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Speech Delivered to DUP Annual Conference by Deputy Leader Peter Robinson, 28 November 1998
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Edited version of the speech by Peter Robinson, Deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to the Party's annual conference in Omagh, 28 November 1998.
"Life as a Democratic Unionist is not easy. I have been in this Party from its birth and there has not been a moment when we have not been in the forefront of the battle. There has not been a period where the Party has not been engaged in the struggle to save the Union. We have faced difficulties and hardships and consistently contended against unfriendly odds. We have been vilified, demonised and dismissed and our obituary has been written time and time again - but we are still here, still in the midst of the fray, still contending and still unwavering. My friends, we have a great Party, and far from being finished, this party has been, is now, and will always be, fearlessly in the vanguard of the defence of our Province. When we die we expect to take our last breath within the sound of the cannons.
The party leadership appreciates and applauds the staunch and faithful service of all those with whom we have stood shoulder to shoulder over these years. The line has been under constant attack; it often bled, but it never broke. May we ever possess the courage and confidence to stay out of step when everyone else is marching to the wrong tune.
We are the custodians of traditional unionism. Others, who once walked that path with us, now worship a different God. They have gone, and it seems they are not coming back.
For several decades the DUP have faithfully and accurately analysed every political development and pointed the way to best safeguard the interests of our people. The combined strength of the unionist people in past decades provided the resistance that defeated the devices of our enemies and ensured that we were not trapped in the snares of those who plot our destruction.
Now anything Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist or Orange is to be derided and scorned. We are being programmed to feel ashamed of our culture, our ideals and our beliefs. No-one can make us feel inferior without our consent - and we do not consent. We're unionists without apology. Loyalists in the real and true sense of the name. Protestant and proud of it. And we stand four-square behind the Portadown Orangemen in their stand for right and liberty. May God bless Harold Gracey and the men on Drumcree Hill.
The greatest power that a person possesses is the power to choose. In the final analysis we are the directors of our own destiny. It is said that everything can be taken from a man but one thing - the last of the human freedoms - the right in any given set of circumstances to choose ones own way. It has been this ability to choose that was the strength of the Unionist people of Northern Ireland. The press could write us down. With distorted logic Church leaders could lecture us. Governments could pressurise us. The IRA could use every evil weapon in its arsenal against us and our political opponents could conspire to destroy us, but unionists still had the right to individually and democratically resist being corralled into a Provo republic.
The main obstacles to our enemies, in their plan to absorb us into a united Ireland, have been our ability to democratically choose for ourselves whether, or not, we wished to remain part of the United Kingdom, and then, crucially, possessing the numerical strength that gave effect to the choice we had made. These were the twin pillars of our defences which the forces opposed to unionism were ranged against and sought to destroy.
To overcome these obstacles they firstly needed to find a modern-day Lundy - a 1990's Faulkner - to erode unionism's numerical strength - they found him in David Trimble. No one man has done so much to undermine the Union, divide unionism, endanger the safety and lives of the Unionist people and erode our defences.
He is unionism's Achilles' heel. His vanity and pigheadedness provide a dangerous combination in leadership and one quickly seized upon by Ulster's enemies. He delivered to our foes the division of the unionist people that they sought. Only our right to choose - our right to say "No" - stood between the defence of our liberties and being led down the path to our destruction.
In every past generation our right to choose succeeded in stymieing the stratagem of those who would betray the unionist cause. Even when unionist leaders departed from the faith the people owned the instrument that enabled them to stop the rot. But at the closing of the 20th Century a new device was employed to accomplish that which every past generation of tyrants had failed to do. This device was to remove the last freedom - the right to choose. In this modern era they succeeded in forging chains that could fetter the mind. It was evidenced most clearly throughout this so-called "peace process". Even that name bears testimony to the effectiveness of the ploy. Our people were faced with a tidal wave of deception. It was not simply spin-doctoring but rather a vile concoction of brainwashing and professional mind manipulation. They sold that which was abject surrender as if it was the essence of democracy. Terrorists being placed in government was simply dismissed as "the price we have to pay". Emptying our jails of its murdering contents was justified as "necessary to make the deal work".
The saddest fact of all is that almost half of the unionist electorate filed into the polling booths telling themselves they were doing it for their children - what a legacy. Others participated in this orgy of delusion by kidding themselves they were voting for peace. As if peace could be purchased by a craven capitulation to the very people who have terrorised this community for decades.
The government took campaigning to the point were hype and hypnosis meet. Its cleverness lay in the fact that it appealed to everyone's yearning for peace and calculated that many people, like water, would take the path of least resistance. It represented the blackest chapter in the annals of democracy - indeed it was distinctly antidemocratic.
A Government Commission has recently published a report stating that future referenda should be based on carefully controlled regulations to ensure that there is equal access to the media and to funding so that both cases may properly be put before the people. Yet when the referendum was held in Northern Ireland the full weight of every origin of Government, the complete orchestration of the press, the Government's toadies in the Church, the ever obedient grant-grabbers in business and the great unwashed of entertainment combined to ensure that nobody was allowed to hear the real issues.
Presidents and Prime Ministers, Party Leaders and Pop-stars were wheeled in to distract the voters and indoctrinate the more gullible. The press and media indulged in the lowest and most loathsome of censorship. BBC and UTV devoted over 80% of their coverage to the "Yes" campaign while the Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph acted as campaign managers. The great surprise of the referendum was not that 71% voted in favour of the all-Ireland deal but that 29% did not succumb to this blatant brainwashing.
To their great credit this 29% of the overall vote - representing a clear majority of the unionist community - opposed the deal and voted "No". This unionist opposition was confirmed a month later, in the Assembly election, when both the majority of unionist members returned were anti-Agreement unionists and the majority of the votes recorded were for candidates who opposed the deal.
The sky is not less grey because the blind man does not see it. Equally the danger of this Agreement is not less real because 71% of the people do not see it. Our destiny as unionists must not be what is served up to us. We cannot be satisfied to accept the product of cheating and connivance. We must seize the moment - we must take control of circumstances ourselves.
Don't tell me of the odds that are stacked against us or the possibility that we may not succeed. As if failure was the worst thing in the world - the worst is not to try. How much more must our people be humiliated? How much more must they be derided? How much more must they be the plaything of corrupt world leaders? How much more must they be the prisoners of our enemies agenda. The starting point must be to sweep away the "Yes" man and his "yes" men. If unionism is to survive it must purge itself of Trimble and his ego-massaging cronies. Those, whose judgement was sound and advice was safe, must take control of the unionist agenda? Unionism must follow its own programme not settle for the part our enemies allocate for it in their agenda.
This party need not reproach itself. We saw the process begin with the Haughey/Thatcher Communiqué and if other unionists had stood with us, instead of applauding the scheme, it could have been strangled at its birth. When it developed into the Anglo Irish Agreement other unionists joined us but got sucked in when the process gave life to the Downing Street Declaration. Unionist solidarity could have denied the government the unionist support it required, but the Ulster Unionists deserted the cause, and breathed life into the process. They recoiled in horror when they saw the Joint Declaration they supported translated into the Framework Documents but, by then, it was too late.
When the Talks process began they determined never to negotiate on the basis of those Framework Documents - but they capitulated. They said they would never renegotiate the Union but they did. They said they would never sit down with Sinn Fein/IRA but they caved in. They said that decommissioning of illegal weapons was an absolute requirement before they would negotiate with Sinn Fein/IRA; but when the DUP and the UK Unionists walked out of the Talks, in keeping with our electoral undertaking, the Ulster Unionist Party ditched its identical pledge and remained behind.
Now they have embraced an Agreement that puts terrorists in Government while releasing their convicted "blood-brothers" from the jails.
The Ulster Unionist Party under Trimble's leadership is the party of broken promises and shattered pledges. They are the party, without whose support Provisional IRA men would never have been released from prison, and without whom, the RUC would not presently be waiting to hear the form of its destruction. They are the Party who provided places in Government for terrorist front-men and who agreed to set up unaccountable all-Ireland Executive bodies - the embryo of a united Ireland.
Sadly, so many of Mr Trimble's party colleagues, like well behaved sheep, continue to follow him. And talking of sheep I note that Dermot Nesbitt, who stands as a living proof of that famed motto - "They also serve who only stand and waffle". Dermot tells us that Mr Ahern's proclamation that he will see a united Ireland in his lifetime, perhaps within 15 years should be dismissed from the mind of every unionist. Mr Nesbitt may wish to waft the chloroform over the unionist community but Ahern's confident prediction confirms from one of the architects of the Agreement, that far from the process having reached a terminus, it has succeeded in producing, as designed, an "irresistible dynamic" towards a united Ireland. Well Bertie, we will resist it. Happily the scales are day and daily falling from the eyes of unionists who voted "Yes". If anybody doubts that let them look to the DUP success in the Ballymoney by-election where John Finlay covered himself with credit and won, for the party, a seat that had been occupied by Sinn Fein/IRA.
The measure of this party throughout its existence has been its willingness to subordinate party advantage for the sake of the unionist cause. In Westminster, and outside during the referendum and since, we have developed a close working relationship with unionists from other parties. If this hideous conspiracy is to be halted it requires an arithmetic majority of unionists in the Assembly voting to block Trimble's treachery. Trimble says he will not move, on forming an Executive, until decommissioning has taken place but then that is what he said before entering the Talks with Sinn Fein/IRA. We have learnt not to listen to what he says, but rather, to watch what he does.
Whether at Westminster or the Assembly we stand ready to develop a sound and beneficial working arrangement with other unionists who are opposed to this all-Ireland process. As the body that would form the major component in such an arrangement our role will be vital in giving leadership to the unionist community and leading resistance to this process. To Ulster Unionist Assembly members, who are marking time until Mr Trimble makes his move, let me say this - "David Trimble gave life to an Agreement that has only one possible outcome - a United Ireland. That may seem to be a far distance even now, but while a flight of stairs may be too much to scale in one leap it offers little hardship when undertaken step by step." I say to Ulster Unionists, "better by far that you topple Trimble now rather than give him time to drag this Province step by step to Dublin. He has left the solid ground of unionism - don't wait for him - he's not coming back."
So what is the next stage? Just listen to this -
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and bombing. While escaping from prison a prison officer is murdered.
He was convicted for terrorism and inciting others.
He was the mastermind behind the car-bombing campaign that killed hundreds of innocent people. He is regarded as the Godfather of the murder gangs.
He was imprisoned for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life.
He was commander of the death squads in the North West. Personally lured a man to his death - regarded as a murder mastermind.
He was responsible for the murder of two young policemen.
The catalogue I have outlined might sound like the rap-sheets of the inmates on death-row in one of America's worst penal institutions. Not so. These are the credentials of Sinn Fein's "front bench" Assembly team from which they will select Cabinet Ministers.
The DUP shall oppose Sinn Fein/IRA participation in the Assembly's Executive. When Trimble agrees to serve in cabinet with them, as he will, we shall maintain our manifesto commitment not to sit in an Executive Committee with the unrepentant mouthpieces of armed terror.
The people of Northern Ireland have voted two departments under the control of the DUP. That is the strength of the mandate we have been given. But our mandate is strictly subject to the condition I have restated and even if it was not there is not a DUP Assembly Member who would be prepared to partner Sinn Fein/IRA. The only cabinet the Provos should be in has brass handles on it.
If, however, other parties insist that the price of taking up Departmental responsibility is to sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein/IRA we shall refuse to oblige them. They can exclude us if they wish. I would rather languish on opposition benches with my conscience intact than be a First Minister without principles. But we will not make it easy for them. We shall face them with the chore of voting to cast us out of office while at the same time they embrace as partners their new-found Provo friends. Let them exclude us if they can. Let us see unionist hands going up to punish the DUP for refusing to sit down with the Provos - a principle they too, once shared. Mr Trimble, exclude us if you dare.
Last week David Trimble travelled to Wicklow to address the Irish Association. He told them that a new dispensation existed that the Cold War was over. David, you and your minions may enjoy a warm friendship with Dublin but we still regard Dublin as a low and detestable aggressor. I read in a national newspaper how Mr Trimble's supporters are preparing themselves for the new era. Listen to this:-
Friday morning 2 am, the Hilton Hotel bar. Brussels. History was rewritten. Derek Hussey - a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, broke into the Soldier's Song, the Irish National Anthem"
We can see what training the Trimblites are receiving in preparation for the end their leader has charted.
One of the devices contained within the Trimble/Adams Agreement, was included in order to subject the people of Northern Ireland to a Nationalist veto. It may yet return to haunt them. The weakest flank of the all-Ireland Deal may yet prove to be the requirement for cross-community support. While in the shape of a Nationalist veto our enemies rejoice. However, in the form of a veto placed in the hands of determined unionists, this sorry chapter can be closed and our future recast. The requirement we must meet is to demonstrate in the clearest possible way the rejection of the unionist community of this loathsome process. Having achieved this goal we must then transform a unionist community rejection into a unionist Assembly rejection.
The first stage of that programme unfolds next June when the unionist community has the opportunity to register its verdict on this Provo-benefitting deal. All our resources must be channelled into ensuring that Ian consolidates the unionist vote, demonstrating to Blair, Ahern and the Whitehouse womaniser, that Unionists have not bought into their all-Ireland package.
Each of us must prepare our constituencies for what will be a vital election. There are thousands of disenchanted "Yes" voters who are straining for the opportunity to make good their lapse of judgement. Ulster Unionist Party branches from one end of the Province to the other are in turmoil and dispute. Next June's election gives the Northern Ireland electorate the chance to register its verdict upon the outworking of the Belfast Agreement. They will have the opportunity to look at Blair's broken pledges and Trimble's empty promises. We intend to demonstrate that a clear and significant majority of the unionist people reject the Trimble/Adams Deal and with that mandate we shall seek to veto the united Ireland process.
Would that I could offer each of you the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labours - that I could invite you to relax in what they describe as a new era. I cannot. The struggle is not over. The IRA have merely declared they will let us live in exchange for the attainment of their goal. The IRA worship no God but force, they believe in terrorism as a principle not as an instrument, they are devoted to the use of violence, and the use of the threat of violence.
The only peace being offered is the peace of surrender. Therefore, unpalatable though it may be to the ears of many, Ulster's ordeal is not near its close. Ulster being surrendered over our heads by those treating with the terrorists will not produce peace. Peace signifies more than silencing guns and stilling bombs. Though this town knows well that even that has not been achieved. It is more than escape from terror it has to be a way of life. It has to be more than a haven for the war-weary it must provide a home for the true and brave.
A generation of terrorist war has inflicted a most dreadful price upon our society but terrible though that war has been the consequences of retreat and surrender are even more terrible. When man accepts under duress that which he would never accept by free consent his spirit is diminished and his craven purchase of peace will eat away and haunt him until his discontent with himself for submitting in circumstances that were immoral and against his intellectual judgement are appeased. What unionists are having foisted upon them is not compromise - for nothing has been given or offered, only taken. It is not compromise it is surrender. We are being tested to determine how long we can endure. They are asking you if you are ready to submit to a shady surrender and sue for an unprincipled peace. Some Unionists may have departed the battlefield but for Democratic Unionists there will be no retreat, no freewheeling and there will be no surrender!"