Trimble speech at annual UUP conference in Armagh
The following is the text of a speech delivered by Party
leader David Trimble, MP, MLA, at the annual conference of the
Ulster Unionist Party in the Armagh City Hotel today.
"We meet amid uncertainty. Will there be an election? When
will it be? Will it lead to the restoration of Stormont? Will
republicans finally do what should have been done years ago
and complete the transition to peace and democracy? Those are
only some of the questions we face.
I will try to address them, but before then some comments on
the proceedings so far.
First, a warm welcome to Paul Murphy, who is here as Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland, and as representative of the
major national party. His presence here, like that of guests
in previous years, is a reminder that we are not just a
regional party. We participate fully in the national politics
of the United Kingdom.
May I say Paul, that we welcome your party's decision to stop
discriminating against the people of Northern Ireland in the
question of membership. It is a matter of simple justice. It
is a small step towards more normal politics. At some time we
will have to reflect on how our position on normal bread and
butter issues should evolve, and also on our relationship with
May I also say Paul, that I hope your party's decision to stop
discriminating will be followed by your government's decision
to stop discriminating in police recruitment.
Before Paul's speech we had a good debate on terrorism. Paul
may not agree, but many here see a difference between the
Government's attitude before and after the attacks on the two
towers and the Pentagon on 9/11. Be that as it may, what is
important is that the Government make it absolutely clear that
as far as they are concerned the next few years will not be
like the past. That there will be no excuses for paramilitary
violence such as "internal house-keeping" - that foot dragging
on decommissioning, on commitments to peace and democracy,
will not be tolerated.
Which of course brings me to the question of what is required
for a restoration of the Assembly. In our Ulster Unionist
Council resolution in September 2002 we said it had to be
clear that the transition to peace and democracy was
"proceeding to a conclusion". In its Declaration this April,
the Government said that "it must be clear that the transition
... is being brought to an unambiguous and definitive
conclusion." Our Party Executive, in its comprehensive
resolution on the Joint Declaration a fortnight ago,
"emphatically endorsed" that statement.
That resolution also called for acts of completion from
republicans. Acts which would deal with decommissioning,
paramilitary violence and the effective winding up of
paramilitary organizations. But we did not, as some suggest,
say that every jot and tittle must be complete before we would
proceed. Neither the Government's formula nor ours say that
everything must be done first. Rather both envisage a sense
that paramilitarism coming to an end soon. And perhaps the
most important aspect of that sense is an acknowledgement by
republicans that the Belfast Agreement is a settlement - that
it provides the full and final closure of the conflict.
I came across some recent focus group opinion research that
interestingly looked particularly at the views of working
class Protestants and anti-Agreement Unionists. Its key
finding was, "the 'war' is over, but the battlefield needs
cleared up". A huge part of clearing up is being honest and
candid, but also being charitable.
We are waiting to see if these acts of completion will be
done. The issue is simple. Republicans know what has to be
done it has been absolutely clear since April. They need to
make up their mind. Society cannot be expected to wait for
"Republicans may regard these as huge steps, huge concessions
to unionism. But we would say to them, these are not simply
unionist demands. This is what the Agreement sets out again
and again as its overriding objective.
These are the reasonable expectations of every member of a
modern society. The folk on the streets of Andersonstown and
the Creggan want peace and democracy just as much as we do.
And here in Armagh, people want to be able to live their lives
without being kidnapped and murdered if they have offended a
local paramilitary boss. And while we think of the recent
kidnapping and suspected murder of a local Catholic lad by
mainstream republicans, we also remember the abduction of two
Protestant boys after a night out in Tandragee and their
gruesome murder by loyalist paramilitaries.
It is simply right that all these things should end.
But then comes the concern, what concessions are republicans
demanding for their good behaviour?
There is, linked to the Joint Declaration, a repeat of the
proposals concerning fugitives from justice, the so-called
OTRs. A foolish promise made by the Prime Minister at
Hillsborough in 2000, when he had not been fully advised. We
have so far successfully blocked that, and, if the Liberal
Democrats retain a shred of their integrity, will continue to
No reasonable person objects to human rights, equality of
opportunity and normalization. These are matters, referred to
in the Declaration, which, if handled properly, would not
appear to the man in the street as concessions. Problems arise
mainly because the government is not handling matters sensibly
- a prime example being the proposal to close all the army
bases in this county! We continue to urge a more sensible and
sensitive line on this and other matters.
The matter which republicans have raised most often is
policing and justice. Their desire is to see early devolution
of these matters. In principle we too want devolution and
would hope to see that happen within the lifetime of the next
Assembly. But public confidence is crucial. It needs to be
seen that the Assembly is sufficiently robust and durable. The
public also needs to be sure that the Assembly and its
Ministers, individually and collectively, are capable of
handling these responsibilities.
Acts of completions would address the issue of durability.
Support for policing, and participation on the Policing Board,
which are part of the working out of these acts, would further
build the necessary confidence. The Assembly could then
address the issue of how it would discharge responsibility for
policing and the detailed steps by which that responsibility
would be transferred.
But I have to underline that it is simply absurd for people to
have any responsibility for policing if they are linked to a
private army! So much as we would like to see it we cannot
support the devolution of policing until Sinn Fein have
resolved to support the police and the IRA have taken the
inevitable step, consequent on such support, to wind up, or
transmute their organization into something entirely peaceful
and democratic. So any timescale for devolution is a timescale
for these other matters.
Remember, devolution cannot occur without a vote in the
Assembly on a cross community basis - so it requires unionists
to vote for it. So, it is not just that this matter cannot be
rushed. It is the final copingstone that can only go into
place when all else is complete.
It is part of the huge paradox of politics today. Republicans
are so keen on having Stormont, that they are prepared to
change the whole nature of their movement, to give up the bad
habits of their lifetime, not for a united Ireland, but for a
share of power within a Northern Ireland that remains
unambiguously part of the United Kingdom.
No wonder they try to camouflage this change by suggesting
that a united Ireland is just around the corner. Their
favourite camouflage was demographic change. Until publication
of the latest census figures made it clear that such change
was a daydream. Today, elsewhere in Armagh they are publishing
a paper on building a united Ireland through something they
call planned integration. Well they can plan all they like,
but it can't happen without our consent, and we prefer to
remain simply British.
The Government has said that, when they are satisfied that
there will be acts of completion, which will enable the
resumption of the Assembly, they will call an election. If
that requires important decisions by us, those decisions will
be subject to debate and democratic decision by our Executive
and Council. I have never yet taken a major step without
consulting the Party, and I am not going to start now.
If there is an election then you can be sure that the DUP will
launch a vicious attack on us. But have you noticed while we
have been negotiating how quiet the DUP have been? This is the
Party that now says it wants to negotiate. But when there is a
negotiation going on it has nothing to say. I do not expect
them to be immediately knocking on Mr. Adams' door. Well
anyway not in public. But you might wonder why they have not
been to see the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister. Do
they have a position on decommissioning, paramilitarism and
devolution? They can't just say they're against it all. If
they are against everything there is nothing to negotiate.
Saying you want to negotiate means there is something you want
so much that you will compromise. But don't expect them to be
honest and tell the public what those things are. The loudness
of the DUP campaign is to divert attention from the truth they
But we know what they are doing. Six years ago they refused to
negotiate and set out to destroy the Agreement that we
created. Now they want to negotiate. But they have by their
conduct accepted the Agreement and everyone knows that the
mantra of renegotiate is just a fig leaf for that acceptance.
They are trailing along behind us taking advantage of our hard
work, hoping that when that work is completed, they can nip in
and snatch the fruits of our labours. But if they were to
succeed it would be a disaster for unionism. Does anyone think
that the DUP are capable of making the hard choices that life
often demands? This is the party that has never shouldered
responsibility, that has always been in opposition. It has no
achievements, no ideas, no alternative, no hope, no
Across Northern Ireland, working class communities share in
the desperate experience of deprivation. But the experience of
the Protestant working class is quite distinct. For example in
levels of educational underachievement; population decline;
paramilitary influences; physical degeneration. Many
Protestants in working class areas feel left behind.
That is not to ignore the achievement of some community
projects in some Protestant areas. Rather it is to address the
urgent need to tackle the weak community infrastructures in
other Protestant working class areas.
The DUP - full of phony promises. Fuelling fears and ducking
responsibilities, never put food on anyone's table, never
created any jobs or improved anyone's quality of life.
The DUP won't be re-negotiating the length of the dole queue,
or the hospital waiting times, or the social deprivation that
surrounds and entraps so many decent people.
There are people working on this issue. People with their
roots in these areas.
The group I am referring to is the Government recognised
'Community Convention and Development Steering Group'. The
work of this group was the keynote of the announcement made
yesterday by John Spellar MP on proposed pilot community
conventions for Protestant working class communities. We have
been happy to help this work progress. Many of its ideas grow
out of our experience in North Belfast.
Together we have set about refocusing on key issues, such as:
Connecting real politics to local community needs;
Developing proper effective local capacity building;
Identifying opportunities especially for young people, for
women and the unemployed;
Exploring means of creative expression through arts and
And planning for the physical and environmental renewal of
Now don't say that a devolved Assembly is not worth the
It is traditional at Conferences and Annual General Meetings
to appeal for party unity. After the summer I spent a week
touring round the constituency associations. One message came
over again and again. Our biggest problem is the mixed
message, the constant infighting. Only a fortnight ago we made
considerable efforts at the Executive to agree a position. In
doing so we were making it easier for the three MPs to resume
the whip. Now they refuse. They say Roy is unreasonable in
asking them to abide by the whip.
In September the Ulster Unionist Council by a clear majority
called on them to take the whip and abide by its decisions.
They may also recall that when they were selected they
undertook, and I quote:
"I will join the Ulster Unionist Parliamentary Party and
accept the Ulster Unionist party Whip. ... I will support fully
the policies and objectives of the Ulster Unionist Party. "
Gentlemen, would you please decide whether you prefer to be
independent members or if you really do want to be part of a
When I became Leader of this great party it was clear that
successive British administrations had little understanding
of, and no sympathy for, Ulster Unionism. Throughout the whole
period from the prorogation of the Stormont Parliament in
1972, one by one, the signs, symbols, touchstones and
benchmarks which had defined and fashioned Northern Ireland's
position within the United Kingdom, had been removed, blurred
or weakened. Indeed, matters had become so bad for unionism,
that in November 1990, Secretary of State Peter Brooke said:
"The British Government has no selfish strategic or economic
interest in Northern Ireland."
The Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, the
Frameworks Documents, the secret talks with the IRA, the
yielding to one republican demand after another, the exclusion
of unionism from a say in its own future, the easing of
Northern Ireland into a sort of constitutional limbo, the
relentless pressure on unionist leaders to tolerate the
upending and skewing of democratic standards and practices -
that was the legacy of Direct Rule. Nationalism believed its
final triumph was just around the corner.
Sinn Fein's policy was that partition was inherently bad and
needed to be ended. The unionist veto had to be ended. The
British needed to announce a date for withdrawal. They
rejected reform within Northern Ireland. An internal solution
they said only served to try and make British rule more
acceptable - "Stormont is not a stepping stone to Irish
unity." There would be no involvement by Sinn Fein in any form
of government which legitimised the British presence.
All that has changed. Eight years ago we were marginalized.
Even when John Major needed support from the UUP, he still
managed to negotiate with the IRA and deliver both the Downing
Street Declaration and the Frameworks Documents. Now this
party is recognised as being central for the future of Ulster.
Now this party is respected throughout the Kingdom. Northern
Ireland is recognised, unambiguously, as a full component part
of the Kingdom. The Ulster roots and outlook of Colonel Tim
Collins and Lord Hutton are noted with approbation by the
national press. Notions of joint authority have evaporated.
This very week nationalists have complained that Bertie Ahern
has been too close to our position.
Whatever happens to the Belfast Agreement in the next few
months, one thing is certain; Ulster Unionists are stronger
now than for decades. Just a few weeks ago, the combined
efforts of the DUP MPs with our dissidents and one dissident
Tory failed to make an impact on the legislation which our
Executive endorsed last fortnight. Meanwhile, we, working with
many others in parliament, obtained improvements to the Bill,
which would have been greater but for the idiosyncrasy of some
Lib Dem peers.
Unionism cannot act unilaterally. We are not in a position to
determine our future alone. The Union is a two-way process and
if it is to be secured and strengthened then it must be with
the support of Westminster and the UK Government. That is a
simple fact of life. No-one can march into 10 Downing Street
and demand that their agenda, and their agenda alone, be
When we say we are simply British, we say we are content to
operate within these realities. We also say we are comfortable
to be where we are. Confident in ourselves and our ability to
work with our fellow citizens. Quietly proud of our role in
the world and how our society can be inclusive of other
identities and cultures.
The efforts of this party---and it was a party effort, I could
not and would not have done it alone---have, for the first
time in a generation, secured parity of esteem for the Ulster
Unionists. People listen to us in a way that they did not
before. Our voice is heard, our message is understood and our
position is supported.
My prime objective when I became leader was ensure that the
pro-Union case is heard and that unionism is returned to the
very heart of the political process both here and at
Westminster. I believe I have done that.
I have been an inclusive leader. At every level of this party,
branch, constituency, executive, officer and UUC, those who
have had reservations have had their say. No-one has been
denied a voice and no-one can say that David Trimble has acted
secretly or unilaterally.
I have done my best, in the most extraordinarily difficult of
circumstances, to hold this party together. And please, look
at the figures. People keep running down this party, but in
1996, 1998 and 2001 we beat the DUP. We beat then in the
Forum, Assembly, General and Local Government elections. And
if we hold our nerve we will beat them again, and again and
again. I am not afraid of the DUP. I am not spending my time
looking over my shoulder at them. This party has nothing to
fear from the DUP for the DUP has nothing new or useful to
offer the pro-Union community. Where we have been, they will
follow. That is the nature of the DUP, that is the history of
the DUP. That is the difference between the leadership offered
by this party and the opportunistic platitude offered by the
It is easy to point out the difficulties. It is easy to claim
that things would have been so much better if only we had done
this or that. It is easy to paint a picture of a political
utopia in which everything reflects your own political
preferences. It is not so easy to deliver the alternatives, or
to lessen the demands of your opponents.
My personal ambition, and my party political ambition, is to
secure an inclusive, embracing and working settlement for
Northern Ireland and all of its people. I believe that this
party has acted with courage and with honour and I believe,
too, that the risks we took were worth it.
I am proud of this party. I am proud to lead it. I believe
that what we are doing secures the Union, serves the interests
of everyone in Northern Ireland, and we do that best by being
ourselves, simply British."