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Speech by David Trimble to the Ulster Unionist Council, 21 March 1998

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Speech by David Trimble MP, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to the Annual General Meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, 21 March 1998

"Since I addressed our AGM last year, we have fought two successful elections increasing our numbers of Westminster MPs from 9 to 10. Success in the Local elections saw the return of many new councillors, some of them the youngest in Northern Ireland. It is great to see the Party renewing itself and continuing to grow as the largest Party in Northern Ireland.

I pay tribute to Cllr James Gillespie, an old friend, who passed away on Thursday. I know he will be fondly remembered by many of us here today.

Mr President, if we succeed in creating an Assembly, our Party is best placed to provide the able young men and women to take positions of responsibility in government. We must encourage many more people who may be interested in joining, to do so.

Presently, our Party is preparing by training key people in Campaigning.

I pay tribute to all those who have given time and effort for this and to all who have done a tremendous job in maintaining this Party as the bastion of Unionism in Northern Ireland. Every single vote counts and every bit of effort put into getting those votes matters.

We must increase our representation, recruit more people, develop more activists, and keep the Unionist mandate strong.

West of the Bann turnout is high, but in the East, where the Unionist vote should be strongest it is not good enough. There is no excuse for not turning out to vote. Everyone must play his or her part in making sure good Government is maintained and that Ulster stays firmly within the Union.

Only Sinn Fein benefits from 'stay at home' voters.

We must continue the process of modernising the Party of which the campaign training and the utilisation of new technology is but a part.

Structural reform is still a need. On it I want to flag up three matters.

Our present practice and the proposed changes are based on a delegate system. It has served us well. But in recent years all major British parties have moved to a One Member, One Vote system. This can be used both for candidate selection and leadership election. I think we should do likewise. It means a commitment to building, or rebuilding, a mass membership. But this should be our objective anyway.

One reason for the delay in structural changes is that we have not yet reached agreement on the institutional link with the Orange Order. We need to agree a new form for that link, as the present delegate relationship will become anomalous under the new structure. So that this will not hold back necessary structural changes I am going to propose to Grand Lodge that we establish a joint Unionist/Orange commission to design the link for the future and that pending its report the position of the present Orange delegates be preserved.

The third point relates more to how our procedures operate. Joe Trueman in the Councillors' Association report mentions the need to select candidates who are electable. Indeed. I add, if we succeed in creating an Assembly, we also need candidates who can run it successfully.

We have a range of subject committees. Some have been very successful in disseminating information about party policy: some less so. I say to anyone with expertise and experience in a subject, get involved. Maximise the potential of these committees to work for the Party. I also want to encourage debate within the committees.

Central to so much is finance. An absolute necessity for Unionism.

We need money to fight elections and develop our public relations profile.

In recent months and years, the Unionist message has never been presented better.

But we need to do more. We can manage the ordinary round well enough. But we need the equivalent of the rapid rebuttal unit to nail anything which is thrown at us by our opponents with somethimg like the excaliber database that served Labour so well. We also need to develop more effective long-term policies to manage the presentation of our policies. But we need serious money for these as well as additional sums for the London and North American operations.

I ask everyone here and unionists outside to come and help us! Whether it be through fund raising ideas or direct contributions; through knowledge of the media or through contacts in the media.

We are now approaching the end of the Talks process and rumours will abound in the media. Nerves of steel will be needed. But be confident. Paul Bew writing in the current issue of Parliamentary brief says "The biggest mistake made by Sinn Fein has been its underestimate of Ulster Unionists. [Their] unexpected decision to stay in the Talks process and actively seek a settlement has left them rudderless."

They are the people who are really under pressure having led their movement into a situation where in there is not a hope of them achieving what they want. They are trying desperately to contrive excuses about engagement to avoid having to accept the outcome of the Talks.

I say to you today, be steadfast. Nothing can be agreed without your consent.

I was asked in the United States this week, is there going to be a deal? I said, 'I hope so'.

People at home say to me, 'What have you agreed since the Talks began? I say to them 'well, nothing.' Issues have been discussed but no agreement has been reached between the Parties.

Before the Christmas recess the Ulster Unionist Talks Team and the SDLP tried to make progress by agreeing a list of key issues. But Sinn Fein objected to the reference to an Assembly and, the Irish Government being reluctant to force the issue, the Talks broke up without agreement before Christmas.

The murder of Billy Wright in the Maze prison started a cycle of violence. The Loyalist murders that followed served only to bring more misery.

I am sure I speak for all of us, when I say the brutality shocked us all.

This violence filled a vacuum caused by Republican unwillingness to face up to the realities of the democratic Process. An unwillingness to accept that any settlement that comes out of these Talks must have the support of the Unionist people.

The Prime Minister recognised this. Our Party worked with him on the Propositions on heads of Agreement paper published on the January 12th, which was accepted as setting the agenda.

This paper shone the cold light of day on Sinn Fein/IRA. The paper said a new agreement, would replace the failed Anglo-Irish Agreement. There would be a Northern Ireland Assembly; a Council of the British Isles which would facilitate a new relationship between our Assembly and the Irish Parliament; and an end to the Irish Republic's claim in order for relations to be normalised.

This is why republicans have attacked and murdered Loyalists. It is why they have bombed and attempted to bomb pro-union towns in Northern Ireland. If the final agreement is similar, it will probably be why they go back, as one of their negotiators said 'to doing what they do best'.

Going back to their pathetic out-of-date, irredentist strategy.

On your seats is a copy of our Proposals for the Talks published on February 11th. They provide for a fair solution. As usual they have not been studied. Presumably this is why the Belfast Telegraph described it as a 'wish-list'.

But they are fair and balanced. They include a measure of principled compromise. Have our opponents? No.

Our proposals provide the basis for a new beginning whereby the people of Northern Ireland can work together and develop the right sort of relationship with our neighbour. They are based on internationally accepted standards of practice.

An Assembly elected by proportional representation, discharging its functions on a proportional basis will allow participation at all levels from all sections of the Community. Parties committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means will have their fair share of the places and proceedings as an entitlement.

In the context of a Council of the British Isles there can be a north/south element to facilitate consultation and co-operation, with the Northern representatives operating on the authority of and accountable to the Assembly.

Paul Bew, in Parliamentary Brief commented that the prospect of "a north/south body of some sort - leaving aside the whole argument of executive powers [and I do] - which will greatly enhance the co-operation between north and south, between Belfast and Dublin. In purely Irish terms that is epoch-making - potentially an end to our own internal cold war, which would be enormously liberating for the people of the island as a whole."

There are those who expect unionists to cower to pressure or threats of violence. This Party entered negotiations to reach a political settlement with constitutional parties, not to buy peace at any price.

The real question commentators should be asking now is whether the SDLP will have the courage to move forward with us and condemn the extremists to the dustbin of history. I hope they will.

We could ask for a return to simple majority rule or for full integration with the rest of the United Kingdom. Yet, we have been prepared to take on board the concerns of those who do not share our philosophy or aspirations in order to produce a settlement which is fair and just for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Unionist Party stands for a vision of a Northern Ireland at ease with itself where everyone has a part to play in healing our society. Fairness, pluralism and the celebration of diversity must shape our future together. I want to see us take the talent, commitment and experience of our entire population and use them to enrich all our institutions. It is time people listened to our positive vision of the way ahead, a society based on equality, justice and prosperity for all.

But let us make this clear, so that there is no doubt - the Ulster Unionist Party will not agree to any form of North-South relationship which would establish an embryonic all-Ireland government. Northern Ireland is not unique and therefore it does not need a unique solution without precedent anywhere else in the world.

And if nationalists want to understand unionism let them understand this: from the home rule crisis in the last century to Sunningdale and the Frameworks Document in this century, the pro-Union people have been determined that they will never be put under the control of a separatist all-Ireland government. This was the case in 1886, 1892, 1912, 1920, and 1974; and it will be the same in 1998. The Britishness of the unionist people lies at the heart of the matter.

We are now approaching the last few weeks in this process. At this time I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the trust you have placed in myself and the Talks team. Nobody ever said this would be easy. Negotiations never are. We have honoured our pledge to the people who elected us to defend the Unionist case.

These talks are about the principle of consent and the reality that the Union will continue for as long as that is the wish of the greater number of the people in Northern Ireland. Consent is the reality accepted by both Governments and all the parties at the talks, with the exception of Sinn Fein-IRA. The constitutional future of Northern Ireland is entirely a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. It is for the people of Northern Ireland to consent to any change in Northern Ireland's constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom and clearly we do not consent to any such change.

We are prepared to agree to a settlement which recognises Northern Ireland's position as part of the United Kingdom, and which puts in place sensible arrangements to enable the whole community in Northern Ireland to be involved in real politics.

This week again there has been comment about our lack of engagement with Sinn Fein-IRA. Let me say this, we face all the political parties from Northern Ireland, as well as our Government and the Irish Government, across the conference table at Stormont. This issue has been manufactured to give cover to Republicans ahead of the end of the Process to give them an excuse for not agreeing to anything. Can I say this, as long as Sinn Fein-IRA does not recognise consent; does not recognise our right to define ourselves as British; continues to rearm, and continue to use violence to influence the negotiations, we have nothing to talk to them about.

Whatever may come out of the Talks over the next few weeks colleagues, we must be prepared. I did not lead this Party into negotiations to shy away from difficult decisions.

It is our Party's job to take responsibility for the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland. That is why we are the largest Party and that is why we are in the Talks Process. I say to those on both sides who are not serious about lasting agreement, the people of Northern Ireland are fed up with your rhetoric and your threats of going back to violence. The legacy of violence is human suffering, social and economic deprivation. Do you really want to see another generation go through the same all over again?

To get agreement we will need the SDLP to meaningfully engage with us. I say to them, the days of relying on the Irish Government to do your negotiating are over. We want to reach agreement in the Talks. To do that means settling our differences. There has been too much hype recently, that we are close to agreement. This spin-doctoring does nothing for the prospects of Agreement. There are serious issues still to be settled and we must face the fact that hard work will be needed.

Fellow unionists, if there is to be an agreement it will have to be acceptable to the people who matter.

Agreement will have to have the approval of the Ulster Unionist Party itself and the people of Northern Ireland.

Our Talks team is answerable to you and the pro-Union people.

Together with all the people who have stood firm in the face of three decades of terrorism, we will decide the future of Northern Ireland."

Thank you.

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