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Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the UUP, at UUP Annual Conference, 27 March 2004

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Text: David Trimble ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP),
at the UUP Annual Conference in the Ramada Hotel, Belfast,
Saturday 27 March 2004


"This has been a long week. People sometimes ask me why I want to continue to lead our Party, why I endure the relentless criticism. To be honest, my life - and Daphne's - would be less stressful if I stepped down now. I stay, because there is a job to be done - a job to be seen through.

The Ulster Unionist Party has an historic role. It is to protect and promote the Union of the British people. We in this room wish to add to the distinction of being Ulster Men and Ulster Women, the glory of being British. To achieve that end is not always easy. For all our Leaders, going back to Lord Carson and Sir James Craig, it has always involved difficult compromises which unsettled significant elements in the Party and community. But we have stuck to our task and vision. This Ulster Unionist Council was founded 100 years ago next year. Through all the dark days and years, especially the years of terrorism, this Council is what has embodied decency and commonsense in Ulster politics. It has defended the Union successfully. The decisions it has made today continue in that tradition.

There is a comparison to be made between the years since the Agreement and the years which surrounded another Agreement made in 1921. Many people then felt it was a compromise too far. The creation of an independent Ireland, Ulster reduced from six counties to nine, and devolution intended to put us on the window ledge of the Union. Moreover, Sir James Craig was willing to work a North-South Council of Ireland administering a wide range of all Ireland services. Those were really difficult decisions. But this party had the courage to face up to the realities.

And here we are nearly a century later when few then believed our struggle would endure for more than a decade or two.

This Council again made a profound decision in April 1998 that the Union is best guaranteed through a system of partnership in Northern Ireland and good co-operative relations with our neighbour.

Last November some people pretended that there was some other possible way of achieving devolution and securing the Union. They perpetrated a fraud on the Ulster electorate - a fraud the electorate has begun to notice.

Martin McGuinness frequently has a problem telling the truth but even he cannot help himself sometimes. When he said on Radio Ulster earlier this week that the DUP's talk of excluding Sinn Fein was a mere camouflage for their acceptance of the power-sharing executive model, he highlighted the reality of the DUP's position.

There is a joke in West Belfast: Question: What is the difference between the Provos and the Official IRA? Answer: 25 years. That is how long it took the Republican Movement to learn the futility of violence.

Today's version is, What is the difference between the UUP and the DUP?

Answer: six years. That is how long it took the latter to begin come to terms with reality.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it was not the DUP that has carried the burden. It is this Party which forced a partitionist settlement on Sinn Fein. No-one should underestimate the scale of that achievement. No-one should forget the received wisdom eight years ago. It was that Sinn Fein would never accept a return to Stormont; never accept the removal of Articles 2 and 3; never accept a Unionist First Minister; never accept an implicit Unionist veto on the constitutional issue. It was commonplace that they would resume their campaign before accepting those defeats for republicanism.

Who would have imagined then that the major focus now would not be on the existence of the Border but on making the IRA add the end of its paramilitary and racketeering activities to the now decade long cessation of its 'military' campaign?

Our Party, by taking the right decisions, has made it politically impossible for the IRA to return to its so-called "war". By refusing to be bullied out of the Talks in 1996-1998 this Party robbed Republicans of any excuse for refusing to tread the democratic path. It has been an infuriatingly slow journey but it is a journey in the right direction. In the view of this Party it is a journey that has to be completed before Sinn Fein can play a full role in the politics of our Province.

We have been on a long journey. Like John Bunyan's Pilgrim we could have chosen the wide path of populism but our duty to our people and our country has taken us on the narrow path of adversity where we have been subject to all manner of attacks and where friends fell by the wayside But, like Pilgrim, our faith and conviction in our ultimate destination remains rock solid.

A decade ago when this party started on this journey we were virtually alone. But we are alone no longer. The Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, every major party in Britain and Ireland all concur in the demand for an end to all paramilitary activity. Last week George Bush told the White House reception which included Adams and McGuinness, that there was no place for paramilitaries in a democracy and that if it happened in the US 'we would root them out and bring them to justice.' Even Senator Kennedy and the 'Friends of Ireland' in their St Patrick's Day statement devoted their first three points to the ending of all paramilitary activity and referred to the special responsibility for republicans to give a lead in bringing that about.

We have been joined too by another party nearer home. The ground which the Ulster Unionist Party staked out in 1997/8 is now the ground upon which DUP stands today. For all of the rant and roar about our supposed treachery, they have, nevertheless, stolen our clothes - stolen them because they know that there is nothing else to fit the political realities.

Read 'Devolution Now'. Among its proposals is the corporate Assembly, the 12-person Executive replaced by a 108-person Executive, but operating on all key matters on a cross community basis. They are in de facto negotiations with Sinn Fein. The DUP is champing at the bit to take office and co-operate with Sinn Fein in the day-to-day governance of Northern Ireland.

The DUP has performed a triple somersault from the positions outlined in their election manifesto.

And we have not overlooked the irony of the position of the Member for Lagan Valley. He convened crisis meeting after defining moment to oppose in this Party that which he is bending over backwards to endorse in the DUP. And let's not forget he brought this Party to a crisis point - and even to the High Court - last summer because he wanted to oppose the legislation giving effect to the International Monitoring Commission. Yes, the very same IMC the DUP are now trying to claim credit for!

We in this Party pride ourselves, and rightly so, on being a broad church - not in harness to one particular denomination. But we cannot be so broad a church that we tolerate competing gospels, ministers, congregations and choirs. We cannot be so democratic that our own members use the freedom granted by our culture and constitution to exploit and undermine our institutions.

Membership of this party is not enforced. It is voluntary. But membership of the party brings certain responsibilities; foremost of which is a willingness to accept the decisions endorsed by a majority of your fellow members. No-one is denied the right to express their opinion - be it at branch, constituency, council, executive, or officer level. In return for that individual right, must be the collective right of the party to expect collective loyalty.

The Ulster Unionist Party is not the personal property of any individual or cabal. It is the collective property of you, its members. I know there is despair when new squabbles break out. We all want unity and a sense of purpose. We need to see the party operating as a team. This Council represents those members. This Council has given me the task of leading.

Leading, is about staking out new ground and building a better future. It is time for an end to the introspection that has consumed us for too long.

The challenges are well known to us. They do not need to be identified again and again. But they are not insuperable challenges. We can overcome them.

The first among them is to restore our Party's electoral fortunes. Our Party has lost out in the past but it has always come back because it represents the commonsensical attitudes of the unionist people. They are never comfortable with self-righteous demagogues and slick salesmen.

But we cannot sit back and assume it will all work out in our favour. We have had a wake up call. We need to revitalise ourselves. Today we are the second unionist party so we need to recall the car hire firm's slogan, 'We're number two, we try harder.' Above all we must focus on the task in hand.

That immediate challenge is the European election, just two months away. In Jim Nicholson we have the only candidate going before the Ulster people with real experience, real tried- and-tested ability to deliver for this Province. He has won great respect for our Party and our Province at the heart of the European institutions. But how many in Ulster know that it is Jim who the European Parliament chose to lead for it in relations with the United States, Europe's biggest trading partner.

Let us be realistic. Sinn Fein will mobilise single mindedly for June. The SDLP will be fighting for its political life. There is a danger of complacency in Unionist Ulster.

That is why the campaign begins here. It is not the Jim Nicholson campaign; it is a campaign for this whole Party; a campaign for no less than Ulster itself.

Jim and his campaign team cannot be expected to shoulder the burden alone. It is the patriotic duty of every constituency association, every branch, every member of this Party to rally support for Jim.

Beyond the European election there are further challenges. We are making a start today, giving our Party a modern structure for the 21st Century. Next month our Party HQ will have a new dynamism with the appointment of a new Chief Executive, whose job will be to make us as effective and efficient as possible.

We must harness the enthusiasm which in North Down led to us winning such a famous victory in the last General Election. It is the spirit which I detected three weeks ago at the Lagan Valley AGM - new members, new money, new drive at long last. It is that kind of spirit that can take us forward in constituencies like East Belfast, East Londonderry, Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Strangford. We are in striking distance in East Belfast for the first time in a generation. It is not the time to lose focus and to let Peter Robinson escape.

So I say, don't remain in this party if your only ambition is to undermine and destroy it. But stay. Stay and help rebuild this party, reshape it, so we retake our position as the primary vehicle of unionism.

I am not a quitter. I don't take the scenic route or the easy option. That is not leadership.

I am ready to lead from the front. But, I have always consulted with all levels and at all stages.

We have won the policy war. The DUP, the three governments, nationalism and republicanism - they are all now on the ground that we staked out.

We have secured and strengthened the Union. We have laid the foundation for a peaceful, stable and lasting settlement.

If we stick to the job, rebuild internally, reconnect externally, we will regain our position as the party for the pro-Union electorate.

That is my ambition as leader of this great party.

And that is our collective duty to the people of Northern Ireland."


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