Introduction - by David Trimble

Why in the modern era should a politician publish a volume of speeches and essays like this? After all, is not politics dominated by the quick soundbite on TV and Radio? To produce a collection of speeches, is that not a very nineteenth century way of communicating? It is – but circumstances alter cases. At this difficult moment in the history of Northern Ireland, I felt that it was right to try and make available the thinking which has underpinned the strategy of the Ulster Unionist Party in recent years. I wanted people to know that there is a strong case to be made for our actions and I am proud of the effort we have made. The case for the Belfast Agreement is in danger of going by default as people focus solely on its flaws and disappointments.

Anyone who reads these pages will see why I believe that Agreement strategy was the right one for Unionism in particular and the Province in general. They will also see that I believe in the Agreement in its entirety and that includes decommissioning. I want to see the Agreement implemented in full.

The collection opens with an analysis of the negotiation of the Agreement itself. I am constantly amazed by how little attention is actually given to the lessons of that negotiation. Part of the reason is the complexity of some of the issues involved, but I have to say that part of the reason lies in the unwillingness of some sections of the media – who had insisted that I was looking for an ‘exit’ strategy throughout – to come to terms with a positive, proactive and successful negotiation by the Ulster Unionist Party.

In the immediate aftermath of the Agreement these early speeches are imbued with optimism. On the policing reform issue it is now clear that this optimism was frankly not justified. I still wonder how the Northern Ireland Office under Mo Mowlam agreed to a composition for the Patten Commission which led to the situation where two years later Peter Mandelson was seriously embarrassed by the activities of two of its members. The point is an obvious one; if these commissioners so lacked the necessary wisdom why were they there in the first place? I hope people will notice how in the Times article reprinted here (27 August 1999) that we picked up the willingness of our own young people, Catholic and Protestant alike, to join the police once the violence was removed. The latest figures confirm that point triumphantly.

In the Malone House speech I said: “We can now get down to the historic and honourable task of this generation; to raise up a new Northern Ireland in which pluralist Unionism and constitutional Nationalism can speak to each other with the civility which is the foundation of freedom.” I hope the reader will notice that alongside my enthusiastic support for a new way of doing things in the Province, I always insisted on the importance of the decommissioning provisions of the Agreement. Since 1998 there has been a concerted effort by some political forces within Northern Ireland either to bury that part of the Agreement or to minimise its importance. But failure to implement this part of the Agreement would be a tragic and historic mistake. The people voted for the Agreement and that means for those sections in it in regard to decommissioning. Without movement on decommissioning, our institutions would always be under dangerous and intolerable threat. This comes not only from the serious implications in a democracy of the persistence of paramilitarism and the paramilitary mindset. The legitimacy of this new political dispensation would be fatally compromised by the failure to implement it in full.

The Nobel speech is built around the thinking of Edmund Burke. Burke’s broader legacy for political thought has been widely acknowledged; I am particularly glad, however, if this speech played a small role in drawing attention to his legacy in this country. The Nobel speech was a rejection of all those political tendencies which force us ‘to be free’. The Provisional IRA’s coercive campaign was but this latest example of this fanatical approach to politics. Its objective was to coerce the Unionist community into a United Ireland against its wishes. Mercifully that campaign has sputtered to a halt but at a cost of thousands of innocent lives, many of whom, it must be said, in the community from which the Provisional IRA come and whom they claimed to ‘defend’. As Burke observed, all coercive philosophies end not just with grave damage to their opponents but also by devouring their own children.

The speech also wanted to celebrate the spirit of the people of Northern Ireland – ‘not a petty people’, I said, who were now trying to forge a new settlement in a spirit of generosity. That is why I took the opportunity to acknowledge that Unionists had built ‘a cold house’ for Catholics in the Stormont era. I see no point in failing to acknowledge past mistakes – though the Irish Association speech given in Wicklow and broadcast on RTE was an attempt to provide an accurate historical context. The speech in New York on Equality outlines both the depth of my commitment to that principle and also provides a realistic discussion of how best to achieve it in actual practice. During the long years of direct rule we have had mistaken analysis leading to ineffectual policies. The Agreement gave us a chance to change all that.

But if the Nobel speech is, in some ways, the most formal of the statements collected here, the most practical and intimate of these speeches is the one given to the Young Unionist Conference in October 1998. This speech is unscripted and was given off the cuff; it comes directly from the heart. If anyone wants to know why I have charted the course I have followed since becoming leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, they need look no further. They will find the answers in this speech.

In the first place, I pointed out the restless, incessant nature of the British government’s search for a compromise-type settlement in Ulster. For too long Unionist leaders believed that nationalist unreasonableness in its myriad forms would eventually force the British government to adopt an old style Unionist type settlement in Northern Ireland, the sort of settlement which avoided the necessity for difficult compromises on our part. In the speech to the Young Unionists, I insisted that this idea was a snare and delusion – it has seduced us for too long. But just as firmly, I insisted on the open-ended nature of the historical and political process: ‘There are no inevitabilities about these matters except, of course, that if you do not try you will not succeed in doing anything’. Proactive Unionism has every reason to face the future with confidence.

In this speech and elsewhere in this collection, notably in the Irish Association speech in Wicklow, I drew on the example of Sir James Craig, the first Unionist Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He had to take risks in 1921-2. He had to meet with men like Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins – men whose hands he knew to be soaked in the blood of his friends and allies. He had to do so because Sir James Craig had to acknowledge the persistence of the British government’s search for a compromise and a negotiated peace. Craig took the risk of putting himself at the centre of this process. For doing so he was pilloried by much of the same elements in Unionism who pillory my efforts today.

When he negotiated the pact with Michael Collins, James Craig based his negotiation upon the principles Unionists have followed in the Belfast Agreement. Dublin must recognise the Stormont Parliament unequivocally. In short Dublin was to accept the democratic legitimacy of partition. There must be absolute fair play for all, Catholic and Protestant alike, in Northern Ireland. There must also be a decent but not threatening level of north-south co-operation on matters of mutual interest subject to democratic control. That was Sir James Craig’s approach in 1921-2 and it is ours today. Despite the critics – who at the time were loud enough – Craig was able to retain the support of the majority of the Ulster Unionist Party because that party has always embodied the solid commonsense of the Ulster people. They held their nerve and were rewarded, slowly and surely, by the construction of a stable Northern Ireland. It would have been better, in the long run, if Nationalists had embraced with greater generosity the possibilities offered in 1921-2 by Sir James Craig. In that failure laid the seeds of the subsequent instability of the years of the ‘Troubles’. I hope that that historic mistake will not be repeated.

I hope that readers will pick up on another key theme of these speeches: the debilitating effect of intra-Unionist division. Unionists are not working the Agreement as effectively as they might because so much energy is spent on internal conflicts. The DUP responds at all times to its own selfish strategic interest – and it is never in the interests of the community as a whole. They simply don’t bother with the biggest question of all for Unionists – how best to protect the Union against threat. I said that when I became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party that I wanted to see Unionist unity. I still want to see it. But it can only come about on the basis of an honest assessment of our situation, one which acknowledges that painful choices have to be made in order to protect core interests. Name calling and accusations of ‘sell out’ against particular leaders cannot alter this fact.

It is true that the latter speeches and articles are more combative in tone. They reflect the difficulties of the political situation. After all, I had moved the extra mile not once but twice by setting up the Executive without a substantial move on decommissioning by the IRA. Although there have been arms inspections, I remain disappointed. The IRA has not responded despite the huge risks I have taken. More generally I have felt it my duty as First Minister to speak out for the vast majority in our society – Catholic and Protestant alike – who have always hated terrorism and do not now want to see it glamorised and excused.

In the last few months again and again I have had to return to the issue of decommissioning. I hope the reminders given here are clear enough. I have a bottom line on this subject and I intend to stick to it. I proved this in February 2000 when the Executive was suspended. When President Clinton last visited Belfast I was happy to repeat his own words; ‘I do not intend to let the ship of peace sink on the rocks of old habits and hard grudges’. But I said something else: ‘There cannot be a moral vacuum at the heart of the peace process. There must be a real peace. This is why I stand firm on the need for decommissioning.’


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