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David Trimble, Speech to the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) AGM to mark its 100th anniversary, (5 March 2005)
Text: David Trimble ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn
Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) AGM to mark its 100th anniversary, (5 March 2005)
"Mr President, Mr Chairman, Fellow Unionists,
A hundred years ago last Thursday [3 March 2005], people like you, solid citizens of this province, gathered around the corner in the Ulster Hall for the first meeting of our Council.
We have much to be proud of. And I am proud to lead you.
Ulster is still an integral part of our United Kingdom. This Council still represents the main democratic forum for the Unionist people in Ireland. Our Party has successfully resisted attempt after attempt to prise us away from our British citizenship.
We meet, however, at a moment of great seriousness. The values of our party are under threat and the way ahead for Northern Ireland appears uncertain. Most seriously, the language of threat has returned.
This party has overcome much. The devolution crisis. The Third Home Rule Bill. Partition. The growing pains of our new state. The establishment of the Irish Republic. Two World Wars. The Civil Rights crisis. The fall of Stormont. A vicious terrorist campaign. Government neglect. The pan-nationalist front.
Two months from today we will be judged on our efforts in one of the toughest fights this party has ever faced. We will not be driven off the battlefield, in Fermanagh and South Tyrone – or here in South Belfast.
If the DUP act in South Belfast as they did in 2001 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and hand the seat to a nationalist they will be condemned as first and foremost simply anti-unionist.
We can fight at local government level, but Westminster seats must not be thrown away. The man in the street can see that there are unionist seats that could be lost to nationalists and republicans on a split unionist vote. Equally there are seats republicans could be deprived of, if unionists were to act sensibly.
In local government Ulster Unionist councillors are the backbone. They bring common sense and wisdom. We thank them for their public service. We pledge our support to them and to our enthusiastic new candidates.
These are crucial elections. With local and national polls on the same day, the big political issues are bound to dominate. We are called to give account for our stewardship during this so-called peace process.
We knew from bitter experience that the British government could not be relied upon to articulate a unionist position. We knew it was our duty to defend the unionist corner when it really mattered. If necessary, alone.
If there was a chance of a deal that enshrined the principle of consent, that removed Dublin’s claim and that restored Stormont, we had to go for it.
I make no apologies for that.
Where this party leads, others have now followed. We welcome the fact that they have finally engaged with reality.
When the DUP did finally enter talks, there was no big new idea. When they came to confront the issues that we had wrestled with, they ended up in much the same place.
The outcome was a far cry from their vainglorious boasts. They did not even attempt to change the joint declaration, or anything else they attacked over the years.
Their attempt to get decommissioning failed. Far from getting disbandment, they would have settled for the IRA’s “new mode” which we now know to be a sham.
But they conceded an all Ireland Assembly of MLAs and TDs – the sort of structure this Council was formed to oppose one hundred years ago.
They also conceded a structured role for northern nationalist MPs and MEPs in the Dail, an immediate deal on the devolution of policing and justice, and turned a blind eye to the release of the killers of Garda McCabe.
After torturing the unionist people for the last 6 years in their vehement anti-agreement stance, they should at least concede that there is no difference now between our parties on constitutional matters. A little decency and humility on tactical differences would be welcome.
You may wonder what their new manifesto will be like.
No doubt there will be bright colours - and cartoons for the Baby Docs to enjoy.
But I have an advance copy. I have it here.
Pity about the title. Not ‘Putting things right’ or ‘A fair deal for Ulster’ or ‘The party you can trust’.
No, this is it. It is called ‘Proposals for a Comprehensive Agreement’. [hold up]
And no less than Dr Paisley has told us it settled all issues. He agrees with every word of it.
And nothing in this document [hold up] changes a single or word in this document [hold up].
The DUP promised us a ‘fair deal’ and they came back with [hold up]. Slow learning is better than no learning, I guess.
Needless to say they are now rather shy about where they actually stand. They claim they negotiated a mechanism for the Assembly to rein in wayward ministers. But in this Assembly their mechanism would require Sinn Fein support!
Nor did the DUP deal with the real problem last December.
In fairness to some in the Irish government, they saw the problem. When the actual IRA statement came out, the PDs broke cover. There was nothing in it about an end to criminal activity. We expressed our concern, but when The Irish Times contacted the DUP, they were reportedly “unperturbed”.
The Republican Movement came away from the December negotiation with a green card from the DUP for future criminal activity. No wonder republicans thought they could get away with the Northern Bank raid.
It is at times like these that the need for good policing becomes obvious. Our record is clear. When the police were being murdered by the comrades-in arms of one party, ignored by another, and condemned as ‘whores’ by a party that should know better, Ulster Unionists remained steadfast.
We have always been the party of policing. We are helping to shape the future of the Police today. On the DPPs and on the Policing Board. Quietly. Committedly. Seeking what is best for the people of Northern Ireland, including the men and women of the police. Working for a stable, secure Northern Ireland. Not chasing headlines. Getting the work done.
We treat policing seriously. That’s why we wanted to take our time over the devolution of policing and justice powers. We had to get the details right.
Not so the DUP. Only fools rush in. They made the lifting of suspension dependent on agreement with republicans over policing.
They created a pressure cooker for themselves. They would compromise to republicans’ warped vision of policing in order to claim their ministerial cars. Any guesses who the new policing minister would be. Gerry Kelly or one of his friends? The DUP has never denied it.
We know what scuppered the deal. All that guldering about ‘sackcloth and ashes’ was a sign of panic. They thought their bluff was about to be called.
Little did they know that republicans were also bluffing and would refuse the photographs that were all that stood in the way of the Sinn Fein/DUP deal.
So much for the grand idea that all problems would be solved by bringing the extremes centre stage.
Anyway, does anyone really think a DUP/Sinn Fein government would attract foreign business and investment? What incentive would it be for young people to stay here?
Oh they, like some loyalists would be happy to have a sectarian carve-up of Northern Ireland. It would not be a two party state but two one party states. What future would that be?
We did make progress. There were three acts of decommissioning on my watch. Prosperity, the quality of life improved enormously.
If the people of Northern Ireland want a better life, and they do, they can build it on the 5th of May. They can rebuild the centre ground. Support those who have never supported violence and pull society back from the brink.
History will probably come to see the Northern Bank raid as a turning point. But it came at the end of a series of events all of which pointed to a republican unwillingness to complete the transition to peace and democracy.
At the outset the question was, would republicans even be prepared to begin the transition? That’s what the emphasis on a start to decommissioning was all about. Nobody thought that decommissioning alone would solve the problem. But it was to be evidence that they were prepared to change.
That is why we were so encouraged by the IRA statement of 6 May 2000. It was not just the promise to decommission “completely” and “in a manner to maximise public confidence”. It was also the language that pointed to closure of the conflict and a future where we would as equals pursue respective goals by political means.
Unfortunately it took my resignation and later that of my three ministerial colleagues to get them to begin the process. And the benefit of that was dissipated by the discovery of their Colombian adventure and the Castlereagh raid. Many here will regard the latter as the crucial moment.
After that the issue within this party was essentially tactical. How to bring the matter to a head in a way that placed responsibility clearly on republicans. By noon on the day of Stormontgate I had no doubt the time had come. So that day we gave the government a week to act. Which they did by taking the easy route of suspension.
That was then supposed to be a turning point. We were told there would be no more inch-by-inch negotiations. Only the completion of the transition would suffice. Since then there have been three failures to complete. The first by the government in March 2003 over the text of paragraph 13.
Then in October 2003 we halted a planned sequence because while republicans did a third act of decommissioning, they failed to deliver the expected transparency.
Then last December, basically the same thing happened again. The DUP/Sinn Fein deal collapsed through the refusal of a photograph. You will recall that at Leeds Castle and after I had advised government and the DUP that they should first nail down decommissioning. They both failed. Not only was there no agreement on photos. There was no deal on quantities and inventories, and no certainly that it really would be complete.
Both sequences were in a context where the IRA really were going to go away. On each occasion republicans were content to offer more process, but not to complete the transition. As a result we were already contemplating a re- assessment. The Bank raid was merely adding a reinforced the need.
This is why at the beginning of January we have said that we all have to face the reality that republicans have consistently failed to make an unequivocal choice in favour of the basic principles of the Belfast Agreement.
In our view the Unionist electorate would not support, or tolerate now or in the foreseeable future the formation of an Executive that would include Sinn Fein. I have added that if Mr Adams were to ask me, which he has not done, how he could rebuild Unionist support for such an Executive, I would reply that I have simply no idea how that could be done in the short term.
This week Martin Kettle, the chief leader writer of the Guardian, wrote, after referring to the DUP/Sinn Fein deal,
“It didn’t happen because in the end, the IRA would have been lost without its guns. And as we have now learnt, lost without its stolen money too. And its street violence. And its money laundering. And its smuggling, its debt collection, its tax fraud, its blackmail, and its extortion.”
Martin Kettle concluded,
“… instead of seeing Gerry Adams as Northern Ireland’s Nelson Mandela, it might be more realistic if we drew a less heroic parallel. Unable to complete the transition from violent to peaceful politics, dependent on the networks of dishonesty on which his authority rests, Adams may now be turning into Northern Ireland’s Yasser Arafat”.
So where do we go?
First we do not intend to re-enter an Executive that includes Sinn Fein.
If republicans wish to be included in talks then it must rebuild its credibility by doing all the things it should have done and present itself as a purely peaceful democratic movement with no private army.
Secondly we should release politics from the d’Hondt straitjacket that currently gives the IRA a veto on political progress.
The mechanisms for the necessary change are quite simple. Merely abolish the d’Hondt formula for appointing Ministers. Retain the simple cross-community vote for key issues and the joint election of First and Deputy First Ministers. This ensures the cross-community administration that was at the heart of the Agreement. It also preserves the possibility of a fully inclusive one if the parties so agree.
These suggestions embody the true spirit of partnership. But they require leadership and a willingness of people to give their support.
Blair and Ahern must face facts. Both appear to be clinging to full inclusivity. And in so doing they are now both breaking the Agreement. In it, inclusivity is conditional on a commitment to peace and democracy with exclusion as a consequence for failure. A consequence endorsed by the last report of the Independent Monitoring Commission.
The governments’ duty is to safeguard the legal and moral integrity of the political process. The subtext of their present position is that republicans matter more than anyone else. That strengthens republicans. And if republicans are enhanced electorally then disgust among unionists will be total. Politics will return to the ice age and community relations irreparably damaged.
Government must not sleep walk into such a disaster. It must give a lead. There is a special responsibility on Ahern to give a lead to Irish nationalism, especially to northern nationalism.
And against the background of the horror of the McCartney murder there is a sore need for not just for a political lead, but for moral leadership. Is it not a reproach to the natural social and spiritual leaders of northern nationalism that leadership is left to the deceased’s sisters, who should be surrounded by the support of the community’s leaders rather than having that leadership thrust on them?
They deserve our congratulations and thank for their courage. Their actions keep alive hope that we can escape the mafia culture of the paramilitaries.
But it will require consistent effort across the board. Republicans will only change if they have to. If they think that they can weather the storm, that eventually others will resume relations with them, then there will be no change and such horrors will be repeated.
The soft approach of government encourages republicans. Sadly so too does the attitude of some unionists. This is not the time for a leading unionist to go on RTE and talk of sharing power with Sinn Fein. No wonder that Martin McGuinness rejoiced. The interviewee, he said, “clearly acknowledges and recognises that he is going to have to go into government with the representatives of Sinn Fein”.
McGuinness then called for the DUP to enter talks with them as quickly as possible.
It would be equally wrong to flirt with any variation of the Assembly that offers a measure of power or normality to Sinn Fein.
Nor must unionists allow any deviance from the constitutional settlement in the Agreement. That must be securely banked. For it rules out any possible form of joint authority.
A united approach by all democrats on these lines offers political recovery to the people.
I hope that this approach that can unite the community. I believe that it should unite unionism. I ask the DUP and others to support it. And I have to say to them that they would do better to support this than to continue to send signals to republicans that they are just waiting until after the elections to get back into bed with them!
There is no point doing that. They know there is currently no unionist support for such a course.
But then it is easier for us to give this lead. We have nothing to prove. No-one can reproach us. We have made huge efforts to make inclusivity work. We shared power with nationalists. We sat round the table of the Northern Ireland Executive when there were more nationalists attending meetings than unionists.
We have no regrets. Our efforts stripped away from republicans every excuse, every disguise. We put them to the test and we have, beyond doubt, proved their failure.
The reward for those efforts that all can share is that everyone is pointing the finger of blame at republicans. They are in the dock. The republican dream of a pan-nationalist front with the government against force unionists has gone. Had we done otherwise over the last six years unionism would have been in the dock and the union damaged.
That is Ulster Unionism. Looking to the future.
Taking a stand. Offering leadership.
Trying to do the best – for all the people of Northern Ireland.
It’s nothing new. It’s our historic duty.
100 years ago we took a stand for the Union. We pledge ourselves today to maintain that stand.
This party faced off the threat of Home Rule. We created Northern Ireland instead.
We built it up. We nurtured it. Others laid it low. We built it up again.
Our work and the risks we took paid off for society. And for unionism.
The danger now is not Home Rule or Rome Rule
It is mob rule.
As we go into our second century, our ambitions for Ulster are clear.
Safety. Prosperity. Security. Equality. And tranquillity.
That’s what people deserve.
That’s what we will be fighting for in May.
Let us all go forward