Speech by Tom Elliott (UUP) to the Ulster Unionist Party Annual Conference, (4 December 2010)
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Speech by Tom Elliott, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to the Ulster Unionist Party Annual Conference, (4 December 2010)
"Thank you Mr. Chairman - My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen I would like to welcome you all to your Party Conference of 2010. It is with no small amount of pride and gratitude that I stand before you today as the fourteenth leader of this great Ulster Unionist Party. As I look back at our record and achievements I recognise the responsibility and trust you have placed in me.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Reg Empey. Sir Reg has served his country and this Party unswervingly over the past forty years and has played a fundamental role in securing the Union, the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. I congratulate him on his elevation to the House of Lords and I know that he will be a strong and valuable voice for Northern Ireland in the Mother of all Parliaments.
I would also like to pay tribute to Basil McCrea my opponent in our recent leadership election. Whilst no one can deny that on occasions it was a lively campaign we are now working together to advance this great party and I thank Basil for his commitment and hard work.
About Tom Elliott and what he stands for
Since this is my first speech as Party Leader and one of the few times I have addressed the Party Conference I thought it would be the ideal platform to tell you something about me and my beliefs.
I am a Unionist: An unembarrassed, unapologetic Unionist.
I believe that the social, economic, political, constitutional, historical and cultural benefits of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland outweigh the benefits of any other constitutional arrangements.
And if you agree with me then I don’t actually care if you are Protestant, Roman Catholic, Atheist, Agnostic, Black, White, Male or Female.
My Unionism is not determined by religion, race or background.
My Unionism is open to anyone and everyone who lives in Northern Ireland.
My Unionism is founded on pluralism and an equality of citizenship and opportunity.
My Unionism is one which sets out the value and benefits of the United Kingdom.
So let no-one try and say that Tom Elliott is some sort of political dinosaur: for I am not,
At one stage in my life I wore a uniform. – a legitimate uniform, no red beret – in fact my uniform was the same as the one our brave men and women are wearing in Afghanistan.
As we head towards Christmas I am sure you will join me in extending our sincerest thanks to all those men and women who are serving overseas in our name.
And we will all be aware that a number of our young soldiers have not come back and I pay special tribute to Ranger Aaron McCormick of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment whose funeral is today, and we remember his family.
I wore my uniform to uphold law and order and to protect everyone. I am proud of that service and even prouder of the sacrifice made by my colleagues.
But that background did not deter me from building a power-sharing government with people who I would once have regarded as my enemies.
Yes, it was a difficult journey: but it was a journey made possible by the fact that I have never believed in an insular, closed-door Unionism.
There is something else you need to know about me.
I will not do something, or say something, or turn up somewhere, just for the sake of a photo-opportunity or a pat on the back from an interest group or a section of the media.
I will not dilute or diminish my deep-seated beliefs simply to pretend that I am something I am not.
To put it bluntly: I would rather be judged for my honesty and integrity than be judged on my willingness to win applause.
This leads me on to consider who we are as a Party.
The Ulster Unionist Party that I joined was a Party based on principles of honesty, responsibility, vision and a dedication to delivery.
These are still the principles that I stand for and these are the principles that I will lead this Party by.
In today’s Northern Ireland these principles matter more than ever.
I know that there are people in Northern Ireland who will never be won over to Unionism. And I accept that.
Their passion for a United Ireland is every bit as valid as my passion for the United Kingdom.
Similarly, I have absolutely no difficulty with their determination to promote their beliefs---as long as that promotion is done by democratic means alone.
The Need To Work Together
The ongoing economic turbulence will continue to take its toll: So the task of the Assembly and the Executive is to ensure that we meet the needs, demands and expectations of everyone—irrespective of their personal circumstances or constitutional beliefs.
Let’s face it: a recession is no respecter of class, religion or occupation. It hits everyone and hits them hard.
If power-sharing means anything, then it means that we are all in this together.
It means that the political parties must work together and present a combined approach.
It means that we have a coherent, over-arching strategy to deal with the impact of an economic crisis that is likely to be with us for another few years.
You cannot talk about a shared society and common responsibility when you have a government which is built on carve-up and veto.
You cannot expect to break down barriers across Northern Ireland when the Sinn Fein/DUP failure has proven they are utterly incapable of reaching their own compromises on a range of key issues.
Right now people need and deserve politicians who put the public’s interests before their own narrow party political interests.
They deserve politicians who are honest with them – not a party that claims to want an end to double jobbing and then cynically does a u-turn.
Politicians who are responsible in government – not a party which delays the agreement of our budget for their own narrow political gain.
And Politicians with vision – they deserve a Party that is thinking about our future to ensure that we come out of this crisis in a better position, with a growing private sector, with more jobs, and greater social mobility.
They deserve a Party dedicated to delivery.
The Consequence Of Carve-Up
Both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have become very fond of telling us about how good their working relationship is.
Hardly surprising as the whole thing is based on the equivalent of a ‘shotgun marriage’ at St Andrews and changed the arrangements and mechanisms to suit themselves.
And they also like to tell us about the benefits that the Executive and Assembly have brought to Northern Ireland since their marriage-of-convenience in May 2007.
Isn’t it odd, then, that poll after poll indicates that the level of disengagement and disconnect between the Assembly and the electorate is at its highest level ever?
When they talk about Northern Ireland being a better place today than it was twenty years ago, they forget to mention that the DUP did everything it could to stop the progress that the Ulster Unionists were trying to make.
They also forgot to mention that:
• There is no agreement on a budget to tackle our economic crisis.
• There is still no agreement on the Reform of Public Administration.
• There is still no agreement on the Education Transfer Test. And would the DUP stop claiming to have saved academic selection. It was saved because the grammar schools themselves opted out and did their own thing!
• The Policing and Justice Agreement remains unfinished business: with negotiations due to restart in 2012.
• The Sinn Fein/DUP ‘Shared Future’ strategy has been rejected by almost every other party and interest group.
• We have even lost the potential for a national stadium.
• And the much awaited Parades Bill has been hidden away with deserved embarrassment.
What we have today is a carve-up government. It’s supposed to be cooperative, consensual, power-sharing government. It’s not - Its Sinn Fein DUP failure.
We need change at the heart of the process: Greater accountability of ministers---individually and collectively.
When Mr. Robinson reeled off a list of Executive achievements last Saturday---he forgot to mention the fact that many of those achievements were the work of Ulster Unionist Ministers.
It is no coincidence that the Ministry for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is the only Government Department to implement its Review of Public Administration.
It is no coincidence that the Department of Employment and Learning has overseen record levels of participation in higher education from people from socially deprived backgrounds. We also continue to ensure that our Universities retain their world class status
It is because they have been led by Ulster Unionists who are dedicated to delivery and I would like to thank Michael McGimpsey, Sir Reg Empey and more recently Danny Kennedy for that record of achievement. Imagine what the Assembly would be like if we were not around, working tirelessly to make meaningful change.
Yet, The Assembly needs a proper voluntary coalition with a cross community basis, which requires an appropriate Opposition. The foundation stone of democracy is that a government be held to account inside and outside. The electorate need a choice between an outgoing government and a possible alternative.
It boils down to this: you cannot build a consensual, genuine power-sharing Northern Ireland upon the specific interests of Sinn Fein and the DUP. It isn’t working and it wont work.
The Ulster Unionist Party has a proud identity and history, which I am not prepared to lose or damage. With its values and vision it also has great opportunities for the future. There is a responsibility for Pro-Union parties working to maximise votes and seats: and cooperating when required to preserve, protect and promote our common interests.
I don’t want seats lost because Unionism is too set in its ways to co-operate and recommend vote transfer.
But I will not be pressurised by any other party into creating a sham, short-lived, self-serving unity.
So yes, I am happy to talk with other unionist parties about ways in which we don’t damage the chances of winning seats and votes.
But let me be clear. Under my leadership the UUP will be a free-standing party. We will field our own candidates under our own colours and policies: and those candidates and representatives will be accountable to their own Associations and to the Ulster Unionist Executive.
And as someone who has always accepted that Unionism needs to be a two-way process—and at its best when it is firmly anchored in all parts of the United Kingdom---I recognise the need for a strong link with a national party.
This is neither the time nor the platform for a discussion about our relationship with the Conservative Party.
That said, I will continue to work to ensure that the Ulster Unionist Party retains a linkage that is beneficial to the Northern Ireland community with the Conservative Party. We have many interests in common---not least our shared belief in pan-UK Unionism.
The Way Ahead
We need to stop trying to re-invent and re-position ourselves and concentrate, instead, on reminding people of what we have done and can do.
WE are the party of delivery.
When the DUP walked away---WE stayed.
It was the Ulster Unionist Party that put Articles 2 and 3 on the negotiating table—ensuring that their final removal spelled the end of the territorial claim.
The Union is stronger and safer now because of the work of the Ulster Unionist Party.
WE built the Assembly, nurtured the institutions and laid the foundations for political and economic recovery.
Let no-one in this party forget that: and let no-one in this party remain quiet when the DUP tries now to claim the credit for all that WE did.
I was struck by one phrase that Peter Robinson used last week, he said: – “our values and core beliefs remain”.
Are those the same core values displayed at Clontibret.
Mr Chairman Ulster Unionists are still setting the agenda.
As the Prime Minister has acknowledged it was the Ulster Unionist Party and my colleague Sir Reg Empey who led the fight to rescue savers in the Presbyterian Mutual Society. We will continue to force this issue to a fair and just solution.
We have led the debate to vary Corporation Tax. Northern Ireland has great businesses; we have an excellent education system; brilliant entrepreneurs and some world class infrastructure. However, without the right business environment we will not take the next step to being the dynamic and expanding region I know we can be.
The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to set the agenda – we will foster the environment for a dynamic and growing private sector.
But Northern Ireland doesn’t need the stalemate and carve-up. It needs good government, with the parties working together with an overarching strategy.
And we have to work together. The Ulster Unionist Party has coalition at its core, and we delivered on it.
I have two young children and I want to build a Northern Ireland for them that is based on a genuinely shared future. I want them to grow up in a settled Northern Ireland within the Union that everyone is content to be part of. I want them to respect and understand people from different cultures and I want them to live in a prosperous, open and welcoming place.
Such a future will not just appear from nowhere. We as a Party know more than most the effort, commitment and bravery it takes to build a better Northern Ireland – it takes more than is on offer from the Sinn Fein/DUP failure.
And with an ever increasing dissident threat nobody can be complacent.
No single party can create a platform and agenda for itself based on its own selfish interests. We are all in this together.
We are 152 days away from Assembly and Council elections. But the battle begins when we leave this hall. So let me say this to all members, representatives and candidates.
Get out and meet your electorate – engage with your local communities – listen to their concerns and hopes and discuss with them our vision for the future of Northern Ireland.
Start the process of connecting this great Party with the grass roots of Northern Ireland tonight.
We should be proud of what we have accomplished, but we cannot live off our past achievements – we must never take any vote or person for granted.
Let me also say this - Voters vote for united, disciplined parties.
Campaigns require hard work and a united voice: and I will not allow our campaigns to be undermined from within.
We achieve more when we work together.
We achieve more when we pursue the same goals with the same message.
The UUP has costed, thought-out policies on a wide array of issues and we will be presenting those policies in our election manifesto.
We are still setting the agenda and will continue to supply the vision for others to follow.
We have set the agenda on rebalancing our economy and growing our private sector.
We are building new links with innovative business from the creative industries to the stock exchange.
We will pursue an export and enterprise strategy for Northern Ireland and a review of Tourism Ireland to ensure we are maximizing our potential as a destination.
We will prioritize further and higher education – we are a Party that will fight for academic excellence and a resolution to the mess that Sinn Fein and their Minister Catriona Ruane has left our education system in.
We want better government and will push for reform - from reducing the number of unelected QUANGOS by a third to cutting the cost of North South Bodies.
From seeking an opposition in the Assembly to changing the way the Speaker of the Assembly is selected.
Improving effectiveness, efficiency and accountability – these are our priorities.
We always have and will continue to plan for our children’s future – we have led the debate on cross-cutting early intervention to fight deprivation and we will fight for a genuinely settled and shared Northern Ireland.
The fight for greater social mobility and a reduction in poverty will be led by the vision and pragmatism of the Ulster Unionist Party.
These are polices for all of the people of Northern Ireland.
Policies which address the needs and demands of the electorate.
Policies which reach out to a new generation as well as our core voters.
And when those policies are taken to doorsteps by our dynamic team of candidates in the next few months, then I believe that we will win new votes right across Northern Ireland.
Determined To Deliver
The people of Northern Ireland deserve so much better than an ‘ourselves alone’ agenda from an ‘ourselves alone’ government.
They deserve so much more than constant fudge.
The Public deserve so much more than a government which deploys mutual veto to counter-balance mutual distrust.
They deserve so much more than an administration which wastes so much energy point scoring that it doesn’t have either the time or the inclination to plan for a much broader horizon of potential and possibility.
I want a Northern Ireland which puts its difficult past behind it and sets out on a new venture.
I want a Northern Ireland in which a genuine power-sharing, consensual government, delivers polices and strategies which we all have collective ownership of.
I want the reality of progress in Northern Ireland and not just the promise of it.
And as Leader, I want the Ulster Unionist Party---a strong, united, disciplined and determined party---to finish the job that WE started in 1998.
Lets do this for the loyal people of this party who have either gone before us, those in today’s Party and those who will be here for the future. Let do this for All of Us and Northern Ireland."
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