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Speech by Shaun Woodward to the Labour Party Annual Conference, Bournemouth, (24 September 2007)

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Text: Shaun Woodward ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Shaun Woodward, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to the Labour Party Annual Conference, Bournemouth, (24 September 2007)



It was Seamus Heaney who wrote:

...once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

This year, on May 8th in Northern Ireland, that once in a lifetime tidal wave rose up and indeed hope and history rhymed.

The seemingly impossible gave way to a future being shared.

As Ian Paisley put it, 'Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace, a time when hate will no longer rule.'

The Change

Conference, restoring local democracy in May this year, devolving power in Northern Ireland, is indeed the triumph of hope.

Two communities, divided by conflict, are being united by history.

Now we enter the final chapter.

A story as hopeful as it was tragic.

The Troubles - across four decades taking nearly 4000 lives - now giving way to the agreement to share power.

Power in Stormont exercised not by direct rule, but by a Unionist and a Republican. First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness, elected by people across Northern Ireland.

Power exercised by the Executive drawn from the four political parties.

In devolving power, this Labour Government is helping deliver a new future.

What a different life for the child born in Belfast or Omagh today, from the child born in 1972.

This - Conference - is the practical demonstration Government can achieve when it serves the people.

It is an answer to the cynic of our politics.

As Tony Blair said, May 8th this year was a day doing ' a power of good for optimists everywhere.'

So let us take great pride in the leadership given by Tony Blair and Mo Mowlem, bringing an end to the Troubles.

Some may regard their work as duty.

You know their work went well beyond duty.

At its heart, a determination to use power to forge a better world. Finding no better expression and legacy than Stormont today.

Conference, for the work of the Irish Government, to Tony Blair and successive Ministers and Secretaries of State.

From Peter Hain, Paul Murphy, John Reid, Peter Mandelson and of course Mo Mowlam.

Our thanks Conference to them.

The Task Ahead

If a week is a long time in politics, ten years may seem an eternity.

Since 1997, seismic change.

You promised the country, Things could only get better.

They have.

I know that.

They did for me.

Eight years ago I joined the Labour Party!

And I am deeply honoured to be here this morning, addressing Conference as your Labour Secretary of State.

Conference, we still have an important task to complete.

Devolving policing and criminal justice.

And with Paul Goggins and Jeff Rooker, Ministers of State, we will work to that end.

The St Andrews Agreement was clear.

Not an a la carte menu for devolution.

The second, completing stage is as vital as the first.

It must be done.

It should be done.

Done because it is the right thing to do.

To those we ask to invest in the future of the children of Northern Ireland - what greater commitment could there be, than local politicians taking their responsibility for law and order?

When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, he was as clear as his predecessor of the importance of completing our work.

It will come as no surprise Gordon has wholly committed himself, to help new Assembly politicians, bring new and vital investment to Northern Ireland.

Now, we need these politicians, ensure stability is enshrined for new investment.

Local politicians taking responsibility for policing on the streets of Lisburn or Derry.

Responsibility for criminal justice.

The task is already underway.

Sinn Fein have joined the Policing Board.

The symbolism in West Belfast of Gerry Adams shaking hands with the Chief Constable was a global front page story.

As powerful an image, as Ian Paisley welcoming Irish President Mary McAleese in Belfast last week.

Or in February next year, Sinn Fein joining Policing District Partnerships.

Each hugely symbolic.

Each significant.

Great strides. Ensuring a shared future - isn't just an aspiration.

But a future, shared.

David Trimble was right when he said, in the past, Northern Ireland was ' a cold house for Catholics'.

Today, as Ian Paisley said, ' we are all aiming to build a Northern Ireland in which we can all live together in peace, being equal under the law. And equally subject to the law'.

The Past

That's why it's so essential to complete devolution.

Why it is vital to find the means to deal with The Past.

The past can't be forgotten.

Indeed it should never be forgotten.

Too many have given too much.

But as John Kennedy said to the Irish Parliament, as the first serving President to visit an independent Ireland in 1963:

'...we need not feel the bitterness of the past to discover its meaning for the present and the future.'

That is why we have asked Archbishop Eames and Dennis Bradley to head the Consultative Group.

Can they find a consensus to deal with the Past?

It won't be easy.

But if we found a consensus to create the Good Friday Agreement, can the same optimists find a route, to ensure Northern Ireland is not held in its past, but can build on its past?

The Future

Conference, the history of Northern Ireland has indeed begun a new chapter.

Perhaps even a new story altogether.

It is a story of leadership and hope.

And perhaps there is no better proof, than a Conference in Finland, held just three weeks ago.

Its purpose to bring together political leaders and see what lessons might be drawn, to help find a way forward, in an area of terrible conflict.

Among its delegates, Jeffrey Donaldson and Martin McGuiness.

Two politicians, once locked in seemingly irreconcilable conflict, working together to bring new hope.

But their conference was not about Northern Ireland.

But about Iraq.

As Nelson Mandela brought his message of hope from South Africa nearly two decades ago.

So today a Unionist and a Republican bring their message of hope, to another region of this troubled world.

So Conference, take pride and heart from Northern Ireland.

Justice can rise up.

Hope and history have rhymed.

Thank you.


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