To Raise Up a New Northern Ireland - Malone House Speech, June 1998

The Union

I am a Unionist because I believe the Union offers the best future for all our people, whether Unionist, Nationalist, Protestant, Catholic or otherwise. I believe the Union offers all our people the best prospect of peace and fair play because the Union unites us all into a genuinely plural, liberal, democratic state capable of accommodating social, cultural and religious diversity.

The United Kingdom, by combining its four constituent parts equals more than the sum of those parts and reflects the interaction which has existed in the British Isles throughout history. Unionism is not based on any sense of elitism nor on personal religious belief, it is based on a sense of Britishness. This is at the heart a shared psychological bond and a history of triumphs and sacrifices shared with the rest of the people of the United Kingdom. But it is inclusive – not exclusive! All the peoples of the British Isles contributed to and participated in that history.

I want it to be open to all to share the benefits of British citizenship regardless of class, creed or race, within a pluralist British State so that everyone here can enjoy the same rights as their fellow-citizens in Great Britain, irrespective of whether they aspire to be Ulster-British, British-Irish or Irish. I am delighted to see, once again as an expression of this, Ulster Catholics standing as Unionist candidates.

This is our vision for Northern Ireland where those pro-Union people who have described themselves as unionists with a small '.u can begin to feel confident enough to embrace Unionism with a capital '-U'.

Cultural identity

In all of this, tolerance has to be the key: agreeing to disagree when necessary. Each tradition must strive to earn the respect of the other and, in turn, to give respect to the other.

Last month thousands of young people - our investment and our hope for the future - gave us a vivid message. More then my generation has been able to, they voted to jettison the baggage of fear and distrust. As they mingled and socialised at the U2/Ash concert, they demonstrated their desire for a future where they could go where they wanted, when they wanted, with whom they wanted.

Can we as a community - as two self-respecting traditions - display a constructive restraint as we move into a potentially difficult and testing summer?

Courage, understanding and tolerance will be necessary to see us through. We don't need angry scenes on our streets; we don't want to see valuable resources having to be devoted to keeping opposing factions apart; we don't want to see Police being vilified and attacked; we don't need the damage which violence would do to our international reputation and image.

Traditional parades should not be seen as imposing any threat. But if Nationalists feel they have to protest, my appeal to them today is to do so in a peaceful and dignified way.

But let me pledge this, we will seek to create a new accommodation that will foster peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. We ask, can we promote what is good and honourable in our shared heritage; can we show respect for what is peculiar to own traditions?

Economic and Social Dividend

I now turn to the social and economic dividend that lies before us and it is appropriate that, before I do so. I pay tribute to both those who have played a major part in maintaining the fabric of our society and those who sustained the commercial and industrial life of Northern Ireland.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the RUC, the RIR and to those regiments from elsewhere in the United Kingdom who have defended democracy in this part of the realm. They have stood, resolute, between the terrorist and the law-abiding community. Many have made the supreme sacrifice. Many more bear mental and physical scars which they will carry to their graves.

Without their service, sacrifice and dedication we would not have had the opportunity now on offer. As they face the changes that peace can bring they must be able to share its benefits. On both the political and economic fronts we have a duty to come together to ensure their future as they make the adjustments that inevitably flow from the achievement of peace.

But you too have borne the brunt of terrorism both personally and to your businesses. Without your dogged resolve and determination which saw you build and re-build your businesses again and again we would not now have the commercial and industrial base from which we can now seek to expand.

In this new era, we must market Northern Ireland as the gateway to Europe. Let us together bring an end to the export of our best young people. Instead, let them become the seed corn of our future economic prosperity.

Let us rediscover a zeal and thirst for success. Our forefathers gave a real lead - they were the true trail-blazers - statesmen, architects of great nationhood, inventors, defenders of rights. They lacked nothing in confidence, and its that confidence we need now as we move forward into the 21st century.

Politically, the challenge is for men and women of true grit to take a bold and imaginative step forward - Ulster Unionism stands ready to do so. Others may fail to understand or may lack the courage but if we fail to take this opportunity, our children and our children's children will not be forgiving. To again run away, or to stay only to sabotage the hopes of society would be irresponsible and reckless.

I promise you today - we are prepared to reach for the prize on offer, and we have good men and women of vision behind me who will stay the course.

Give us the tools on Thursday and we will do the job.

A few years from now, when you go overseas to pursue your business, the story I want you to be able to tell is of how, together, we transformed Northern Ireland, secured political stability, channelled our energies into re-training, re-structuring, and re-establishing its good name as a place synonymous with industry, talent and innovation and of how we put behind us the bitter division, hatred, and violence.

I want you to be able to stand proud in any company, in any country, and tell your audience that the barricades of fear and distrust have come down and to watch out - a new confident Northern Ireland is back in business. I want you to be able to tell your audience that we are the best in Europe and, most of all, I want you to be able to tell them that there are no longer any accounts to be settled. With the exception, of course, of your invoice!

I want you there, in every market place in the world, proud, respected and respected. I know that in partnership - government and industry - we can do it. In my heart I know we will do it! In my head I know we must do it!

So today I challenge the business, trades union, professional and community sectors to stay with the political process and to invest energy, commitment, time and talent playing your part in a new Northern Ireland plc.

The Assembly

In elected office the Ulster Unionist Party will, along with others, provide accessible, transparent and accountable government. If, for example, your sector of business can foresee a problem we will want to know about it before it happens. It should be possible to be able to pick up the phone to the Economy Minister and to get action.

I want to see partnership, not the patronising relationships of direct rule. Gone will be the day when a peripatetic Minister will fly over here now and again. In their place will be locally elected administration with authority to make decisions that are timely, informed and relevant.

Real politics will become the order of the day - with decisions about schools, hospitals., agriculture, the environment and employment falling within the bailiwick of the Assembly. Outcomes may not always be what you would wish - financial and other constraints will still be inescapable. But of this much you can be assured - decisions will be transparent and equitable.

I have already referred to the emigration of our young people - here it will be a priority of the Assembly to create the environment that helps business to flourish. We need better jobskills provision and we need to encourage entrepreneurial talent, if there are to be sustainable jobs and here I must, once again, appeal to you.

Government cannot provide such training and career development in isolation. Partnership with industry and business - a phrase you will hear me use more and more - will have to make these initiatives effective.

We are committed to maintaining the excellent standard of education achieved in Northern Ireland at the highest academic level but much more has to be done on the broader educational front. Standards of numeracy and literacy must be raised so that the base for the jobskills training is neither lacking nor inadequate.

There is widespread concern over the ability to deliver the standard of acute hospital services and community health care that is expected and required by society.

Since 1948 we have taken a pride in the health service and admire and respect the many dedicated people who serve it. But we have to face up to the reality that there is a growing demand for health care, both in quality and quantity. While resources have been increasing, they have not kept pace with either the technology or the demand. We are facing problems that will not be easily resolved.

We do not view the challenge through rose-coloured spectacles.

I also know the difficulties there will be in rejuvenating our agricultural markets after years of what were avoidable difficulties.

Again, in the area of environmental protection we need to make progress.

The Assembly will have many difficult decisions to make in establishing its spending priorities and tough decisions lie ahead.

We intend to make the Assembly work. If it does, it has the potential to transform Ulster politics. We may be able to move away from constitutional politics which have done so much to perpetuate our communal divisions. In this respect I envy the people of Scotland who, in addition to a nationalist party, have the option of the normal range of politics, right, left and centre, all three being unionist parties, with a small "u". Is it too fanciful to see a similar evolution here?

There are those who are still to be convinced of the need to embrace the opportunities before us. In the Referendum over 71% voted "YES" to give Northern Ireland its best chance of hope for over a generation. Society has spoken and all must respond. That is how democracy works.

I ask everyone to help complete the contract we made together on the 22nd of May. One hundred and sixty thousand people who had lost the habit of voting over the last 26 years came out to support the Agreement. Those same people must come out again this Thursday, and again and again at every subsequent election.

Civil Society

We, the people of Northern Ireland, of all religious persuasions and of none, of all allegiances and none, have a common task and a common ambition, to construct in Northern Ireland a civil society that will consign coercion of any sort to the scrap heap of history.

Civil society is a complex construction. It is made up of myriad contacts between our people in village, town and city. It is a tapestry woven from shared lives on the same soil, the same streets, under the same skies. It is a mosaic made up of our sense of history, our hopes, and even our sense of humour, which is black, sharp and unsentimental.

It means we share the same sense of place, the same suffering, the same hopes, the same humanity. It is the force which crossed the lines between us on the darkest days, the force which made us mark each other's bereavements, and feel for each other's losses as parents, sisters, husbands, wives and brothers.

Each political community is a compound of civil society and state society. The strength of our civil society saved us from civil war. The strength of our state society saved us from paramilitary dictatorship and political banditry.

But there has been a major weakness. Civil society and state society have until now existed in separate spheres. The Agreement ends that division. Now they have the same agenda. There is no party that is wholly outside the political process. 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 that is the foundation of freedom.

But that obligation to speak to each other is subject to one condition - that those who are speaking should be able to do so in freedom - freedom from the actual or threatened use of force, freedom from the use or threatened use of the baseball bat, the armalite or the bomb.

Movement from the Tactical Use of Armed Struggle to the Threatened Use of Armed Struggle is no movement. As Leader of this Party I am prepared to speak to any group that has the good of Northern Ireland at heart. But neither myself or my colleagues are prepared to speak under the threat of coercion. We must be allowed to speak in freedom.

But once we can speak in freedom, once we are agreed that our only weapons will be words, then there is nothing that cannot be said.

All we want is a Northern Ireland in which everyone is our neighbour. That is what I want as leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland. That is my heart's desire. It may be that I may not achieve my heart's desire. But I would be unfit to stand in my place if I did not try. But words are written on the wind. It is not good enough to say what I stand for - I must also make the stands that make good what I say.

There is much work to be done. It is work that has been well begun by this Party. We are facing into the future. But make no mistake about it - we have not forgotten our past. We may come to forgive, but we will never forget what we have suffered and successfully overcome in the past thirty terrible years.

But we are ready to move on, to reach out , and to reach beyond where we are now. We are embarked on a long march and a difficult journey. It will not be a journey without jolts. But this is one march that cannot be banned.

We have taken the first firm steps, we must be brave when we meet the bad patches in the middle, and we must keep going no matter what for the future of Northern Ireland.

Above all, in the words of that great poet John Hewitt, we must be loyal to our common purpose of peace, and, as he puts it,

And all must need, in tolerance combined,
A steady purpose to achieve, extend
Employment, bodily nurture, peace of mind,
When each may grasp his neighbour's hand as friend.

Thank you.

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