rural, ric / poor. We will support you, and nurture you and empower you, as one of our own .... because you are one of our own.
I want a Single Education system. I know others have said the same, but no one has done anything about it. Give us the Ministry and we will. Give the Ulster Unionist Party responsibility for the Department of the Education and we will start the process on Day One.
And that will be 100 years too late. The evidence on this is depressing. Northern Ireland’s first ever Education Minister, Lord Londonderry, wanted a Single Education System in the 1920s, but was thwarted.
45 years ago, the Belfast Telegraph published the results of an opinion poll which reported that 65% of young people wanted to end segregation in primary school education. And 70% wanted secondary education to be mixed.
That was 1968.
How often will the mood of the people be ignored?
It is time to do it, and it is time because it is right.
At Conference last year, I said I wanted my Leadership to tackle Sectarianism, the toxic legacy of the Troubles.
Educating our children together from age 4 will inoculate them against the poison of Sectarianism. I can put it no more simply than that.
And I challenge the Catholic Church - and every church and interest body - Tell me what your problem is with a Single Education System. I see no issue we cannot resolve. If there is something that works for the children in your sector, then I want it for all our children.
Earlier this year, we produced our Commitment Card. This morning, you heard what it means to some of our younger members.
I see it as a first step. The next is to learn from history, and let the Card develop and evolve into a pledge.
100 years ago, Edward Carson, James Craig and company came up with a Covenant. That Covenant was of its day. It had a specific purpose, and was for a defined target audience, the pro-Union people of this island. It was exclusive, if you will. It excluded the pro-United Ireland citizens of our country.
It is time for a new Covenant. But this time, an inclusive one, one for everybody, Unionist, Nationalist, Republican, Whatever.
As Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, I want to agree a new Covenant with the people of Northern Ireland.
A Covenant that recognises that we can do better for all our people by shaping a fairer education system, a stronger economy, better housing and a health service not only free at the point of delivery but with delivery points that are accessible and appropriate to the needs of our people.
These are changes that will improve our quality of life, increase our standard of living, and give us hope and confidence to do even better.
At Conference last year, I also said I wanted my Leadership to be about tackling child poverty and multiple deprivation.
This Covenant between us and the people, can do all that. If we're all feeling better, doing better, and aspiring to better, the future will replace the past as the place to be.
I say this to the pro-Union community: It is time to get on the front foot. Be confident. But be generous too.
I am not the sort of Unionist who feels threatened by an Irish Tricolour. I subscribe to the paraphrase of what the great Ulster poet, John Hewitt, once said about being an Ulsterman, an Irishman, British and European.
Ulsterman, Irishman, British and European. It’s a much more complicated, but honest world view than the old orange or green, protestant or catholic. It is where I am.
I am British - but I do not want to miss out on the Irishness within me - the sort of Irishness which means I think very unchristian thoughts about the England rugby team when they are in Dublin!
I am British - and proud to share that identity with the Asians and Africans and ethnic minorities of the United Kingdom.
And I am European - especially during golf's Ryder Cup!
In conclusion, Conference, what I offer is this: an International Trauma Centre that will be a fitting legacy project offering practical help to those worst impacted by the Troubles - something that will help many get back to work and regain the sense of purpose they lost the day the Troubles came to their door.
I offer the vision of a single education system, starting the day we take the Ministry.
And I offer a new Covenant, for all our people, dedicated to doing better and doing what's right for the economy, education, health and housing, to give all our people a better quality of life and higher standards of living.
This is not a Covenant we expect you to queue up to sign at Belfast City Hall. If you want to support it, all you have to do is Vote Ulster Unionist next year.
Conference, Northern Ireland lost one of its global figures this year in Seamus Heaney. With his indulgence, I leave the last word to another great poet from these shores, John Hewitt. He said:
Patriotism has to do with keeping
The country in good heart / the community
Governed with justice and mercy.
Be in good heart, Conference - and next time you go to the Polls, encourage your friends and neighbours to demand Justice, demand Mercy, demand Responsible Government - and remember, these values can only be delivered by a Party that puts the Country first and does What's Right for Northern Ireland."
Source: Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).