Robinson: a good start is only half the work…

Fascinating speech from Peter Robinson (text below the fold). It’s topped and tailed with a couple of telling quotes. The first an Irish proverb that will be familiar to many long term readers of Slugger O’Toole: ‘A good start is half the job’, or ‘Tús maith, leath na hoibre’. And finishes with Abraham Lincoln, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in and bind up the wounds of our divided community”. The speech itself is pretty general with a few digs at the TUV and Jim Allister. Not much on recent local difficulties (Reg Empey majored on that in his response). Perhaps now is the time to dust off the End to Drift report, and get down to finding out just where this First Minister (as opposed to the last) is coming from, and where he is likely to want to go. Peter Robinson’s speech today:

“Mr Speaker, at the outset I wish to express my thankfulness, admiration, high regard and respect to the great Ulsterman who I have the honour to succeed.

He has been a leader without equal. His contribution has been immeasurable and no man laboured more faithfully than he to secure the political agreement that now shapes the future.

Having worked with Ian for so many years, I am especially honoured that it is he who has nominated me today. He has laid the foundation for this new era, and now it is up to the rest of us to build upon it.

When Enoch Powell said that all political careers end in failure, he hadn’t reckoned on the career of Ian Paisley.

But, today calls on me to look forward to the future and the huge challenges that lie ahead. For me, while holding the post of First Minister will be a great honour, politics is not about who fills an office, it is about what is done when in office. Ultimately, that is how history will judge us all.

We have made a good start. There are some in this chamber who have in the past quoted an old Irish proverb or aphorism which being interpreted says ‘A good start is half the job’.

Yet, Mr Speaker, we must remember that it is only half the job. There is still so much work to be done. A year on, the settling-in period is now over. The time for the Executive and Assembly to deliver has arrived. There is much important work to be done.

* We must secure the peace that has been achieved and remove, once and for all, the last vestiges of all paramilitary organisations and activity that has for too long marred our Province.

* We must grow the economy and build the prosperity that can help the lives of all the people who live here.

* We must address unresolved issues in a way that commands the confidence of our community.

* And we must work to transform the institutions to ensure that we move smoothly to democratic normality in the years ahead.

If devolution is to be meaningful to the people of Northern Ireland then the responsibility for delivering results rests with all of us.

Of course the Deputy First Minister and I will have to roll up our sleeves – and neither of us will duck the challenges or recoil from the hard work that such tasks require.

No-one knows better than we do, after a year operating within the Executive, that there is no elevator that will take us to a successful outcome. We will just have to take the staircase – step by step by step.

But this is a four-party mandatory coalition. In the time ahead I want to work alongside all my Executive colleagues. All of us across this House have a vital role to play in delivering for the people who elected us. We will best succeed if we are all striving towards a common goal.

I will want to discuss and engage with other leaders in this House on how best we might work together to achieve the Programme for Government the Assembly has agreed and how best we should address outstanding and unresolved issues.

I know how we deal with these matters is not the sole preserve of the two largest parties but of all – and I do not even limit that dialogue to Executive parties – I languished on the opposition benches too long to do that. I genuinely want that engagement.

For a moment let me respond to some opponents outside this House.

Over recent months, falling upon our ears like a fire bell in the night, have been the claims that my party is somehow under pressure and likely to lose support because we are in the Executive.

Parties have been build up and cast down from the earliest period of our history to the present day and no party has the right to expect unquestioning or automatic support from the people. Support has to be earned and trust must be maintained.

It is true that people step cautiously when they are asked to tread new ground and the decision we took just over a year ago quite rightly must be judged by our voters. I believe the decision was right. I also believe that time is demonstrating our judgement was sound. There is nobody out there who can offer a better achievable way forward.

My colleagues and I will justify to those who matter – the electorate of Northern Ireland – the judgement call we made. But let me assure you, Mr Speaker, our actions as we move forward will not be limited or governed by the snarl and screech of those jarring and rancorous voices that trade on creating fear.

We will waste no time looking over our shoulders at those who have nothing to offer and whose only hope is to profit from a healthy scepticism about whether the course we offer is safe to travel.

Ian used to say to me – when we faced difficult decisions – “Do what’s right though the stars fall”.

You know, Mr Speaker, we did what was right and the stars didn’t fall for when you do what’s right the people will follow.

Those in this House who have been in politics, as long as I have been, will have seen these parties appear many times before. They seek to tap into some genuine apprehension or concern and though they have no attainable solution and have done nothing to commend themselves to the people they hope to ride to office on a tide of emotion or doubt.

These people have no alternative other than offering the people of Northern Ireland a seat on the bleachers to helplessly observe while others take our decisions for us.

There is no part of me that prefers being a bystander, unable to influence or shape the future; unable to change or improve the lot of our people; unable to govern ourselves and assigned to the sidelines while, under Direct Rule, London and Dublin decides our fate.

We have the courage to shape our own destiny and we have the confidence to do right and trust in the good judgement of the people.

Mr Speaker, as we move forward in this new era we must never forget the events of the last 40 years and in particular we must never forget those whose lives were cut short – those who have suffered and those who still do.

As an administration we are pledged to help the victims of the Troubles and we must boost our efforts to ensure, as best we can, that victims too share in the benefits of the new era.

We must not go back to those bad old days.

We must learn from the past. We must not live in it.

I want to see a Northern Ireland that is not known throughout the world for “The Troubles” nor even for the peace process. I want to see a Northern Ireland that is known for innovation, for its industry, for the economic opportunities it offers, for the friendliness, warmth and charm of its people and the beauty, vitality and magic of its landscape.

In this new era we have much to celebrate. There has probably been no point since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 that there has been more widespread support for both the political and policing institutions than exists today.

We in Northern Ireland are in the unique position of benefiting from all of the advantages of being a part of the United Kingdom and at the same time having more positive relations than ever before with the Republic of Ireland.

We have also enjoyed the support and encouragement of the United States and we very much look forward to the visit of President George Bush in a few weeks’ time.

We are grateful for the support we have been given in the past from outside Northern Ireland but the real test of our maturity as a society will come when we all have the self-confidence to face and resolve our own problems.

In the last few weeks there has been much talk of how the DUP has exercised the veto it negotiated at St Andrews. Yes, we have exercised our veto and we have not been alone in doing that. But applying a veto is not an indication of strength or success. It is simply an indication of a failure to agree.

Let me make it clear I did not negotiate these changes as a weapon to be used against other parties, but as a safeguard, for as long as it is needed, of the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland.

The truth is that unless we can create a shared society we will not truly have turned the corner as a people. So – if I can rework the words of Abraham Lincoln, uttered almost 150 years ago – let us strive on to finish the work we are in and bind up the wounds of our divided community.

Mr Speaker, in all that I do as First Minister I will – with God’s help, and He granting me an ample portion of strength and wisdom – work to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland first.

I pledge to work unstintingly to help navigate this Province towards a better and finer day.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty