UUP Conference … short, sweet, Secretary of State spoke, an Orange Lodge scolded

UUP gavelAny UUP delegates scanning Saturday morning’s papers over breakfast might have choked on their cornflakes when they realised that the Irish News had devoted the best part of a page to UUP conference news, while there was absolutely no mention in the Newsletter! And the date wasn’t 1st April.

The UUP Conference kicked off about 10.15am in Armagh City Hotel. In the absence of the (Anglican) Archbishop of Armagh, Rev Andrew Forster opened in prayer. The local constituency chairman, Councillor Jim Speers welcomed delegates to Armagh, encouraging them to sample the delights of the local city including the planetarium. Was that a subliminal call for the UUP to reach for the stars?

Jim Nicholson popped up on stage to encourage delegates to donate to his chosen charity, Fields of Life, in a bid for the UUP to raise enough money (£3,000) to drill a water well in Uganda.

On Friday afternoon in private sessions, delegates heard how other mass member organisations have managed to transition and change, often turning negative perceptions. Geoff Wilson, marketing manager with the IFA was one of speakers along with a representative from the Royal College of Nurses. Fermanagh and South Tyrone members gave delegates a masterclass on fundraising and sustain hundreds of members. These sessions will be distributed on DVD to all associations after the conference.

By mid-morning, around 400 people were seated in the conference hall. While there were pockets of younger delegates, I would estimate that the average age would be close to sixty years old.

UUP conferences delegates

The UUP chair David Campbell summarised the conference as one of “rebuilding and recovery”. Between now and Christmas, the UUP will be conducting opinion polls in “unionist constituencies” to discover why voters are turned off by the party and what changes would attract them. He mentioned that the party’s (closed) EGM this afternoon would discuss Tom Elliott’s proposals to change party rules and processes – an evolution of changes Reg Empey brought in a few years ago.

UUP Chair David Campbell addresses @uuponline party conference (mp3)

At previous conferences, Campbell has used his address to get a few things off his chest. (Last year he referred to unsuccessful Westminster candidates Paula Bradshaw and Harry Hamilton – “at one disappointment to pack up their bags and leave in an ill-tempered sulk carrying their single transferable principles with them”). He said that “this year’s conference is about rebuilding and recovering”, before going on to address two recent events that caused him “much anger and annoyance”.

As an Ulster Unionist Party member and an Orangeman for over thirty years, I was I was ashamed and disgusted that a Belfast lodge saw fit to try to discipline our leader and out minister because they paid their respects on behalf of this party to a young police officer murdered by terrorists. (applause) They exhibited a greater Christian charity than that lodge’s members can over hope to. But did no more than unionist leaders before them, like David Trimble, Harry West … and right back to James Craigavon and Edward Carson before them. I welcome the dismissal of this issue by Tom and Danny’s county lodges, but this should never have been an issue in the first place, and that Belfast lodge has brought our institution into serious public disrepute.

Campbell’s use of “our” ran somewhat against the UUP’s position of having no official link between the party and the Orange Order, other than an overlap of members.

Secondly, in three weeks time, 14 November will mark thirty years since our Member of Parliament for South Belfast Rev Robert Bradford was brutally murdered in his advice centre in South Belfast service his constituents. Last week in Parliament, a plaque to his memory was unveiled in the chamber of the House of Commons. Not one member of this party – the Rev Bradford’s Party – was invited to attend.

I discovered this outrageous oversight the day before, ironically from a DUP MP who showed me his invitation assuming I would be present. On checking with our leader and our peers, it became clear that this party had been completely ignored. To add insult to injury, on contacting the Speaker’s office in Parliament, I was told ‘Oh, we understood the Rev Bradford was a DUP MP’.

Fellow unionists, you and I know which unionist party took the casualties during the Troubles. You and I know which party’s members in constituencies like this formed the backbone of the security forces. And you and I both know which unionist party took all the risks for peace. We cannot and will not allow this party’s sacrifices to be airbrushed from history. Members, it is time that the kicking of this party and its representatives ceased. It is time for the sacrifices and achievements of this party to be recognised and applauded.

This conference is about our recovery. It starts today.

At this rate, the UUP may end up wearing out the word ‘recovery’.

Looking over the heads of UUP conference delegates at Danny Kennedy

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy made some brief remarks at the start of his Q&A session.

It’s almost six months since I entered office as Regional Development Minister and inherited what I can only describe as Murphy’s mess.

He reminded delegates that he had delivered the party’s manifesto commitment to overturn his predecessor’s proposal for on-street parking charges, and highlighted the recent announcement that will mean the Coleraine/Londonderry train line will run “for most of the UK City of Culture year in 2013”. Kennedy indicated that he wanted to see further rail investment to bring about “high speed and fast intercity train service can operate between Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin and even Cork”. He explained some of the measures NI Water has put in place and local councils have agreed to in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s problems during the cold snap over Christmas.

Minister Danny Kennedy addressing @uuponline conference (mp3)

In the Q&A, delegates were called to ask a set of fairly weak, pre-submitted questions that covered plans for roads in their local areas, upgrading Portadown train station and golf. Danny Kennedy quipped “all politics is local!”

An economy debate featured contributions from a selection of the UUP’s team of MLAs around the motion this conference calls on the Northern Ireland Assembly to select the sectors that will best ensure the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy and skill up the workforce accordingly.

Economy debate (part 1) at @uuponline conference (mp3)

Mike Nesbitt economy debateMike Nesbitt proposed the motion, and for the most part spoke without notes from the middle of the stage – in the confident style of David Cameron. He drew to a close by setting out a challenge:

I’ll finish with a vision because people often say “oh, you unionists, you don’t have a vision, you don’t have a strategy, you don’t have a policy.” I’ll give you a vision for our economy. Northern Ireland is rapidly coming to the end of its first hundred years. So as we look to our second century, here’s an economic vision.

We become net contributors to Her Majesty’s Treasury. We grow our private sector so it is so big, so powerful, so profitable we no longer need the block grant. It’s a big ask. It’s aspirational. But why not go for it conference? (applause) Why not go for that, be net contributors? If you want to secure the union, that’s a good way to start. Let’s grow our economy to the point where our GDP and our GVA are above the UK average.

Listening to the end of Nesbitt’s speech in the wings was “Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Patterson” who had popped into the UUP conference on a fleeting visit. Sandra Overend seconded the motion and was followed by Robin Swann MLA. (Swann, diminutive in stature, got a laugh when he announced “I’ve been asked to be short … I’ll do by best”.)

Economy debate (part 2) at @uuponline conference (including Owen Patterson) (mp3)

Then the Secretary of State was invited to address the debate.

Owen Patterson speaking at UUP Party ConferencePatterson thanked the UUP for their support for the coalition government (the Westminster one) as they address economic problems. He noted successes, including the Presbyterian Mutual Society, the Corporation Tax consultation, and the announcement on Airport Passenger Duty changes to long haul flights from Northern Ireland. The presence of Patterson adds weight to the UUP’s desire to strengthen its relationship with the Conservative Party but avoid a formal link that constrains their policies.

Next up was Philip Smith, followed Jo-Anne Dobson and Basil McCrea finished up the debate, paying tribute to Mike Nesbitt who “has been a wonderful advocate for the Ulster Unionist Party since he joined the MLA team”, and singled out the other speakers in the debate for praise.

SDLP vice-chair Fearghal McKinney chaired a Q&A panel with Patricia McKeown (Unison), Jim Nicholson MEP, Glyn Roberts (NI Independent Retail Trade Association) and Mike Smyth (Head of UU School of Economics). Neither Baroness May Blood nor Ann Travers – whose sister [Mary] was murdered by the culture minister’s special adviser, Mary McArdle – were able to be present on the panel as originally intended.

Q&A panel chaired by @sdlplive”s Fearghal McKinney at @uuponline conference (mp3)

Q&A panel (part 2) at @uuponline conference (mp3)

In the end the #askuup twitter Q&A with MLAs didn’t happen, though some of the questions were hilarious, if a little off-topic? We never will find out the answers to burning questions like:

  • Do you crunch up or fold your toilet paper?
  • Where is the best place for brunch on the Ards Peninsula?
  • Did Carol Black at least get a ‘comfort break’ or did she have to sit in that front row seat all day to make sure she was on TV?

Michael McGimpsey kept a low profile at the conference, as if his political potential is in decline (as are his chances of being re-elected following the proposed boundary changes). While present at the conference and namechecked by the party leader, he wasn’t up on stage.

Also missing were the majority of unsuccessful Assembly candidates from May 2011: no sign of Lesley Macaulay or Mark Hill or Mark Finlay. And no Eamonn Mallie.

I’ll cover Tom Elliott’s speech and a quick interview with him in the next post.

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  • Nunoftheabove

    “Rev Andrew Forster opened in prayer”

    That’s pretty much all we need to know about their commitment to modernity, to enlightenment and to pluralism. End of.

  • HeinzGuderian

    That’s pretty much all we need to know about their commitment to modernity, to enlightenment and to pluralism. End of.

    Absolutely correct,my friend.
    The sooner this place rids itself of of man made gaeds,the better !!

  • emanonon

    We are now exhibiting all the signs of being consigned to history, we have to get people from outside of our party to put on stage when we are supposed to be showcasing ourselves.

    What were Owen Paterson, Ferghal McKinney and Glynn Roberts doing there? It seems to provide some star quality in a lack lustre day.

    It is difficult to understand why Paterson would tie himself to us when we have drifted into becoming a meaningless party lead by someone who makes us more extreme by the day. McKinney and Roberts come from parties who oppose us and have more obvious ability than most of our own members. All we did was show how poor we really are.

    Our current Chairman has presided over one disaster followed by another and he still remains to bleat on about the Orange Order. Our finances are questionable and rely on providing ‘research’ for our MLA’s to access their office expenses and an unclear deal over our previous headquarters.

    I used to delude myself we could come back now all I can say is, would the last person to leave turn out the lights.

  • BluesJazz

    Turning off the lights at Cunningham House will not be too far away. And , in the present situation, might be able to sell it for just under £100,000. If they’re lucky and KwikFit are looking around the area.

  • After reading that nonsense about the Orange Order I can honestly say that I will never vote UUP again.

    How dare they attack an Orange Lodge for upholding the rules, rules that Tom Elliott enforced within County Fermanagh for a number of years? How is it okay that under Tom’s leadership in County Fermanagh a number of men could be expelled for attending Roman Catholic Worship services, yet when Tom attends himself nothing should be done… even questioning the matter brings a diatribe from what is meant to be a political party made up of adults?

    I may not agree with the brethren of Sandy Row, but I cannot deride them for following the rules that Grand Lodge has enforced.

    The UUP is dead anyway. A group of old men and a handful of elderly women (there to make the sandwiches) are accompanied by a small clique of unelectable power mad individuals, while they all sit in a room complaining about everyone and everything else. It used to be Republicans they complained about, then it became other unionist parties and now it’s the Orange Order… what’s next?

  • Nunoftheabove


    It’s taken a while but you’ve seen some semblance of sense in the end. Don’t look back. Mind you, my argument is not that they criticize the loyal order/s but that they don’t criticize them half enough and/or in the right way/s.

  • Well the UUP position very much mirrors the situation in the SDLP. I wont pretend that I care about their fates equally.
    At one level people people (DUP & SF people) write their obituaries much too quickly and enthusiastically and really mostly at the level of football supporters rather than serious analysts.

    Yet I think that UUP seems to be a little behind the “learning curve”. This “outreach” is all nonsense. If the UUP has any sense it will listen to its own voices and while I appreciate that they are sincere, they should realise that any “new” vote they gain will be at the expense of five “old” votes.
    The SDLP get lots of praise for being nice.
    And it has cost them dearly.
    Theres no way on Gods Green Earth that the likes of me is going to give a preference to any unionist at any level for any purpose. Much as I like individuals, there is no way unionism represents my principles or self interest. And thats mirrored in the unionist community. There cant see any way that republicanism/nationalism is in their interests or corresponds with their principles.

    To some extent the SDLP Leadership Election is about dealing with priorities. Or it should be. All talk about rebuilding. And however its defined…..I tend to think that stepping back to regroup is the biggest issue, certainly for SDLP and probably for the UUP.
    The SDLP has been there, done that with Norman Hamilton, Davey Adams, Duncan Morrow etc.
    The UUP would make the same similar mistake if it went down the same road.

  • dwatch

    “I may not agree with the brethren of Sandy Row, but I cannot deride them for following the rules that Grand Lodge has enforced.”

    youngpolitico, can your good self or any other subscriber to this thread quote the OO rule in question ‘word for word’ written into the Orange constitution?

  • Was there any word from McKinney about the prospect of an opposition alliance between the SDLP and the UUP? Did anyone raise questions on that subject.

    Neither of those parties has much going for it. What would they have to lose by embarking upon such a gambit?

  • Seymour – there was a fringe event (covered on Politics Show this morning and apparently on Good Morning Ulster on Monday morning) that discussed opposition. Tom Elliott repeated in interviews yesterday that he hadn’t ruled it out.

  • dwatch

    Funny, when leaders of the UUP D Trimble & SDLP J Hume signed the GFA and later became First & Deputy First Ministers none of their MLA’s where shouting from the rooftops for an opposition at the new devolved government at Stormont back in 1998. I wonder why???????????

  • quality


    The difference is the electorate is made of a diverse range of people and, in some areas, there will be transfers across the constitutional/sectarian divide.

    I understand your point, in that identifying with the party’s base is the most important thing for the UUP/SDLP, but political parties set the terms of dialogue – so warmer relations between the UUP/SDLP (and encouraging voices from outside to be at the conferences, as every political party does) isn’t a bad thing.

    Particularly given it seems increasingly clear that what is needed for Stormont and the SDLP/UUP is to go in to opposition. Otherwise the Assembly, and the smaller political parties, risk becoming an irrelevance.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Politico & dwatch, I checked the new rule book recently, (the actual rules not the Qualifications which are aspirational rather than regulatory) the relevant rule states action can be taken against someone for participation in a ceremony of non-reformed worship. Being present at such a ceremony is not against the rules as this case has shown, even if that was the case in the past, so politico check out the actual rules next chance you have. As for the Sandy Row lodge, I don’t believe any of the members know Tom or Danny personally, nor do they count as neighbours of either of their lodges, nor do they reside in the area the alledged offence took place so what ground has they for making the complaint? I believe it was entirely politically motivated.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Fitzy, as with any conference the stage, including the panel event, is mainly for show, its the discussions going on behind the scenes that matter, the really important outsiders wern’t McKinney or the SoS (very welcome as they both were), but the two speakers from the IFA & RCN the evening before who spoke on revitalising their respective organisations, and excellent speakers they both were I really hope what they said will be taken on board. The rule changes agreed are one step in this direction, and the boundary review/RPA will also help eventually. Getting the structure right is boring but essential, on that front I think the conference was good.

  • I disagree entirely Drumlins Rock, the qualifications are qualifications not aspirations. The ritual of the Orange Degree prohibits a member from attending or participating in any act or ceremony of Roman Catholic or non reformed worship. The Orange Address explains how attending or participating “may result in your expulsion from our order”.

    Breaking of the qualifications is “Conduct unbecoming of an orangeman” and when combined with attendance at RC or other non reformed worship the result should be expulsion.

    I’m may be young but I’m still a member of a County Disciplinary Appeals Committee, and a Grand Lodge member.

    P.S. the grounds Sandy Row brethren had in charging Tom and Danny was that they saw two men who broke the rules, publicly, and yet seemed to be getting away with it because they were politicians whilst many others have been expelled for doing the very same thing.

  • Quality,
    You sound as if you want “normal” politics.
    We dont have “normal” politics, never will and it would be a bad thing if we did.
    “Normal” politics is something that is portrayed as “in the middle” but necessarily “normal” politics accepts things as they stand. The Republican/Nationalist agenda (embraced by Sinn Féin and whisper it softly the SDLP is to move towards a united Ireland) so “normal” politics is not in eithers interest….even if one puts it more bluntly than the other. “Normal” politics is “British” politics……..and theres no attraction there for any republican/nationalist. And all the touchstone icons of normality…….the compulsory wearing of poppies on local television or Norn Iron players not opting for the Republic or the use of Gaeilge are actually very one-sided views of “normality” that no self respecting nationalist/republican would touch.
    No doubt there are places (in first past the post voting) where there is an element of tactical voting. (South Down) which has kept out extremists. But not in Fermanagh-South Tyrone it would appear.
    A lot of the cross community nicety seems based on DUP and SF being in ascendency. Their rise and rise isnt inevitable especially in a time of austerity.A reversal for DUP and SF would see elements in UUP or SDLP less keen on “Opposition”.

    It is of course desirable that community relations are good. All of us involved in hobbies or most sports have friendships across the Great Divide. But they are usually based on ignorance or acceptance that our friends are British, Irish, whatever. The same doesnt seem to apply in cross-community political alliances (there are of course quite rightly friendships at Stormont) but the point is that Unionism necessarily involves destroying Republicanism and Republicanism involves destroying Unionism. There is no practical way that they can facilitate each other.
    “Oppostion” is of course a slightly different issue. I am genuinely open minded about that …..in fact I probably lean towards the SDLP going into Opposition. Id certainly argue that case but would accept that there is a good case to be made for staying in Government also.
    But in basic terms the SDLP is a centre left Party and UUP is centre-right (Im being kind) and I dont see how the Parties could come up with any kind of strategy for a united Opposition.
    A crude alliance built on the fact that both are in trouble is not good enough. UUP will have to ind its own way out of the dilemna. Likewise the SDLP.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “….he should never take the name of God in vain, but abstain from all cursing and profane language, and use every opportunity of discouraging these.”

    Have you 100% upheld the above qualification? and I mean using EVERY opportunity to discourage bad language. If not you need to resign, as would I of course, and every other member. Thats just one, never mind keeping the Sabbath etc. why did Sandy Row single out one section? If your on a disciplinary committee you should know the RULES, they are the only thing that matter in these cases. Furthermore as a member of such a committee you most certainly should not be commenting on disciplinary matters in any public realm, the idea of such a committee is to ensure a fair and neural hearing for any appealant, you clearly have blown any sense of neutrality on this issue. As a recent court case in the Ladies Institution illustrated your decisions are open to the scrutiny of the courts and such an open bias clearly jepordises any discision the entire committee may make.

  • quality


    Warmer relations doesn’t have to mean pedestrian, centre ground, beige politics. Inviting people to speak at a party conference with a different political view should be welcomed – debate is healthy, and certainly many of my own views have been formed in response to hearing from people I fundamentally disagree with.

    There doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy-clappy agenda behind that – there are a hundred shades of green on the island, and a hundred shades of orange, and even shades of yellow (?). Open discussion should be welcomed, and opinions respected (even if, no in fact because republicanism and loyalism are diametrically opposed).

    They may not be able to facilitate one another, but we could at least attempt to move to a place where they aren’t so terribly petrified of one another. There’s no panacea (and I’m certainly not a member of a certain pressure group I’ve seen you bring up on here before), and the constitution is the elephant in the room at all times, but ‘our’ politicians need to publically build on the fantastic work being done in some areas (particularly the areas of Belfast I’m familar with, can’t speak for elsewhere in the north) and set the agenda.

    And I wish I shared your reading of the SDLP as centre-left. I would say the party is heading in the directive of conservative nationalism, as opposed to Devlin or Fitt style lefty politics. There is certainly room there for a shared policy agenda with the UUP, particularly given that most politicians in the Assembly are essentially populists rather than ideologically driven.

  • Well I say the SDLP is centre left and you say it isnt.
    So this is one of those happy occasions where your views can be formed in response to hearing from people with whom you fundamentally disagree. 😉

  • quality

    Touche FJH.

    Interesting to see the lack of comments on the conference, is that indicative of a lack of interest generally? Are the Ulster Unionists, with all their post-partition historical baggage, even worth saving? Is there anything they can articulate that the DUP can’t at this point?

    It’s a shame as in my opinion a few of their candidates, such as McCallister, Overend, Manwaring (obviously not elected) deserve a party with more direction.

  • “….he should never take the name of God in vain, but abstain from all cursing and profane language, and use every opportunity of discouraging these.”

    I’ve never had any charge brought against me… if my brethren, any brethren feel I have broken the rules or not upheld the qualifications then they are free to bring a charge against me in accordance with the rules and regualtions as drawn up and published by the GOLI.

    and I mean using EVERY opportunity to discourage bad language. If not you need to resign, as would I of course, and every other member. Thats just one, never mind keeping the Sabbath etc. why did Sandy Row single out one section? If your on a disciplinary committee you should know the RULES, they are the only thing that matter in these cases.

    Sandy Row probably singled out one section because there was video evidence and even personal testimonies from TE and DK that they had broken the rules.

    “Furthermore as a member of such a committee you most certainly should not be commenting on disciplinary matters in any public realm”

    What nonsense… I am not a member of the two respective counties and am entitled to speak on it as my opinions in no affect the judgement of the two counties – which has already been given. The issue is already in the public realm and has been for a number of months and the idea that as an orangeman I cannot speak on a closed matter is nonsense.

    the idea of such a committee is to ensure a fair and neural hearing for any appealant, you clearly have blown any sense of neutrality on this issue.

    The job of a disciplinary committee is to see if the rules have been broken. It is not a courtroom. Tom and Danny went broke the rules publically.

    The ladies group is in no way connected to the Orange Institution and any matter relating to them is of no concern to us.

    The idea that someone can break the rules on TV, then openly admit to breaking the rules themselves and get away with it while the “ordinary man” would have been expelled is shameful and the idea that someone is biased for calling them on their actions is bogus.

    TE and DK made promises on a Bible that they would never particpate in, nor attend any act or ceremony of RC worship… they did… they broke their promises… even if you would rather pretend they didn’t.

  • dennis the menace

    Has anyone have any more info on the rumour that a UUP member of ards council has left the party?

  • SK

    why do these zombie threads keeping popping up from nowhere?

  • galloglaigh