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Speech by David Trimble to the Annual General Meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, 23 March 1996

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Research: Ciaran Mullan
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Speech by Mr. David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) at the Annual General Meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, 23 March 1996

"The Canary Wharf bomb clearly and conclusively proves that there is no prospect of the republican movement becoming committed to exclusively peaceful means.

The duty of government is clear. But the British and Irish Governments have shirked that duty. Instead of making terrorists amenable to the law, they have responded to their agenda asking in return only for a "credible ceasefire".

The concept of a credible ceasefire is now a contradiction in terms.

Instead of a resolute defence of the community we have the pathetic and degrading sight of democratically elected politicians pleading with terrorists.

What would have happened if John Bruton and John Major had been in charge of the investigation into Fred West? You can just imagine it. There they would have been, on the doorstep of number 25 Cromwell Street saying,

"Mr West, if you could just see your way to stop all this killing. And maybe if you could, we could make a deal to satisfy your needs in other ways."

And then imagine it if Fred turned round and said,

"OK, maybe I will not kill anybody for the time being, until I see what you will do for me."

And before you know it the two Johns would be inviting Fred West down to the station for a celebration together with all the fellow travellers of the so-called Anglo-Irish process.

Do you remember the desperation with which John Bruton pleaded. He said, "Please, please, please give us back our peace."

To hear him you would think he was the leader of a beleaguered minority up against the might of a modern state; rather than the other way round, as it should be.

Mr Bruton, If you seriously want peace, as you say you do, there is one simple way of getting it. Close down the IRA. Do not tell us you cannot. Your predecessors did exactly that three times!

And Mr Clinton, if you want to help, remember how you have just arranged to supply Israel with 100 million dollars worth of anti-terrorist technological assistance. Why don't you consider supplying the Irish Republic with the intelligence equipment it so obviously lacks. And if from your resources you can supply Dublin with the odd backbone it would help!

And Mr Major, if you seriously want peace and Mr Bruton seems a wee bit uncertain, then you have a fairly simple way of encouraging him to your way of thinking. End the common travel area. Control the land and sea frontier. Once the Dublin government realises that it can no longer export bombs along with its social problems to England, it will become as helpful as a Tory backbencher in search of a knighthood.

Peace And Democracy

Our fundamental concerns are peace and democracy. In the language of the peace process they are called consent and decommissioning.


The need to decommission derives from the democratic principle. Parties should come to the table on the basis of their votes not their guns. We remember President Clinton's words in West Belfast, "There is no place for guns at the table of democracy." Those words echoed John Hume's statement that there should be no guns at the table, under the table or outside the door. The time will come, John, for you to honour those words just as the paramilitaries will have to make and honour a commitment to the Mitchell Report. As the President said at a press conference in the White House last Friday, before the St Patrick's day reception,

"The decommissioning issue has to be addressed and has to be resolved. Senator Mitchell did a very good job, I thought, of dealing with that whole issue."

We welcome Clinton's renewed support for the Mitchell Report and its proposals for decommissioning. We accepted that Report, even though it meant some compromise on our part. We will insist that there be a total and absolute commitment to that Report including its proposals for decommissioning. Making that commitment must be the very first thing to be done on 10 June. As John Alderdice has said, if the commitment is not given on day one there will not be a day two!

The last chance

Like me you may think such a commitment unlikely. But any party failing to make that commitment, or later, failing to act in accordance with it, will exclude themselves. If that happens talks must proceed without them.

The Government statement of 28 February only makes sense on the basis of giving Sinn Fein/IRA a last chance and then of going on without them if they do not take it. In this the present plans differ from the last 18 months. Then the refusal of Sinn Fein to commit itself to peace blocked talks and prevented all the other parties from proceeding. Now their refusal should only veto themselves and those who prefer their company. We proceed on that basis. The alternative would be appeasement and surrender to which we will not be a party.


Consent simply means that it is for the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, and for them alone, to determine their constitutional destiny.

Elections are obviously the embodiment of that democratic principle. Any talks must be clearly embedded within the democratic process. But elections do more than that. They involve the people of Northern Ireland as participants in determining their future rather than passive spectators awaiting the judgement of others. They provide a public forum through which public opinion, especially outside Northern Ireland can be educated, and where issues can be ventilated and the acceptability of possible outcomes tested.

Elections, moreover, are a challenge. They will challenge the parties to put forward their plans for the future and how those plans can be achieved. They will therefore test whether there is a commitment to peace and democracy. The forum is another challenge - a challenge to see whether the participants are capable of working constructively with a body representative of the people of Northern Ireland. The response to that challenge may decide whether the potential new institution implicit in the forum is realised.

The SDLP attitude is disappointing. They served in the Constitutional Convention, they serve in the Dublin Forum: yet they are threatening to boycott the new Forum. No good reason has been given. This must give rise to the suspicion that what they object to is that it is a Northern Ireland Forum: that they object to elections in Northern Ireland: that they do not like the people of Northern Ireland having a say. Do they really accept the existence of Northern Ireland? Do they really accept the principle of consent? If they do they should welcome these developments.

Self determination

Sooner or later the SDLP like others will have to come to terms with the fact that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to determine to which state they belong.

Some say this reflects an old-fashioned view of sovereignty and that the issue of which state you belong to can be blurred or fudged. That is wrong. Sovereignty today is essential to protect the democratic principle. The question is,

to whom do you pay your taxes?

who takes decisions concerning your rights and your future?

are those persons elected by you?

do they account to you and

can you turn them out if they make the wrong decisions?

These are the most fundamental questions that can be asked about the political arrangements of any society. These questions can be answered in a United Kingdom context or a Republic of Ireland context: but they cannot be answered democratically in a condominium or any form of joint British/Irish constitutional fudge.

Repairing the damage

It is equally clear that these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily in Ulster today. It is only with respect to those decisions that are truly made on a United Kingdom basis, that is decisions that apply equally throughout the Kingdom, that we can say that decision makers are accountable to us as part of the United Kingdom electorate. For decisions taken on a purely Northern Ireland basis, or worse decisions taken as a result of the Anglo-Irish process, are not accountable to us.

That reminds us of one of our objectives in these talks. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo. That status quo demeans our democratic rights. It makes us second class citizens on a broad range of issues. It is for that reason that we want to replace the Diktat, and repair the damage to the Union.

That repair job can and should start at both ends, building up accountable democracy here through strengthened local government and a new Assembly, and building at the Westminster end through democratic procedures for Northern Ireland business. So far we have had more progress at the latter end with the Select Committee and the prospect of a wide range of functions for the Grand Committee like the Scottish Grand Committee. But that is not enough, we need progress here in Ulster as well.

We want an Assembly where there is accountability to all the people of Northern Ireland and all of our people can, if they wish, participate meaningfully.


When we speak of this democratic deficit there are those who accuse us of longing for majority rule. This is unfair. Of course in any democracy when choices have to be made then, if all else fails, the greater number, however it might be composed, must prevail. Thus it was on the issue of whether Quebec would remain a part of Canada. That question was determined by a margin of 50.6% to 49.4%. Thus it was in the Republic of Ireland on the issue of divorce. That question was settled by a margin of 50.3% to 49.7%.

But if simple majorities are a necessary condition of democracy they are not always a sufficient condition. It is clearly desirable to have as broad a basis of support as it is possible to achieve. That is why we want every reasonable assurance of fairness. Thus we propose an Assembly that will operate on the basis of proportionality, where the elections, the committees, and the chairmanships will be proportional. Every party will be able to participate at every level in proportion to their votes.

Rights protected

We have developed comprehensive proposals for the protection of the human and civil rights. This involves important new ground. Unlike political institutions the protection of rights can easily transcend frontiers. This has long been the case with regard to the rights protected by the European Convention. But in the last decade European states have extended protection to ethnic and national minorities. The Europe I refer to is not the 15 states of the European Community but the 50 plus states of the real Europe, many of whom do have serious minority problems.

These states acting through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have developed a code of practice relating to national minorities. It involves the recognition of existing frontiers, respecting the rights of the state, and guaranteeing the rights of minorities. It is contained in the Charter of Paris (1990) and other agreements. A Commissioner for National Minorities has been established. The Moscow Mechanism has been created whereby a state may address questions to another state where it believes minorities are being treated unfairly. Last year the Council of Europe concluded a Convention on the Rights of Minorities. This is how the rest of Europe has tackled the substance of the matters referred to under the phrase parity of esteem. Nationalists would do well to follow these examples.

If the Republic wants to act as a guarantor of the rights of northern nationalists, then it no longer needs the Anglo-Irish agreement. It can follow these European precedents. If it clings to the Diktat then it is open to the suspicion that it wants to extend its power within Ulster and take another step towards realising articles 2 and 3 and bringing about a United Ireland. The elections, however, will show that there is no consent for constitutional change. They will be a barrier to Dublin's ambitions. They will show the people of Ulster yearn for peace and democracy.

We will go forward seeking to realise those goals. We will to defend the democratic principle. We will strive to fill the democratic deficit and create worthwhile local representative bodies on which all men of goodwill can agree and work to create the future we know is possible. "

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