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Second Century Unionism
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Before I begin with my speech I wish to take a moment to acknowledge the valiant service of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Their dedication to a dangerous task thousands of miles from home is an inspiration. Their sacrifices we shall never forget and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
As we gather at the La Mon Hotel once again we have much to reflect upon. It was only seven years ago that the voters entrusted Unionism and Northern Ireland to our leadership. There was many a critic ready to predict failure. They were proven wrong, for the Democratic Unionist Party has risen to the challenge. Of course, this does not prevent them from predicting our demise again and again but they will be proven wrong again and again.
Under the DUP’s strong leadership there has been clear, steady and identifiable progress. How do we achieve this when others had repeatedly failed? We succeed because of the inner strength of this party, the strength to say No when it has to and Yes when it is right to. This party provides Unionism and Northern Ireland with what it needs - a united and strong team working for it at all levels – in Councils, Assembly, Westminster and the European Parliament. The outcome is a peace and stability which others desired but only we delivered. Stormont is back and about to complete its first full uninterrupted term. The square of policing and justice has been circled.
What drives this inner strength? This strength is derived from a confidence and optimism that the future can be better. This party has a deep faith in itself and in its core beliefs – we believe we can meet any challenge whether it was negotiating a new Agreement or now tackling the economic downturn. We have met many significant challenges in recent years – but we have overcome them all and we will continue to build on these successes.
Let us be in no doubt the primary challenge in the next Assembly term will be transforming our economy. Ulster families are hurting. Jobs have been lost. Pay has been frozen. Inflation has drastically reduced or wiped out any pay and pension increases. Fuel and food costs are rising. House prices have fallen. The DUP recognises the tough choices they are facing. Government must respond likewise. That is why the DUP says to those demanding water charges be introduced that they have no idea what people are already having to cope with. The last thing hard-pressed families need is an extra £400 bill.
The global downturn is challenge enough but now we have the Tory and Liberal Democrat cuts on top. When the DUP highlighted David Cameron’s cuts comments in the infamous Newsnight interview his Ulster Unionist cheerleaders accused us of scaremongering. The reality is worse than even our predictions with capital cuts of 40% as well as the deep cuts in revenue spending of significant concern.
However, we should not overlook the amnesiacs of the Alliance party in all this. The day before the election the Alliance party revelled in their fraternal links with the Liberal Democrats and tried to milk Cleggmania for electoral benefit. They gladly accepted Nick Clegg’s ringing endorsement on the eve of polling day. Now they wander around asking who’s Nick?
This poor choice of friends by others does not distract us from what we need to do. The DUP has produced the most comprehensive set of proposals of how we tackle the budget deficit and keep our economy moving forward. Our Rising to the Challenge document not only shows how we can protect the vulnerable, protect front-line services and protect our economy but sets out an ambitious agenda to create 7,000 new jobs.
For our task on the economy is not simply about dealing with the global downturn. Our task is not simply about managing the Coalition cuts. Our task is to transform our economy by growing our private sector. The DUP will end the perception that Northern Ireland is the sick man of the Union and make it the shining beacon of what a region of the United Kingdom can achieve. For let us be clear what the DUP are seeking to build is Northern Ireland’s second century.
In the past Sinn Fein leaders would talk again and again of Irish Unity by 2016. When the Celtic Tiger was roaring it was more in the realms of fantasy than reality. Now that it is placed under the crisis care of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and even the British taxpayer it is indeed as Pat Doherty called it, “the impossible”. That future is dead.
In 2012 we will mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant. This document defined the first century of modern Unionism. The creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 was the ultimate consequence of the Covenant, the Unionist campaign and the supreme sacrifice made on the battlefields of the Great War. In the next Assembly term we will be taking the decisions that will build the Northern Ireland of 2021 and after.
Unionism will not need mass demonstrations in 2012. What it needs is a strong, united visionary team using every lever of power at its disposal to secure and build Northern Ireland’s second century. The initiative lies with us. The momentum lies with us. The better future lies with us. We must seize the initiative. We must drive the momentum. We must deliver the better future.
The DUP will be the party of Unionism’s second century. We will take the best values of traditional Unionism and bind them with the new approaches needed for the years and decades ahead. Second Century Unionism will not be driven by the twists and turns of a tortuous peace process but by principle and by a politics that is responsive and relevant to the everyday lives of the people of Northern Ireland. A Unionism that supports the basic building block of society, the family, and with the answers people need on education, the economy and the constitution.
We will drive forward the change that is needed. It is the DUP that sets the political agenda on the size of government in Northern Ireland cutting departments, quangos and MLAs. It is the DUP that sets the agenda on the future of our education system with the call for a Commission to plan a single education system. It is the DUP that sets the agenda on moving Stormont towards a voluntary coalition. On voluntary coalition I add this: there are fears of what such a system would mean. It is our job to identify them and address them. We must become the persuaders for change not just its advocates.
In terms of delivering the TUV and UUP will not be the parties to deliver a better future for Northern Ireland, let alone Sinn Fein or the SDLP
Following their electoral drubbing the TUV is pretending to change. TUV spokespersons now speak of the terrorist past of republicans. TUV spokespersons describe voluntary coalition as a longer-term goal. Jim Allister talks of:
“..moving Northern Ireland forward”
Where have I heard about that before? Jim is even trying to drop the sneer and smile. Granted it’s a smile that makes Gordon Brown’s facial contortions seem genuine but Jim perseveres.
These are some of the very positions Jim rejected and condemned us for in 2007. Three years of egotism, splits and backbiting with the end result of adopting our positions one by one. If he has genuinely moved then what is the point of the TUV? If he hasn’t, then a vote for the TUV remains the self-destruct button of Stormont and Unionism.
Then we have the Ulster Unionist Party. They have a new leader now, although, you wouldn’t be blamed for not noticing. Regardless they still have all the same old problems and the same old pomposity. Sadly for the UUP when they heard the phrase “steady as you drift” they didn’t realise it was a criticism. Instead they treated it as a masterplan.
This is a party conference so a jest or two at the expense of rivals is to be expected. However, the DUP knows that there can be real and tangible benefits to greater co-operation and collaboration between the Unionist parties. The DUP demonstrated in advance of the Westminster campaign its willingness to work towards those benefits. Others didn’t. Despite this we were willing then to act and remain so now.
Why do we need a Second Century Unionism? We need to move Unionism forward to tackle the real opponent in the 2011 Assembly election and beyond. Our true opponent is not fellow Unionists nor the Alliance party nor even Nationalism. It is a silent enemy. It is a tempting enemy. It is a growing enemy. It is the enemy with the reasons for not voting. This enemy is the comfy armchair and television.
The DUP knows, whether it is on the streets of Belfast or the lanes of Tyrone, the day when votes could be expected has passed. Every vote must be earned. The DUP will earn them by offering a positive message, the best team and a vision for a better future. We must give people the reasons to vote, to get out of the arm chair and away from the television to go to the polling booth and to vote DUP.
In conclusion, our electoral task in 2011 and beyond is to slay the enemy of apathy. Our task is to energise the voters to back our vision for Northern Ireland’s second century. With our strength, our confidence, our faith and hard work, together we can do it. Through this the DUP will keep Northern Ireland moving forward.