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Speech by Peter Hain, to the Labour Party Conference, Brighton, England, (28 September 2005)

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Text: Peter Hain... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Peter Hain, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Wales, to the Labour Party Conference, Brighton, England, (28 September 2005)


"I'm proud to stand here again as a Labour Secretary of State for Wales and, now, also as a Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

It's an honour to follow Paul Murphy, who did such a great job. I hear nothing but praise, affection and respect for Paul wherever I go.

For both of us, it was a privilege to follow in the footsteps of another Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland: Mo Mowlam.

Mo reached out to the people in a way that nobody else had ever done and nobody else could ever do.

She started the process that brought the communities of Northern Ireland together on the long path towards peace and democracy.

Preaching a commitment to dialogue as the answer to conflict, however ancient, however deep-rooted, however difficult.

Sweeping impatiently past prejudice, class and status, preaching Labour values of fairness, of justice, of equality, of liberty, of democracy.

Mo - we salute you, we miss you, and we will never, ever forget you.

Those Labour values will live on in Northern Ireland as we seek to take the last, painfully difficult steps towards a political settlement that will finally guarantee: peace, stability, democracy and human rights.

Of course, as the recent, hideous violence has shown, there will always be those who want to drag us back to the darkness of the past. They will not succeed.

But the endgame to bitter conflict can be the most tortuous.

When people have to take that final step - to put aside their differences - to put aside their prejudices - to put aside their fears - and to share with people who were once sworn enemies.

When people have to face that moment of truth - that's the most painful, the most difficult, time of all.

I tell you this from my own personal experience in the struggle against apartheid.

That struggle saw Nelson Mandela finally freed, after 10,000 days imprisonment. And, only four years later, elected President.

At the time it seemed a miracle - and in a way it was. But people forget that - in those four years - there was more violence, more people killed, than at any time in South Africa's history.

The endgame is the hardest because the two sides may have journeyed miles towards each other, but, when they are just feet apart, they want to draw back.

We are at this key moment now - and it's time for the politicians of Northern Ireland to be courageous.

Because we have come such a long way.

When I first visited Belfast in 1972 it was the year of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, when 500 people lost their lives. Belfast was then a grim city of armed patrols, security blocks, bombs and bullets.

But that tide of violence was turned back by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brilliantly negotiated through the small hours by Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam.

And, today, Belfast is an increasingly modern, thriving city.

A city where people can live their lives free from the fear of terrorism.

A city with a security situation that is rapidly normalising, with a Police service that increasingly reflects the community it serves.

Northern Ireland has been transformed: an economy shattered by years of turmoil, now enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. There are more jobs, and there is more prosperity, than ever before.

Under your Labour Government, a place which was once avoided at all costs now welcomes more visitors each year than there are residents.

Conference, we are fortunate to have a Prime Minister, a Labour Prime Minister, who, since the day we took office, made the resolution of this conflict his personal mission.

The transformation of Northern Ireland is one of the proudest achievements of our Prime Minister, our Labour Government and our Labour Party.

Without our Party's commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.

Without our Party's determination that it was no longer acceptable just to say 'well that's what Northern Ireland is like'.

Without our Party's unwavering belief a solution could be found.

Without that, we could never have achieved such immense progress.

But there is still a difficult and tough future ahead - and a past that can never be forgotten: a legacy of pain and misery; of lives lost, of loved ones mourned, of families torn apart and of communities shattered.

Each of the lives lost during the last 30 years represents a personal and family tragedy.

But their impact goes wider: they represent lost opportunities for the whole community, lost futures, lost hopes.

That is why there is still so much mistrust and bitterness - and why unionists and nationalists demanded that the words of the IRA were borne out by actions.

They were right to do so.

And now, this week, with the hugely significant announcement by the independent decommissioning body that the IRA has put its entire arsenal of arms beyond use, we have a chance to make the progress for which we have worked, for so long.

And if, in January, the Independent Monitoring Commission confirm a complete end to IRA activity, then the time will have come for every person in Northern Ireland, unionist or nationalist, to grasp this opportunity for peace.

This historic opportunity to move forward with genuine political engagement and progress.

Because the real lesson of the years since the Good Friday Agreement is that violence does not pay - that real political progress can only be made when paramilitaries leave the stage.

That lesson was eventually learnt by republicans; it's high time it was learnt by loyalists too. We condemn utterly their vicious assaults - and their murder attempts - on the police.

And we tell them straight: they will not succeed.

The IRA has decommissioned its arms. The loyalist paramilitaries must now do so too.

So, devolution of power remains our overriding objective - and I'm confident we will achieve it. Over the coming months David Hanson and I will be working hard to do so.

But, until that day, Northern Ireland cannot afford to tread water - not politically and not economically.

The challenges of the new millennium will be as great as the threat to the prosperity of Northern Ireland from a broken community.

The challenge of a rapidly changing global economy will not wait for divisions in society to be healed.

The need to fund decent quality public services will not withstand the enormous costs and duplication that flow from separated communities.

The threat from global warming and climate change will not respect political, religious or geographic divides.

These are tough challenges to face, requiring difficult policy decisions to be taken. So, in the coming weeks, our Ministerial team will be announcing a wide-ranging series of reforms.

Jeff Rooker will announce plans for much fewer, but more powerful, local councils: to bring decisions even closer to the people.

Shaun Woodward will announce plans to radically simplify the structures delivering health, to ensure more money reaches the front line, and delivers shorter waiting times.

Angela Smith will announce reforms to education to deliver better standards and a new focus on skills.

And, conference, because we believe that every child should have the opportunity to succeed - the end to selection in Northern Ireland's schools.

And as we take forward this radical agenda, I will closely with Trade Unions in Northern Ireland, who have such a critical role to play in delivering our public services.

I can also announce today that our forthcoming budget for the next two years will see a redirection of resources to new policies - all focused on enhancing the life chances of the next generation.

Boosting our investment in Northern Ireland's children, with a new ring-fenced fund to deliver quality childcare, as well as breakfast and after school clubs, and an expansion of Sure Start, to ensure that every child has the best start in life.

Investing in opportunities and skills, with greater access to vocational education, training and apprenticeships, to ensure no young person is left behind.

Protecting the environment, with a new drive to promote renewable and other clean energy: because our children deserve to enjoy the same quality of life in the future that we take for granted today.

These are Labour policies for the next generation in Northern Ireland. For the future of Northern Ireland.

But even as we deliver these reforms, our over-arching goal remains: putting Northern Ireland back in the hands of its people - through a democratically elected Assembly with an executive that shares power between the parties.

Because, as other parts of the UK take ever greater control over their lives, why should Northern Ireland be left behind?

In Wales, it was Labour that led the Yes campaign that delivered devolution.

And now, as a Labour Secretary of State for Wales, I'm proud that - with my Deputy Nick Ainger - I will be bringing forward a new Government of Wales Bill to strengthen the Welsh Assembly, and put it on the road to full legislative powers.

In Wales. In Northern Ireland. We will continue to devolve power. Because for us empowering our citizens isn't just another policy: it's the very purpose of our movement.

Our vision for Northern Ireland is our vision for Wales, for Great Britain, for the world.

The chance for our children to express their identity and realise their opportunity.

Whoever they are, whatever their religion.

Free from prejudice, free from violence, and free from hate.

And thanks to our Labour government, we have a chance to deliver that prize.

A prize that is now within our grasp.

So I urge everyone in Northern Ireland.

All political parties, all political leaders, to join us in that great mission."


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