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Ulster Unionist Party Manifesto 1998

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Text: Ulster Unionist Party ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna



The primary purpose of the Ulster Unionist Party is to maintain the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We are satisfied that the future of the Union is now firmly in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland. The principle of consent is properly established, and the illegal territorial claim to our Province by the Irish Republic will soon be removed.

The Union is the settled will of the people of Northern Ireland, and it is within that Union that all can work constructively together to enhance the social and economic future of our people.

For the first time in 26 years, the people of Northern Ireland have a wonderful opportunity to take under local control the public services that matter to us most. Furthermore we will also be able to exercise a veto over any cross border co-operation we do not feel to be in Ulster's best interests. For the first time in a generation Ulster Politicians will be deciding policies for Ulster people.

The Ulster Unionist Party is approaching the new Northern Ireland Assembly with the clear aim of making it work to the advantage of all the people of Northern Ireland. In order for this to happen, it will be necessary to ensure that all those elected to the Assembly are there on the same basis; i.e. there must be a clear and verifiable commitment by all that they are permanently committed to peaceful and democratic means. Before any terrorist organisation and/or its political wing can benefit from the proposals contained in the Agreement on the release of terrorist prisoners and the holding of ministerial office in the Assembly, the commitment to exclusively peaceful and non-violent means must be established. The Ulster Unionist Party will, therefore, be using various criteria that are objective, meaningful and verifiable in order to judge:

  • that there is a clear and unequivocal commitment that ceasefires are complete and permanent; that the 'war' is over and violence ended;

  • that targeting, training, weapons procurement and so-called punishment beatings cease forthwith;

  • that there is progressive abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures;

  • that use of proxy organisations for paramilitary purposes cannot be tolerated;

  • that disarmament must be completed in two years; and

  • that the fate of the 'disappeared' will be made known immediately.

Under the terms of the agreement, full co-operation must take place between the parties and the Independent Commission on decommissioning. This is not happening currently , but we will require full implementation of the Agreement in this respect.

Ulster Unionists reiterate that we will not sit in government with 'unreconstructed terrorists'. The UUP will measure compliance with the above and other criteria to judge whether, in our opinion, a true and permanent commitment to peace and non-violence has been established. We will press Her Majesty's Government to apply these criteria in the legislation on the release of prisoners so as to give effect to the Prime Minister's pledge that 'Prisoners are kept in unless violence is given up for good.' Similar criteria should be in the legislation for the Assembly.

These will establish in legislation the linkages between paramilitary organisations and their political wings. Actions of organisations must impact on and have consequences for individual prisoners or representatives. The new Constitution Act should stipulate that parties as well as Members could be excluded or removed from office for failure to comply with the criteria. This will require a collective renunciation. The legislation must provide a suitable mechanism for excluding or removing those who fail to comply, if cross community support for such removal or exclusion is not forthcoming.

The Ulster Unionist Party has a greater degree of experience and understanding of policing in Northern Ireland than any other United Kingdom party. We intend to create a working liaison between our Assembly members and our MPs at Westminster to deal with security issues.

While it continues to be our primary responsibility to ensure that Government remains vigilant and ready to deal with all residual terrorism, it is equally important to guarantee the integrity of e Royal Ulster Constabulary during the period which will, we hope, bring our society along the road to peace.

Ulster Unionists have a vital role to play in preventing any further breakdown in the structure of our society and we will support the RUC in constructive movement towards policing a civil society. We will remain resolute, and support the Chief Constable's opinion, that Government must eschew any temptation to accommodate terrorism within the field of law and order, by for example a two tier police force or so called 'community policing' involving paramilitaries.

Ulster Unionists, having successfully negotiated the enactment of disarmament legislation within both the United Kingdom and Irish Republic's jurisdictions, will continue to work to secure tangible evidence that the terrorist war is over and that violence for political objectives is ended permanently. Illegal arsenals of deadly weapons have no place in a democracy.

The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to advocate civil and religious liberty for all. We uphold the rights of the Loyal Orders to proceed lawfully on the public highway and in freedom of access to places of worship for all. We oppose the manipulation of local communities by militant Republicans in order to create inter-community tensions and any obstruction by militant Loyalists of Roman Catholics going to their place of worship.

The Ulster Unionist Party holds that in the wake of the Stormont Agreement there must be a greater display of tolerance and that it is unacceptable for any group to indicate that it is unable to even stand the sight of people of another religion. We oppose the banning of traditional parades but would support the monitoring of events to ensure that no behavioural offence nor insult was given to anyone.

Ulster Unionists will support the appointment of a Minister in the Assembly with specific responsibility for victims' affairs, and to ensure that the real victims get precedence over those who contributed to their own misfortune.

In line with domestic law, the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, we oppose any denial of the religious and civil liberties of groups and individuals.

For over a quarter of a century vital decisions about our economy have been taken by Northern Ireland Office Ministers or senior civil servants. The Ulster Unionist Party will work within the Assembly and Executive Committee to ensure the maximum degree of accountability in the making of economic policy. We believe this will lead to quicker decision making and a faster correction of policies which prove to be mistaken.

We have a unique opportunity to capitalise on worldwide support for Northern Ireland; we will be vigorous in our approach to attract inward investment.

We will use the Assembly and Executive Committee to development, and monitor the implementation of a new regional strategy for Northern Ireland.

The British Isles constitutes a natural social and economic unit. Northern Ireland Assembly representatives will sit as equals alongside counterparts from Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin and elsewhere to consider matters of common concern such as the Irish Sea environment, fisheries and transport and European policies.

The United Kingdom is still the Republic of Ireland's main export market. Most emigrants from the Irish Republic go to the United Kingdom. British newspapers, television programmes and even sports have growing popularity in the Republic of Ireland. The British-Irish Council is a pioneering institution, recognising the multiplicity of East-West links within the British Isles.

Ulster Unionists have always favoured any co-operation with the Republic of Ireland which has a sound economic and commercial basis and will work to the genuine benefit of people in Northern Ireland. We have opposed the naiveté or malice of certain groups who have tried to use increased cross-border co-operation as a cloak for a united Ireland in disguise. A pragmatic, good neighbourly approach dominated the policy of the former Stormont Government and it is the way in which we will view the North-South Ministerial Council.

The enemies of the Union have sometimes slandered the Northern Ireland economy as a catastrophe case which is just waiting to collapse into the arms of the Republic of Ireland. In fact, during 1989-96 Northern Ireland's manufacturing output grew by 18 per cent in total; almost three times the UK rate of 6.7 per cent. Total employment jumped by 14 per cent in 1987-96 whilst the growth in the UK as a whole was only 3 per cent. This was impressive and more is possible in the future especially if the evil of terrorism is ended and if all constitutional Parties work together for the common good. Given Northern Ireland's relatively young and rapidly growing population, a high rate of job generation is required just to keep unemployment totals constant.

The Ulster Unionist Party salutes the efforts of the IDB, LEDU and others during decades of paramilitary disruption. However, more is possible and current array of different job creation and economic agencies is both confusing and wasteful. We propose a tighter focus. This would embrace the training and innovation functions. We will wish to examine the present structure of all agencies to ensure maximum benefit for the community.

Job creation and job security in Northern Ireland will be one of the Assembly's priorities in order to develop the economy and improve the outlook of everyone who lives in the Province. The Ulster Unionist Party believes that this is particularly important in respect of our young people, too many of whom are continuing to leave Northern Ireland in search of better long term prospects in Great Britain.

We acknowledge the benefit which the community derives from the ACE Scheme and wish to see adequate funding for ACE posts maintained. We welcome the introduction of the New Deal and we will monitor its effectiveness in dealing with Northern Ireland's longstanding problem of long-term unemployment.

As a modern, pluralist party, we support equity in employment. We believe that, in trying to achieve fairness and equality, it is essential that the highest value is placed on equality of opportunity irrespective of race, gender, creed or disability. The merit principle is crucial - the best way to achieve the goals of fairness and equality in employment is by developing the Northern Ireland economy to such an extent that there are jobs for those within the community who are actively seeking employment.

We do not believe the Disability Discrimination Act goes far enough in its provisions to remove discrimination in the workplace. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to work for improved rights for disabled persons. We support the establishment of a Commission to which disabled persons can bring discrimination claims. People with disabilities have the right to lead fuller, more productive and independent lives and to access those rights that are available to their non-disabled peers. The new Assembly should work alongside people with disabilities to help create a movement of disabled people throughout Northern Ireland in all aspects of social, recreational and cultural life. Disabled people should have the right to communication and information, education, community transport, and personal mobility, living in an environment free of physical barriers, with housing to meet their needs to live independently.

The Ulster Unionist Party has the highest number of women elected representatives in Northern Ireland. Currently, 32 per cent of female councillors are members of the Ulster Unionist Party. We believe that women are entitled to have equal access to the employment market and to opportunities to pursue chosen careers. There should be equal pay for equal work, with legal safeguards of definition and choice between full and part-time work for both sexes. We believe that women should have access to training compatible with family responsibilities and we will support policies which promote the reconciliation of work and family life.

The reliance of many Northern Ireland people on social security is both strong and necessary, in view of the Province's continuing high level of unemployment and low average standard of living in comparison with other regions of the United Kingdom. This is made worse by relatively higher commodity prices.

With increasing numbers of people spending more time in retirement than employment, this has led to a scarcity of resources for social security payments.

For these reasons, the Ulster Unionist Party welcomes the Government's comprehensive review of the nation's social security system which is currently examining the vital aspects of social welfare including contributions, benefits and pensions.

The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to monitor closely this process to ensure that it leads to sensible proposals for reform, based on the needs of individuals and not targets set for reasons of economic dogma. We will also be continuing to press the Government to include the following in its review:

  1. Automatic supplementary pension for pensioners who did not qualify for the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS).

  2. Exemption from the Television License fee and electricity and telephone standing charges for poorer pensioners living alone.

  3. The implementation in Northern Ireland of travel concession schemes currently being enjoyed by pensioners living in Great Britain.

  4. The examination of the concept of mixed pension provision to ensure the combination of state, occupational and personal pension payments is sufficient to meet the basic needs of each beneficiary. We will also be seeking improvements in the statutory legal protection of private pension funds in addition to increased membership participation in such schemes.

    We believe the problem for many of completing long and complicated application forms when claiming benefit, together with the complex methodologies used to determine the eligibility of individuals for such benefits as Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit, must be resolved if a fairer social security system is to be achieved.

    In our view, social service provision and proper access to it are fundamental rights of all and, as such, we believe it vital that everyone, particularly the most needy, receive the necessary resources to ensure a full and comfortable existence. We will continue to follow the policy that we here in Northern Ireland should maintain United Kingdom levels of social security.

Northern Ireland's remote geographical position with regard to the rest of the United Kingdom leaves the people of the Province at a very distinct disadvantage in the area of transport. The Ulster Unionist Party therefore welcomes the Government's decision to accept our long-held policy position of the implementation of a fully integrated transport strategy which includes all forms of transport and all areas of the United Kingdom. In our view, air sea, road and rail services should be competitive but also complementary to one another and any moves to the achievement of these aims should be encouraged.

Heavy and continuous congestion in the Greater Belfast Area harms us all, particularly in the commercial sense. The Ulster Unionist Party, therefore, continues to advocate the construction of a Belfast Area Light Railway which would greatly improve the traffic flow and, crucially, provide fast connections between the City and International Airports.

The Ulster Unionist Party will also give its full support to any additional measures which may improve this situation and enhance road safety. To this end, we will seek to highlight the importance of maintaining the high level of resources provided to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, schools, road safety organisations and DoE Road Safety Officers to continue their record of dedicated and excellent work in this field. We will also seek to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to implement a comprehensive road gritting programme throughout Northern Ireland during the winter months.

The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes the Government's announcement of proposed road improvements to the West Link, the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena, the A8 Larne to Belfast Road and the Toome by-pass, for which we have campaigned vigorously over many years. We will work to ensure the implementation of these pledges with the minimum of delay. We will also continue to urge the Exchequer to use a greater share of the huge revenue raised from petrol duties, the road license fund and VAT on vehicles to further improve these and other roads across Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Unionist Party restates its commitment to seek better transport services for the disabled and emphasises our continuing efforts to ensure that disabled people are able to enjoy the same level of access to public transport as able-bodies travellers.

We again state our strong objection to airport tax, particularly in view of the disproportionate effect the measure has on the people of Northern Ireland, and pledge to work with representatives of other regional airports in the United Kingdom to further the interests of our own airports and the people who use them.

The Ulster Unionist Party is strongly of the view that the local system of operator licensing for freight transport should be brought into line with Great Britain. We would welcome the appointment of a Traffic Commissioner for Northern Ireland with responsibility for operator licensing appeal procedures, as proposed during the recent consultation process.

We will also seek consideration to be given to the problem of damage inflicted to roads and the environment by freight transport. In our view, forty-four tons on six axles as opposed to the current limit of forty tons on five axles would lead to a decrease in the number of lorries on our roads and a more even spread of loads.

In the new Assembly, it is our intention to seek a separation of certain functions within the Department of the Environment. Currently, environmental protection measures, heritage matters and certain enforcement functions against polluters are carried out by a section of the Department, when other sections of the same Department are in fact amongst the worst polluters in Northern Ireland! We do not think that this is a suitable arrangement for the new millennium. In a world that is increasingly aware of the environment, it is not acceptable for 'poacher and gamekeeper' roles to be performed by the same department.

There is growing evidence that a good environment is a valuable tool in attracting inward investment, and the Ulster Unionist Party will wish to fully exploit our opportunities in this area.

We commend Local Government for providing a democratic focus during the direct rule years. It has always been our view that successive governments have regarded Local Government as the 'Cinderella' of Ulster politics. We believe in strong Local Authorities. It would be our intention to ensure that certain functions such as street lighting, minor road functions would revert to Councils. An enhanced role in the planning process is long overdue. We would reinforce the role of Councils in economic development where they have shown such initiative. We will examine the structure of Local Government in the light of devolution.

We believe strongly in the regeneration of our inner cities. This will only be possible when the proper planning environment is created, and confidence is given to developers and homebuyers alike that they can invest with confidence. A more holistic view is required; educational and leisure facilities are just as important to the vitality of an area as the built environment. We will initiate urgent re-examination of progress in these matters as a priority.

The Ulster Unionist Party has been opposed to the present 'Quango' system of Government, and will press for an urgent review of the extent and functions carried out by these bodies.

Tremendous strides have taken our National Health Service forward. With modern techniques and developments there have come increasing demands. The new Labour Government, despite promises to reduce waiting lists, has seen them continue to grow.

Ulster Unionists have sought to protect the diverse provision in Northern Ireland, but concentration on the six main centres has evoked local reaction. This will also necessitate further developments in our Ambulance Service, involving more modern ambulances and extra crews with the latest computer aids to facilitate speedier reaction. Improvements made recently are welcome.

With poor public transport it is important that types of cottage or community hospitals for minor surgery and convalescence are provided away from the main centres.

It is equally urgent that more finance be released into the community to provide for domicillary and respite care, along with adequate facilities for residential and nursing care for both an ageing population and younger people with special needs.

Greater financial provision is required and the Ulster Unionist Health spokesperson, with Lord Molyneaux and representatives from Northern Ireland engaged in medicine and finance, have been in constructive talks with the Secretary of State, Frank Dobson, to explore additional avenues for such provision.

The Cinderella professions, like Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy, require greater efforts to recruit staff to meet community needs.

Ulster Unionists welcome developments in cancer treatment as Northern Ireland becomes a recognised leader by Europe and the United States. The new district centres should provide greater access to excellent services.

Since most advances in Health Care stem from other sources, Ulster Unionists will seek improved rural housing and greater efforts to deal with environmental pollution, especially in our cities and towns. Belfast is recognised as one of the most heavily polluted cities in Europe.

In that context, Ulster Unionists will seek to address the growing rate of asthma, especially amongst young people.

Further progress is also required to enable those with hidden, as well as overt, disabilities to take a fuller part in society.

The Northern Ireland agriculture industry is one of our greatest assets and requires to be revitalised. Her Majesty's Government has not maximised the assistance available from the European Union to support and develop the industry.

The Ulster Unionist Party will pursue a rural development programme that will be sympathetic to our family farm structure. We are committed to developing a sustainable and viable agriculture industry in Northern Ireland, to prepare farmers for changing market conditions and the demand for new products. The Party is determined to ensure that our young farmers have every opportunity to enjoy a successful career in our Province's largest industry. We propose to develop our agri-food industry to further add value to Northern Ireland's produce and to ensure we are efficient in creating additional wealth and jobs. We will:

  • ensure that Northern Ireland is properly represented at MAFF and Europe;

  • fight for change to the Agenda 2000 proposals to ensure that regions like Northern Ireland which are agriculture dependent are supported;

  • examine the ways in which this sector can be promoted and developed; and

  • ensure that imported foodstuffs are subject to the same standards as local foods.

We will introduce a package of measures to assist young farmers, including:

  • an early retirement scheme;

  • review of rural planning;

  • increased resources for agricultural education;

  • support for research and development; and

  • allocation of new entrant and young farmer production quotas.

The Ulster Unionist Party is also committed to the survival of our seafishing industry. The party will seek to maximise quota allocations to Ulster fisherman and is committed to the retention and upgrading of our three main fishing harbours - Kilkeel, Ardglass, and Portavogie.

The Ulster Unionist Party believes that our future lies with our children. For this reason we have placed education at the very top of our list of priorities. We are determined to maintain the excellent standards of education achieved in Northern Ireland which are widely acknowledged to be by far the best of any region within the United Kingdom.

The Ulster Unionist Party is acutely aware that these high standards are not universally attained in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party is committed to raising education standards for all the children of Northern Ireland.

Inner city areas require a radical reappraisal of methods and the use of resources. Too many young people are emerging from the system with no qualifications and low levels of numeracy and literacy. This cannot be allowed to continue.

In order to deal with strong inward investment, the Ulster Unionist Party will encourage an increase in places at our own universities providing appropriate qualifications. This will also apply to research expenditure which is the seedcorn of our future prosperity.

The Ulster Unionist Party believes that greater access to good quality pre-school education for children would enhance the level of educational attainment achieved by children throughout the period of their compulsory school attendance.

There should be a greater focus placed upon teacher training courses on methods of identifying and helping individual children with learning difficulties.

We respect and defend the rights of parents to choose the type of school in which they wish their children to be educated, consistent with the best use of public funding. We are concerned that funding from already scarce resources is being used to develop a third system of integrated schools at post-primary level when surplus accommodation already exists in the controlled and maintained sectors. This whole area will require careful study in view of the pressure on existing resources.

The Ulster Unionist Party recognises that the increase in the number of students moving into further and higher education should be matched by a proportionate increase in the levels of funding provided to cater for them.

The Ulster Unionist Party considers that a review of educational administration should not be carried out in a piecemeal fashion or by focusing only on the Education and Library Boards.
The Ulster Unionist Party believes that Northern Ireland must be represented fully in Europe and insists that the Assembly should have observer status in the Council of Ministers when issues affecting the Province are under consideration. This could mean an Ulster Minister sitting with a UK Minister at the Council of Ministers meetings.

Present funding levels need to be maintained with the emphasis upon improved delivery arrangements. It is essential to have the present system streamlined to meet changing demands through improved distribution arrangements and a reduced bureaucracy.

Northern Ireland has the capacity to produce value added goods for the European market place and available Structural Funds assistance should be targeted to stimulate growth and employment creation across local industrial development, training, tourism, agriculture and fisheries, infrastructure and community programmes.

In applauding existing manufacturers and exporters for their achievements, we have to face the need for further diversification and a reduction in the non-productive public sector.

Ulster Unionists support the appointment of a Minister in the Assembly with specific responsibility for European Affairs. The relationship between Northern Ireland Centre in Europe and the new Assembly should be urgently addressed.


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