Party that has taken huge risks for peace is determined to make government work (Part 2)

 

We are in a new situation. The Provos' armed struggle is over. After thousands of needless deaths, the armed struggle failed. There is no United Ireland. But the guns are now being used as bargaining chips for more concessions. Until the government stands up to this blackmail it will be rightly accused of a craven approach.

But we have forced republicanism to face up to the reality of Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom. All they have left is rhetoric about the inevitability of Irish unity. And it is rhetoric. The consent principle in the agreement drove a steak knife through that. The rhetoric only disguises their ideological defeat.

Unlike the DUP we don't believe our opponents' rhetoric. We make up our own minds. We didn't run for cover. We weren't afraid to defend the Union.

On the Constitution we got what unionists have always wanted.

At Sunningdale, when the anti-Union vote was in the low 20s, Articles 2 and 3 were not changed; there was a Council of Ireland, not answerable to the Northern Ireland Assembly. This party was right to reject Sunningdale.

In 1998, when the combined anti-unionist vote was over 40 per cent, Articles 2 and 3 have changed decisively. The North-South Ministerial Council is answerable to the Assembly. The cross-Border co-operation takes up just 0.1 per cent of our budget. Unionists have a veto. This party was right to run with the agreement.

We must not throw away what we have achieved. Some talk about renegotiation. But renegotiation isn't a one way street.

Yes, on flags and policing, nationalists have not respected the constitutional position. They have adopted a tactical position on that. We too can adopt tactical positions. Hitherto we have acted in good faith. Perhaps now we too should adopt a tactical approach.

I am not impressed by the self-serving calls for us to rush out of the Assembly. Knee-jerk reactions are unwise. But we are looking carefully at each aspect of our participation under the agreement. Hitherto we have worked proactively in the North-South Council. I see that being more problematic now. We are still determined to achieve decommissioning and devolution. We have not broken their linkage.

In May the IRA promised that on devolution they "would initiate a process that would put their weapons completely and verifiably beyond use".

What do you say about a person who makes a promise and nearly five months later has done nothing to keep it?

I believe they think that, using loyalist violence as an excuse, they can bluff their way through. They thought they could bluff their way in January. In February we proved there was a bottom line. It hasn't changed. We remain committed to pushing all paramilitaries to deliver the peace they promised.

We are justifiably hurt by sections of the party who question our good faith on this.

John Taylor has said we should give republicans three months to prove their good faith on weapons. I understand your point John, but I think three months is too long when republican promises made in May have not been kept. But what we do, when we do it, should be the result of careful, quiet consideration.

People talk about electoral meltdown. Yes, the electorate sent a message on Patten. But a return to the failed tactics of yesteryear is not the answer. The electorate will not forgive if unionism is marginalised again.

Remember, 71 per cent voted for the Agreement. Only 29 per cent did not, and most of them are spoken for by the DUP. Polls show that 75 per cent of UUP supporters want the agreement to work.

By-elections prove it. The three candidates who took a positive approach did well; the five who were, or allowed themselves to be seen as, negative did poorly.

Yes, there is disquiet. But if we simply go fishing for votes in a small pond already dominated by the DUP, we might as well go home now.

Yes, we must address the real concerns of our people. That is why after South Antrim I asked the party officers to arrange special meetings to consider policy, tactics and the general behaviour of parts of the party. It's a pity that some couldn't wait for such a debate and had to rush into public attacks and simplistic responses.

We will be more successful if we are united with a more mature approach. That is why I won't be walking away from the Executive just yet. A considered and calibrated approach is going to be better.

I hear loud calls for a change of policy? I'll give those who have been shouting a change of policy.

Stop undermining the party.

Stop undermining the leadership of the party.

Stop undermining democratic decisions made by your party. Stop running to the media and bad-mouthing your Assembly team.

No one in this party is denied the right to air their concerns. We are not a theocracy. But I wish some people would respect the mandate of the Ulster Unionist Council.

There are policy differences in the DUP, in the SDLP and in Sinn Fein. They keep them to themselves. So must we.

There is no unionist Utopia out there. Politics is a rough business with limited choices.

Will we sleep any sounder in our beds if we are seen to ditch this Agreement? Will there be decommissioning? Will the Union be guaranteed?

No, no and no again.

The choice we have is simple.

On the one hand we can draw nationalism and republicanism into a consensus.

On the other we can be governed by London with Dublin interference, deprived of a voice, deprived of a vote, deprived of a veto.

You didn't elect me to take you down that path. And I will not go down that path.

Nor will unionism.

Unionism will not take the rap if the agreement falls.

Look at where we were five years ago. Limp and lifeless. Sidelined and ignored. Getting the IRA to abandon their habits was never going to be easy. Persuading nationalists away from a United Ireland towards a more constructive agenda was always going to be a struggle.

But today's Northern Ireland is a better place for our struggle. Unionism is stronger too.

I brought it back to the very heart of the political process. I put it back on the agenda.

I gave it - we gave it - a new credibility.

I secured an internal settlement. I want to move unionism closer to the heart of British politics.

This party has taken huge risks for peace.

It did so for a united Northern Ireland, within a pluralist United Kingdom. A much better option than any united Ireland.

It has been said that war is a continuation of politics by other means. In Northern Ireland today, politics are a continuation of the so-called war by other means.

We cannot run away from the political struggle. Of course there will be challenges. In life, change is constant. We can make changes for the better. It will not be easy. But it is worth the effort.

If we all face up to the challenge, we can make for a better future.

We can, and will, make government work.