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Speech by Nigel Dodds to the DUP Annual Conference, Antrim (1 November 2008)

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Text: Nigel Dodds ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Speech by Nigel Dodds, then Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to the DUP Annual Conference, Antrim (1 November 2008)


"Party leader, ladies and gentlemen, this is truly a momentous conference. It is a watershed conference. For decades, this party has been led by a man whose contribution to the cause of Ulster and Unionism will never be surpassed. Of Ian Paisley it can truly be said, we will never see his like again. At last night’s conference dinner, he revealed once again just why he was the leader of Unionism for so long. During those years he had at his side a man whose strategic focus and political skills steered this party to the position which it is in today as the largest political party in Northern Ireland.

The torch has passed to a new generation, but the principles and the values of our cause remain constant and steadfast. With Peter as our new leader, building on the strong foundations which Ian has laid before him, this party will go from strength to strength.  Peter, you have this party’s full support in these days, not just as our party leader, but as the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

In ten days time, the world will mark the 90th anniversary of the great victory in the Great War.  We will again honour the brave men who went from our shores and paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to win freedom for the world.

And tomorrow on the streets of Belfast, we will honour men and women of this generation who, in Afghanistan and Iraq, are fighting similar same battles in defence of liberty and democracy. I know that the streets of Belfast will be thronged tomorrow by people from across Northern Ireland coming out to give thanks to Almighty God for the safe homecoming of our gallant troops.

The victories of our servicemen and women could not have been won without their engagement in battle. To win the victory, one must enter the arena, to achieve the result one wants one must take get in and take on the enemy.

Today in Ulster, whilst the terrorist campaign of PIRA has been defeated, the political battle continues. But Republicans continue to attack the ramparts of Britishness and Unionism.  Previously, those ramparts were left defenceless, as the supposed guardians of our freedom neglected their duty or deserted their posts.

The situation now is different and don’t Republicans know it!

Armed with the overwhelming mandate given to us, we are taking the battle to Sinn Fein. Not, as some would advocate, running away. Not, as some have done, caving in under pressure. But fighting the political battle.

And, ladies and gentlemen, we are winning that battle.

Just look at where Republicans find themselves today – forced to rid themselves of their illegal weapons. Forced to accept and endorse the police as the only legitimate force of law and order in Northern Ireland.  Forced to accept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom according to the will of its people.

In previous negotiations, Sinn Fein outmanoeuvred, outflanked and out talked Governments and Ulster Unionist negotiators.  But in negotiations where the DUP was in the lead, they met their match!

No wonder even the SDLP are scathing in their criticism of Sinn Fein. Mark Durkin says Sinn Fein have been forced into diluting and abandoning key aspects of the Belfast Agreement, and in handing over vetoes to the DUP. And you know what – he’s absolutely right.

To cover their shortcomings, Sinn Fein have resorted to distorting and twisting what was signed up to at St Andrew’s. Let us reiterate, once again, what everyone now knows. The DUP left the negotiations having blocked Sinn Fein’s desire to destroy our grammar schools. The DUP came out of the negotiations having stopped an Irish Language Act.  And whatever governments may have agreed, the DUP left St Andrew’s with the triple lock on the devolution of policing and justice secure, and no commitment on such devolution until such time as there is confidence in the community.

And in moving forward last year, we were determined to keep the pressure on Sinn Fein. We were not prepared to hand over the initiative to Republicans, or to hand back the control of our destiny or our hard-fought gains to a green-tainted direct rule regime, hostile to Unionism and its people, with Sinn Fein given a key role.

We and the people we represent should never volunteer to stand on the sidelines as powerless observers, while others sell us down the river.

In this new phase, we continue to challenge Sinn Fein each step of the way. The anti-Unionist seven council model for local government has been stopped.  The imbalance of funding and support for Irish Gaelic culture is being challenged and reversed. The unaccountable executive authority of north-south bodies has been demolished.

And in this new phase, we continue to deliver for Unionism and the people we represent.

Unlike some of our opponents, we will not be sidetracked from opposing the Republican agenda, nor will we be diverted from delivering for Unionism.

For our opponents in Unionism, their only role is to divide Unionism and help Sinn Fein. For the DUP, our role is to united Unionism and defeat Sinn Fein. And the DUP is the only party that can do that. As was evidenced in the Enniskillen by-election, when the battle is on, it is only the DUP that can win for Unionism.  And I want to pay tribute, both for the party and on a very personal level, to Arlene Foster, the champion of Unionism in Fermanagh for the victory she won and the sacrifice she made for the cause in the recent by-election.

Contrast our brand of Unionism with the Unionism of Reg Empey or others who put selfish party interests above all else. Willing even to hand victory to the opponents of unionism.

Poor Reg – he’s so desperate to find even one friend that he keeps flirting with anyone who even glances in his direction. First, he developed a crush for the PUPs, then he fell hopelessly in love with the Tories, and now he’s flashing his eyes at the TUV. Next it’ll be UTV!

The lonely hearts column in the Belfast Telegraph the other night carried an interesting item -  “Unionist male  - mature,  golden hair, likes parties – seeks political companionship with view to, merger and marriage”.  Now, I wonder who that could be!

But maybe I’m being too hard on Reg. After all, it seems that his party would follow him anywhere – even if just out of curiosity to see what direction he takes it in next!

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt about the core Unionist values of our leadership and our direction.  That is evidenced in the delivery of key objectives for the Unionist people.

At Westminster, our role and influence as the fourth largest party in Parliament, is reinforced by our active participation at a level far surpassing our Ulster Unionist predecessors.  The recent defeat of attempts to impose the 1967 Abortion Act on Northern Ireland was widely welcomed, and we are delighted to have played a leading part in that effort.

The de-rating of orange halls and more recently the new arrangements for compensation should a hall be attacked, were both driven forward by this party.  Those arrangements alone are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to orange halls right across our Province.  We are working with the Loyal Orders, and those involved in the promotion of our culture and heritage, to promote true cultural equality.  Time and again, we hear demands being made in the name of equality which are nothing more than smokescreens for sectarianism and bigotry, and we should never be afraid to stand up to them.

We as a party will oppose every attempt to reduce the Britishness of Northern Ireland, and we will expose the anti-British bigotry that drives that agenda.  The starkest example is the disgraceful protest parade organised by Sinn Fein against the home-coming of our brave troops tomorrow. The mask has now fallen off, and, behind it, the ugly face of Republican sectarian bigotry has been laid bare for all to see.

And I hope that other countries, especially the USA, take note of what Sinn Fein and Republicans think, not only of our troops, but of all the other soldiers who serve with them in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s time America stood up for its friends, and stopped pandering to those who detest all that America stands for.

The disgraceful attitude taken by the Parades Commission has strengthened our resolve to see it abolished. The Strategic Review of Parading will soon publish its final report, and we will be working to ensure a new and better system is put in place which will undo the damage that years of Republican agitation and Parades Commission compliance have done.

Whether it’s delivering on these areas, or on the many economic issues which face us all today, the DUP is determined to show strong leadership in using devolution to deliver in challenging times for Northern Ireland.

And let us not forget what has been achieved so far. The economy is now at the heart of the Programme for Government, a massive £18 billion investment strategy is in place for the next ten years.

We have already taken action to help hard-working households and individuals. Regional rates have been frozen for three years, water charges deferred, lone pensioner rates allowances introduced, free fares for all over 60.  And, because of our budget, prescription charges are to be phased out.

As DETI Minister, I was delighted to welcome hundreds of leading executives from the US as we drove forward our plans for investment in Northern Ireland, and as Finance Minister, I will continue our plans for the reform of the rating system to ensure fairness for all and support for the most vulnerable.

We are leading on an action plan to deal with the rising costs of energy.  Whilst the Assembly has only limited fiscal powers, I will continue to engage with the Secretary of State, the Chancellor, and the Prime Minister on a range of issues to benefit the people of Northern Ireland.

So, much done, but more still to do to help all of the people of Northern Ireland from all parts and all communities.

In this context of grave economic times across the world, it is reprehensible that Sinn Fein – and Sinn Fein alone – is preventing the Executive from meeting.

Sinn Fein’s refusal to carry on the work of Government - to prioritise jobs, or investment, or the economy… or pensioners… or pupils…or farmers… or the homeless represents an attempt to hold Government and the people to ransom in pursuit of narrow party political objectives. That tactic may have worked in the past, but it will not work anymore with the DUP leading for unionism.

So, ladies and gentlemen, don’t let anyone tell you today that this is the same as David Trimble’s agreement. What we are delivering is very different from the appeasement policies of the Ulster Unionists. We are delivering on our manifesto promises. And as we survey the political battle scene today, we see the proof of that before our eyes. Who is in retreat?  Who today is threatening to withdraw?  Who today is running to the Government full of complaints and cries for help?  Unlike the days when Trimble and co were forced into walk-outs and boycotts because of their failures, today it is Sinn Fein who are acting like spoiled children, tugging on the aprons strings of London and Dublin, as they stamp their feet and throw a tantrum.

It is now Sinn Fein where the divisions are appearing. There are some realists in Sinn Fein who know they can’t turn the clock back. But the old guard has raised its head. It’s a case of Gerry versus the pacemakers. Gerry Adams is yesterday’s man - out of step, out of tune, out of touch, out of excuses. But he hasn’t gone away you know, and now he’s doing what he does best – threatening anyone who gets in his way.  When he talks of “partnership” and “equality” it’s code for Sinn Fein getting its way. When he criticises the DUP for “lack of engagement” he really means the DUP won’t be pushed around. The DUP is in government to deliver on its manifesto agenda, not that of republicans.

At next year’s European Election, electoral battle will once more be engaged.  Once again, it will be a test of who speaks for Ulster across in Europe. Will it be Sinn Fein who will strut the world stage as the leading party? Or will it be the DUP as the only party capable of outpolling Sinn Fein?  While others engage in tawdry activities to try to undermine fellow Unionists, our focus, our aim, our goal, is to defeat Sinn Fein and ensure a unionist victory through the DUP.

So, at this crucial juncture, it is vital that Unionists are focused on what is really at stake.  It is no less than the future of our beloved Province.  We face many challenges and difficulties, but with God’s help we will come through them as we have in the past -. Strong. Determined.  United. And Victorious!"


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