Party that has taken huge risks for peace is determined to make government work (Part 1)


The following is the script used by the Ulster Unionist Party leader, Mr David Trimble, when he addressed his party conference in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Saturday:

This is the time to tell it like it is - the good and the bad about the situation. I have been in Bournemouth this week, but it would be better to use the plain if blunt language of Portrush.

A lot has changed since the party conference there five years ago. Who would have believed five years ago that the title of our conference today would be "Making Government Work"?

I am frankly surprised that some actually want to return to direct rule. Are their memories so short? Are they so blinkered that they have forgotten what direct rule was like - the Anglo-Irish Agreement, cross-Border bodies with no unionist input. Unionism sidelined, virtually ignored.

Do you remember Harold McCusker describing in 1985 how he stood at the gates of Hillsborough, locked out as others decided the future?

Unionism is on the inside now. Some think being inside is outweighed by having Martin McGuinness as a Minister.

Let's be honest - Martin McGuinness has had influence over government in Northern Ireland since he first met Willie Whitelaw in 1972. That influence was hidden. Now it's in the open where he is accountable for his actions.

The man who tried to destroy partition is helping to administer Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, on behalf of her majesty and on the basis of British law. This is the real seismic shift!

There are just two Sinn Fein members in the administration of 12. Twelve - never forget the DUP are in it, too. If we are "in government with Sinn Fein", so are they. They're just too shy to admit it.

The hokey-cokey hypocrisy which surrounds their attitude to the agreement sums up the DUP. They say they're opposed to the whole lot. But it hasn't stopped them sitting beside Sinn Fein in committee almost 500 times.

According to them, the agreement is heading us into a United Ireland. If so, why are they glued like limpets to their positions, sharing with Sinn Fein in the day-to-day administration of Northern Ireland?

They holler about the horrors of the agreement but nothing will get them out of the Assembly.

We are determined to make government work. Reg Empey is well on the way to being the most successful Enterprise Minister since the Sixties.

Sam Foster is determined to bring environmental protection up to standard and to lead the way in local government.

Michael McGimpsey knows that culture is going to be a political battleground. He will ensure fair play for our Scots and English heritage. The old regime was going to ignore the bicentenary of the Union this January. Not any more.

Dermot Nesbitt knows that human rights and equality is also a unionist agenda. We want to remove the discrimination unionists suffered under direct rule.

Our grammar schools are excellent, as are many other schools. We will not repeat the disaster of the English comprehensives. But we have to improve quality all over - a greater emphasis on skills and training, more flexibility, more diversity, more parental choice - embuing everyone with a sense of worth and a pride in achievement. Danny Kennedy will pursue those goals.

Esmond Birnie will be seeking thousands more university and further education places so our young folk don't have to go across the water.

In Fred Cobain we have the right man to look after the interests of Housing Executive tenants. He's giving poor Maurice Morrow a hard time. Keep it up, Fred.

There will be a Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels. Providing a direct voice in the European Union alongside Northern Ireland's only full-time MEP, Jim Nicholson. And an upgraded Ulster presence in Washington.

Politics in Northern Ireland is changing - in many ways for the better. Society is changing. More women are working outside the home. We must build on the success of the Unionist Women 2000 conference with more women in councils, at Westminster and in the Assembly.

Belfast is looking more and more like every other British city. Ulster has always been a home to minorities. We now welcome new cultures and later this year we will bring forward a party paper on ethnic minorities.

But we haven't forgotten our roots either. That is why I made sure that there would be an effective advocate for the right to march in the Civic Forum, even if he is someone who doesn't agree with me all the time. It is a matter of ensuring fairness, as against the unfair disregard of loyalism that characterised direct rule.

The agreement is nothing if it is not about peace. There must be an end to bombings, beatings, killings, the acquisition of weapons and the progressive dismantling of paramilitary structures. We do not have that yet. A man murdered in Magherafelt. Loyalist thuggery on the Shankill. So-called punishment beatings on an almost nightly basis. Weapons being acquired in America. The UVF, UFF, the IRA all still there. It's a sorry picture.

The agreement held out the prospect of an end to violence and the threat of violence. But paramilitaries have been switching from terrorism to gangsterism. We warned of the danger of a mafia society emerging. I welcome the new anti-racketeering unit announced by the Secretary of State. But more is needed.

The fact is that the paramilitaries, all of them, have failed to keep the promise of the agreement. The IRA have even failed to keep the promises they made in May.

We cannot live on promises alone. We have had enough of prevarication. Our people are losing faith in a government whose response to paramilitary pressure is to look for another set of goodies to give them.

The revolving door in Downing Street for any nationalist with a grievance gives the impression that some victims are more privileged than others. Is there really a moral vacuum in Number 10?

The award of the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whatever the motive, was richly deserved. They are the real heroes of the conflict. But it is sad that the prospect of partnership government is being poisoned by the policing issue.

We know who to blame. Patten asked "what did we expect when we signed the agreement?". I'll tell him what we expected.

We expected his report to be acceptable to the greater number of people in Northern Ireland. It wasn't.

We expected his report to reject sectarian procedures for recruitment. It didn't.

We expected his report to accept and respect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It didn't. It was truly "shoddy".

Are nationalists really saying that the future depends on Patten, the whole Patten and nothing but Patten? We now have the sad spectacle of Seamus Mallon being praised by republicans for being "surprisingly staunch" in his criticism of the police.

Gerry Adams attacks the government for "turning the policing issue into a battleground". But we all know who made policing not a battleground, but a killing ground.

Nationalists need to get real about policing. Do they really want to destroy the best chance in perhaps a lifetime of an agreed way forward in Northern Ireland?

I expected a more pluralist attitude by leaders of the nationalist community and of the Catholic Church towards the majority community. The response has been deeply disappointing. We expected equal appreciation of our concerns.

Those in the United States would be wise to tread carefully too. Does anyone believe that US police forces would match the controlled and lawful response of the RUC had they faced the same onslaught? Not for a minute.