Over in Cookstown the TUV clan were meeting for their annual party conference. For those of us not there, I’ve extracted some of the pithy portions below from Jim Allister’s leader’s speech, but for those unwilling to read on, the statutory Wordle summarises what he said.
We may not have had the year we would have liked, or that your hard work and that of all our candidates deserved, but TUV is here and here to stay, because the cause and the need that brought us into existence haven’t gone away.
… at our core is principle, not expediency … far from vote splitters we are vote gatherers for unionism.
I believe a large share of stay-at home unionists voters are not soft liberals but unionists disgusted by the somersaulting antics.
He took credit for bringing attention to double jobbing!
… Traditional Unionists are neither antediluvian nor averse to pluralism. The only pluralism we’re opposed to is double jobbing and my with what kicking and screaming we’ve dragged the DUP and others into the 21st century on that one.
5th May will crystallise the issue. Voters in Scotland and Wales will have the right to change their government. Voters in Northern Ireland will not. … In Scotland and Wales voters can punish parties for failure and get a fresh start, but in Northern Ireland you’re saddled with more of the same, because under the Belfast Agreement we’re second class voters denied that most precious and basic of democratic rights, the right to change our government. That is wrong, destructive of democracy and a big contributor to falling voter turn-out.
The crucial party message at the moment seems to be …
Let me nail that lie, TUV is not about wrecking Stormont, but getting a better Stormont:
- One that works, instead of the constant deadlock.
- One that allows voters to decide who governs by restoring the right to change your government.
- One that permits an Opposition, with shared government through voluntary, not unworkable compulsory coalition.
- One that eradicates waste, like the millions spent on useless north/south bodies and the Irish language.
Our unflinching stand against IRA/Sinn Fein is well known but we are about much more than that.
Ours is a positive vision for Stormont. A progressive way forward. A journey to empower the people and release them from the bondage and failure of mandatory coalition.
Stormont is broken. We want to fix it.
Anyone who is a democrat has nothing to fear from us or democracy. If Sinn Fein can agree with sufficient others on a programme for government and together command the requisite majority in the Assembly, then they can attain office by the fair means of voluntary coalition and we’ll be the Opposition. But if Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are guaranteed a place in government, from which they can never be evicted by the voters, then they are not democrats at all!
That is the defining issue for finding a durable Stormont and one that works and in May it will be by voting TUV that real and hopeful change can be sought. Vote for those who have presided over the deadlock, failure and dysfunctionalism of the present Stormont and you’ll get more of the same.
He lambasted Brian Cowan, Mitchell McLaughlin, Edwin Poots, Paul Maskey, Arlene Foster, and went on to accuse Sinn Fein of not wielding influence over the dissidents.
Make no mistake, Adams, McGuinness and co could put a stop to much of this reversion to terrorism, if they wanted, but for all their carefully choreographed, weasel words about ‘conflict junkies’ to which they gave the habit, some arms length muscle suits Sinn Fein just fine. There is no better way to keep the concession pump flowing than to have it constantly primed by the threat of more terror. Hence, all the rhetoric about being part of a peace process, not a settlement, because process requires successive staging posts and sweeteners, of which Hillsborough will not be the last.
I warn strongly against the next staging post on Sinn Fein’s agenda, that of tax-raising powers being transferred from London to Belfast. It is because fiscal unity is central to national sovereignty that breaching it forms part of the republican agenda; it is a potent tie that binds us to the UK and I trust no unionist will be so foolish as to fall for the ploy of increasing Stormont’s powers by cutting the critical guy rope of fiscal parity.
So as we look forward to next year there are many challenges, many lies to be countered, many deceptions to be slain, many wrongs to be righted, but armed with the truth and integrity of our position and unshackled by the legionary failures of Stormont, we are the fresh and real alternative. Those with the vision and courage to demand the equal citizenship rights which are rightfully ours and which the Belfast Agreement system of government has emasculated.
So, unbowed and unflinching we go forward determined to look this generation and the next in the eye with the message that who ever else might buckle and bend the rules of democracy for the sake of office, there is a party of conscience and conviction that offers a better way forward, not back. Let us press on towards the mark of a better tomorrow.
So despite the non-party bashing rhetoric in the conference programme, there was plenty of predictable stereotyping and mocking in the leader’s speech. Though to be fair, Jim Allister won’t be the only party leader resorting to that in his/her conference speech.
Party president Willie Ross unexpected made Alex Kane (ex-UUP communications chief) the poster boy of his speech to conference. Extracts below.
“The biggest mistake I have made in what passes for my political career was my support for the Belfast Agreement. I should have gone with my gut instinct in 1998 and turned a deaf ear to the ‘wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-it-was-like-this-all-the-time’ propaganda. Twelve years on and it is quite clear that unionism has been thoroughly weakened by the out-workings of this process. Both the DUP and UUP are trapped in a system which can only inflict further damage upon their core beliefs. What we have at Stormont is a travesty of democracy, an undermining of majority opinion and, worst of all, a laughing stock. And, most dangerous of all, the longer it remains as it is then the worse it will be for unionism and the Union”.
This clear analysis of the present position of Ulster could have between written by anyone who shares the TUV opinion on the consequences of the Belfast, St. Andrews and Hillsborough stitchups. It wasn’t – it is a straight quote of what Alex Kane published in his Newsletter column on the 22nd February this year.
I take great encouragement from the increasing anger I hear on the ground for more and more people now see that the DUP are playing a political game, and losing every time because when the crunch comes, like the UUP before them, they always fold, and then claim, despite the clear facts, that they have won. More and more people have seen through the false claims. The result is that they don’t trust politicians anymore and that is why they don’t vote. Further I believe that many will never vote for those who have let them down so badly.
That is why, despite the disappointments of the last two years, I am convinced that we can win next year in both the Council and Stormont elections.
We will not cave in to either threat or blandishment – nor will we be bought by gold or the trappings of a powerless position or office. We know that tens of thousands, like Mr. Kane, accept that our analysis is correct.
Start talking to your friends and neighbours now and we will take the first steps to the redemption of our land next May.
In other speeches, David Vance tackled the economy.
“TUV condemns the utter failure of the Stormont Executive to agree a coherent strategy for dealing with Public Sector Cuts and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy in a fiscally sensible manner”
Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow – that’s been the motto of the dysfunctional Executive and the wreckage of our economy is proof of it.
By the autumn of 2007, the writing was on the wall for our economy. At Stormont they all watched the debt fuelled property bubble inflate and then …burst. What did they do? Nothing. When the PRIVATE sector subsequently haemorrhaged jobs what did they do? Nothing.
Memo to Arlene Foster – getting your picture in the local press business section every day is a poor substitute for actually doing something useful for business.
TUV has distinct positive ideas on how we deal with their mess.
Cut the North-South bodies NOW and save half a billion! This would get us 25% upfront saving instantly without losing ANY vital frontline jobs. Cut the quangos and remove the fatcats from their gilded thrones. Millions more saved. Cut the size of the government bureaucracy, move jobs from areas of inefficiency and into the private sector, so boosting it whilst supporting employment. Let’s cap the salaries of those earning VAST sums in the Public sector before they sacrifice those lower down the ladder.
Party vice chairman Keith Harbinson spoke in favour of the devolution motion.
Conference, devolution in this country in its current form has shown itself to be as effective as the proverbial chocolate fireguard. Granted on an initial cursory look, the master chocolatier will have crafted something that looks the part, that may even be fit for purpose, but apply the heat of political debate and we can watch it melt away and submit.
Those who should be our natural allies continually protest that we occupy an outdated and perpetually negative state of mind. Conference this is wrong and disingenuous in the extreme. We do not criticise the current arrangements out of party political spite. To do so would be a betrayal of the very principles of Traditional Unionism that we espouse. Rather we do so out of an unwillingness to accept anything short of the best possible chance for the people of Ulster.
When we criticise the current political arrangements however, we are accused of being bigots, of being unrealistic and at times adherents to a political utopia that is an anachronism in the modern world. Anyone involved in politics understands the strength required to compromise in order to achieve, but there is a fine line between well intentioned compromise and capitulation.
Yet do our opponents really believe their own pathway? Or is our presence simply enough to smart on their political conscience? Many are honourable people, but good intentions are not enough to justify the abandonment of principles and ideals. The constant attack by others on this party may provide a short term ease to their conscience, but will only serve to deliver long term pain for Ulster.
To our members and supporters I once again turn to Sir Winston Churchill, “Nations that go down fighting rise again, those who surrender tamely are finished.” Conference others may have surrendered the future of Unionism and Democracy, but we have not, and whilst the need is there, we will continue to fight for what is right for everyone in Ulster, and may the odds that we face in the battles that await make each heart bolder.
On the education front, Ards councillor Terry Williams started by pointing to excellence at the top end of the scale (though made no reference to educational underachievement in the rest of his speech).
Few things better illustrate the failure of devolved government than education. Northern Ireland has one of the best education systems in the UK. Our pupils consistently outperform their counterparts in England and Wales when it comes to GCSE and A’ level results.
This year, A* – C grades were achieved by 76.3% of GCSE candidates in our Province. The UK average was 69.1%.
Again, when it came to A’ level achievements our pupils finished top of the class with 9.3% achieving A*. In England and Wales the figure was 8.1%.
And yet in recent times Northern Ireland’s education system has undergone – and is still undergoing – radical change.
The change which has grabbed all the headlines has been the Sinn Fein/IRA assault on academic selection and the minister’s failure to spend funds allocated to her by executive.
He referred to Peter Robinson’s recent well publicized speech about education, highlighting the portion which said “it has been said that considerable savings could be made with the creation of a Single Education Authority. I still hope that agreement can be reached in moving away from the five Education and library boards to a single authority.”
TUV has consistently opposed the creation of ESA. Why? Surely on the face of it a single body replacing 5 ELBs makes sense. You will cut out a lot of the administrative costs for one thing. And that is how the DUP will doubtless seek to portray their policy shift – it’s all about saving money.
The Chief Executive designate of ESA has no background in education. Prior to his appointment as Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examination and Assessment (CCEA) in 2000, he was managing director of the Coal Division of Cawoods Fuels.
His time at CCEA was marked by radical changes in the school curriculum. Under his leadership schools moved away from grounding children in the basic subjects of English, Maths and Science to a “progressivist” curriculum where the critical early years are characterized by play rather than learning.
Such an education is incapable of being tested. Support for ESA, therefore, is incompatible with support for academic selection.
Terry passed the education baton to TUV member Kaye Kilpatrick who got stuck into Irish Medium education – historically and financially.
It is undeniable that there is a direct link between the Irish language and Republicanism. Consider Patrick Pearse, the commander in chief of the Republican forces during the Easter Rising. Did you know that Pearse was not just a rebel leader but an educationalist? Yes! He started his own school where pupils were taught through the medium of Irish. Here is what he once had to say about the language:
“When the position of Ireland’s language as her greatest heritage is once fixed, all other matters will insensibly adjust themselves. As it develops, and because it develops, it will carry all kindred movements with it. When Ireland’s language is established, her own distinct culture is assured. “
And don’t let anyone tell you that Republicans have changed today. They are well aware of Pearse’s views and continue to portray him as a hero to be emulated. Keith Harbinson recently highlighted some of the goodies on sale on the Sinn Fein website. Well alongside T-Shirts celebrating the murderous actions of the IRA you will find posters and books idolizing Patrick Pearse and the other leaders of the Easter Rising.
The Review of Irish Medium Education published by DE last year revealed that over a five-year period (2002/3 – 2006/7) total government expenditure on Irish-medium Education was £49.7 million. Even a report commissioned by a Department headed by Ruanne could not hide the fact that additional expenditure was incurred because of the language in which the education was provided. The report conservatively put this cost at £8.7 million.
Additionally, in response to an Assembly question on 4th June 2010 the Minister of Education revealed that she would be spending a total of £13.1 million on an extension and refurbishment of one Irish-medium school and an additional £1.65 million on the construction of another.
Friends, the history of the abuse of Irish and specifically it’s use since the 19th century as a political tool to stress distinctiveness from the United Kingdom illustrates that it is much more than simply a language. It is high time that those who want to have their children educated in Irish Medium schools to pay for the privilege! Our party unashamedly opposes the public funding of these schools!
PS: Jim Allister’s website is still down.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.