Thursday, 8 October 2009

Text of Ulster Unionist leader's speech to Conservative conference


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Politics is about belief: Belief in yourself; in your policies; and in the beliefs and motives of others.

The simple truth of the forthcoming General Election is that David Cameron probably doesn’t need a single Ulster Unionist vote or seat to get him over the threshold of Number 10.

He is on his way to victory because an increasing number of people across the United Kingdom want to remove Gordon Brown’s tired, run-down, economically incompetent government and replace it with a Conservative alternative that will deliver real change..

Therefore, it seems fair to conclude that David’s interest in Northern Ireland, the Union and the Ulster Unionist Party is not a short-term mathematical calculation.

So, when David Cameron says that he believes in the Union, in Northern Ireland and in the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom---I believe him. And the Ulster Unionist party believes him.

For the Ulster Unionist Party also believes in the geographical, political and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

The Union cannot work as a series of stand-alone relationships and vague connections. It can only work credibly and coherently when there is a sense of common purpose, common belief and common good.

I believe in pan-UK Unionism. I believe in a philosophy that promotes a big-Union rather than merely regional interests. A philosophy that embraces London and Londonderry; Cardiff and Coleraine; Glasgow and Glengormley.

And let me say this: Northern Ireland doesn’t want special treatment. It doesn’t want to be seen as permanently and congenitally different. It doesn’t want to be seen as an ongoing problem.

I want---the Ulster Unionist Party wants---a form of devolution that makes a difference for the better for everyone in Northern Ireland.

I want a vision and version of Unionism which promotes the benefits and values of the United Kingdom for everyone in every part of the United Kingdom.

I don’t want a Northern Ireland on the window-ledge of the Union. I want Northern Ireland at the very heart of the Union. And I want Northern Ireland talent at the very heart of UK politics.

The Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party created the United Kingdom that we know today. It was our joint efforts which ensured the creation of Northern Ireland.

I accept that the relationships between our two parties have been difficult over the years. And yes, I also accept – as David has said – that mistakes were made on both sides.

But we must never allow mistakes of the past to stand in the way of repairing and rebuilding the links and relationships between our parties now. For there is a great deal we can accomplish together.

In light of the chaos that Gordon Brown has left our economy in and the mountain of public debt we all face, George Osborne is absolutely right to say that “our aim must be nothing less than a new British economic model”.
The Union has worked best when we have had a shared economic vision - it has worked best when we have had a balanced and diverse economy.
This is why I have been extremely encouraged by George’s words and the commitment our two parties have made to explore ways to boost Northern Ireland’s private sector. We want to be a part of and a contributor to, the new economic vision and the United Kingdom’s economic recovery.
It is also together – as the United Kingdom – that we must work to reform the European Union.
In place of bureaucracy and centralisation, Conservatives and Unionists believe in a Europe shaped by openness, accountability and democracy.
In Northern Ireland, where the wounds of the past continue to be felt, we must ensure that those who perpetrated terrorist violence are never deemed to be equivalent to those who suffered at the hands of terrorists.
And across the United Kingdom, we must deliver on our commitments to heal and rebuild the broken society, addressing the educational underachievement, family breakdown and worklessness that condemns too many to poverty and deprives our society of the skills and talents of too many.
In this regards, I welcome Iain Duncan Smith’s fantastic work in revitalizing the proud Conservative tradition of social justice. Iain’s work on social justice contributed significantly to the reconciliation between our two great parties.

It is also in the best traditions of both of our parties that we are committed to the National Health Service. In the Northern Ireland Executive, Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has been a strong voice for a well-funded, 21st century health and social care service. We share with David Cameron an immense pride in our health service and the difference it makes to our society.

I believe in the joint Conservatives and Unionists project. I believe in the importance of offering the people of Northern Ireland---all of them---a political and electoral vehicle which allows them to shake off the shackles and blinkers of the past and embark together on a new political journey.

A shared future is about more, much more, than shoring up the existing us-and-them divisions. It’s about building and promoting a Unionism which is committed to reaching out to and winning support from all people, irrespective of background, in Northern Ireland.

It’s about building a politics which both addresses AND answers the real everyday needs of people in Northern Ireland.

It’s about providing a form of government in Northern Ireland which allows us to close the chapter on the past and---collectively---turn the page towards a newer, fresher way of working together and governing together.

Northern Ireland has come a remarkably long way in the past decade and I am enormously proud of the contribution that the Ulster Unionist Party has played in that journey.

I will not stand idly by while others try and undo that progress. And nor will I stand idly by as others seek to condemn Northern Ireland to the same-old, same-old of sectarian headcounts, old mantras and old obstacles disguised with a new coat of paint.

Northern Ireland will only become a better place when we have ensured that the political institutions are capable of identifying and promoting that ‘better place.’

In exactly the same way that the Conservative Party has had to remold and rebuild itself to meet the new political and electoral challenges of the 21st Century; so, too, the Conservatives and Unionists, working together, must remold and rebuild themselves to meet the challenges facing Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom comprises four countries; and when we work in harness and in harmony we can still achieve great things together.

It is an honour to be here today. And it is a privilege to be in at the beginning of this great new political process. Not only hopefully preparing for the return of a Conservative Government under David Cameron: but preparing for a new and better way of inclusive, pluralist politics in Northern Ireland.

To slightly paraphrase the closing words of Casablanca:

“David, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Thank you
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