In his first speech as leader to the UUP Conference, Mike Nesbitt outlined his vision to end sectarianism, claimed to understand social justice, and spoke frequently about ‘lost opportunities’. The UUP was a party for everyone who was pro-Union.
In a very long speech (45 minutes) he called for “a road map for the way ahead for the next generation … that shows where we want to go, and identifies the best route to get there”. He characterised the 10-20 year time period needed as “an inconvenient truth that it will take time to create a truly normal society, where everyone mixes, particularly in housing and in education”.
Economically he called for a shift from strategies in the sky to action plans on the ground.
Pictures from the BBC Two coverage of the UUP conference suggest a smaller turnout at conference when compared with last year’s conference in Armagh and the leadership election in Belfast.
On the platform, Mike Nesbitt was visually reinforced with the presence of his deputy (and unsuccessful leadership contender) John McAllister as well as former leader and peer Lord Empey.
Thank yous to party colleagues – including minister Danny Kennedy – and their contributions were absent from the leader’s speech, perhaps picked up at other stages of the conference. References to other political parties and leaders – most notably the DUP and Peter Robinson – were also absent. So too was any mention of homosexuality, peers or departed members.
Nesbitt outlined his approach to opposition. With the battle over Corporation Tax “not going particularly well” Nesbitt wanted a Plan B to cut the Small Profits Rate. He finished with portions of the speech addressing Education (with aspects about dropped due to time) and Dealing with the Past before encouraging delegates to clap not him hit the giants of unionism (Craig and Carson) on whose shoulders the party stands.
The speech should be available shortly to watch again on BBC iPlayer. In the meantime the embargoed speech with most of the main alterations at delivery are included below.
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Folks, you can clap all you like: you’re still going to have to listen to it!
I imagine a good few of you listening to this are expecting me to start with the words: “Looking back 100 years …”
I don’t want to start by looking back; I want to look the other way.
So let me use these words instead: “Looking forward 100 years …… what will our descendants think of us?
Will they think as kindly of us as we think of Edward Carson and of his generation? Will we be honoured, celebrated, and cherished, as he is? Will history say we rose to our challenge the way he did to his challenge?
I truly hope so because it is what I want. For this Party of course. But also for this country. And for everybody who lives here – and I mean everyone! I am appealing today to Protestants and Catholics, to Jews and Muslims, to members of all faiths and none – men, women, urban, rural …. Chinese, Indian, eastern European …. this appeal is to everybody.
The Ulster Unionist Party is not a religious organisation. We are not just a Party for Protestants. We recognise that more people than ever before in Northern Ireland actively embrace the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom, which of course includes the freedom to practice your religious beliefs. That is us!
I see us as a pluralist party. I see us as a progressive party, but above all as a political party, and one everyone can look to for a positive alternative to what is on offer today. Because that’s what’s needed today – a credible alternative.
Edward Carson didn’t shy away from what was needed. He didn’t shrink from a challenge. He didn’t squander opportunities. But what about us?
We don’t have to speculate if Edward Carson would approve. He told us exactly how to measure our success or failure in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920. Looking forward to a government at Stormont, he said:
They must forget faction and section …… If Ulster does what I ask her to do, and what I hope and believe she will do, in setting up an example and a precedent of good government, fair government, honest government, and a government not for sections or factions, but for all, her example may be followed ….
I like that vision – of a government not for sections or for factions – but for everybody. It takes us right to the heart of one of the things I want to achieve in politics – the end of Sectarianism.
Sectarianism has lasted longer than the Troubles. Think about that for a second.
Sectarianism still responsible for deaths and for injuries. Sectarianism dictating the pace at which we move to a truly post-Peace Process situation. Sectarianism holding back the economy, health and housing.
I want the Ulster Unionist Party to tackle that enduring legacy of our Troubles.
If you are wondering what I believe in, it is social justice. I would like to have a leadership role in building a future that is peaceful, law-abiding, and above all fair. Where everyone gets a chance, and we show a generosity of spirit when we meet people with a different identity, or set of aspirations.
If you are wondering what I want to target, it’s Sectarianism, multiple deprivation, and poverty.
If you’re wondering why I’m in politics, I’ll tell you simply. My father was 49 years of age when the family linen business was blown up. Looking back, it was the last day he got out of bed with a true sense of purpose in his life. And every day, I meet people, particularly young people, who are looking for a sense of purpose in their lives, but are denied it, through lack of employment, poor education and health, and the lack of a decent home. And that’s the challenge of political leadership I have set myself.
Be in no doubt, there is a crisis in 2012. Not the same as 1912. No. The threat to the Union from Irish nationalism has passed for now. Thanks to us, the Ulster Unionist Party, the true inheritors of the legacy of Carson and Craig. So, do you think we could just relax a bit about that for a minute, and concentrate and discuss some contemporary issues?
Because there is a crisis. Ask the unemployed if there is a jobs crisis. As the parents of the underachieving children if there is a crisis in education. Ask the homeless if there a housing crisis. And ask any nurse if there’s a crisis in the Health Service. And ask the tens of thousands who don’t bother voting anymore if there is a crisis in politics.
The Ulster Unionist Party says yes there is!
Edward Carson had an answer to the crisis of 1912. He made a pledge and he formed a team. That sounds like a plan to me!
So, let’s do that. Let’s stand up, proudly, boldly, fearlessly, and state what we stand for, and ask every citizen of the country to join our team, and fight for what is best for Northern Ireland and for its people – and I mean all of its people.
We need a road map for the way ahead for the next generation. It’s a map that shows where we want to go, and identifies the best route to get there. And there will be an inconvenient truth along the way, namely that it will take a long time to get there. And that’s a hard message for people. After 35 years of violence, and 18 years on from the Ceasefires, you cannot expect anyone to be happy to hear it could take 10, 15, 20 years to really fix some of our problems. But that’s the inconvenient truth, so we must manage transition, with short-term measures offering steps of delivery and steps of hope.
The road map must show how we will end up with better. Like a single system of education, which allows children to develop as they would in any normal society, but without fear or prejudice to their faith. Achieving that balance is a major challenge, but there are two fundamentals I think everyone already agrees upon.
One, is that sharing is the first step. Two, is that if our children are educated separately, and therefore only meet in a meaningful way in their late teens, long after lasting friendships have formed, we do little to tackle the separateness that is the breeding ground for mistrust and sectarianism.
It is an inconvenient truth that it will take time to create a truly normal society, where everyone mixes, particularly in housing and in education.
I want normal government too! And better government. And I have a very simple request: Give us the opportunity, and we will deliver better.
Give us the chance, and we’ll lead a government that puts common sense at the heart of everything government does.
Give us the opportunity and you’ll see an administration that won’t tolerate wasting time trying to justify the current system when you would be better served if we made the system better.
I want government that detests waste, be it money, resources, or above all, in people’s life chances. The greatest sin of bad government is that it tolerates Lost Opportunities for its people. I see those Lost Opportunities every day – you do too! The 63,000-plus seeking work. The children yearning for the education they deserve. The victims of terrorism, some of whom have waited so long, many are no longer focused on themselves, or even their children, but wonder if it might just be possible for government to do something meaningful for their grand children!
I want a government focused on producing results.
This mandate, we will focus the administration on a better way of doing government, as we did in the last ten days, by calling for an Economic Plan B in the wake of the FG Wilson disaster.
My first up close view of Stormont came when I joined the Victims Commission. It wasn’t a pretty sight. There was then, and remains today, an obsession with the inputs and the processes of government. The business people in this room will tell you that you do not spend money on unnecessary inputs. You do not build a factory, or buy raw materials, or employ staff, unless you think you have a half decent chance of manufacturing something people are going to buy! And frankly the Stormont Bill of Goods is pretty thin.
If the Ulster Unionist Party was given the chance, we would re-focus government on outputs and the outcomes. We’d give a vision of what success looks like and invite local communities to use the resources of government to make it happen in their area.
It’s a simple shift, from writing strategies, which float somewhere up there, to implementing Action Plans, which deliver on the ground.
The debate has moved on. It’s not about where we are governed from any more; it is Belfast, get over it. The debate now is what sort of government do you want?
18 years after the Ceasefires, and 14 years after the Belfast Agreement, I am in politics because as a journalist, a businessman and a Victims Commissioner, I see political failure. Nobody talks about the Peace Dividend anymore, because nobody really got one.
One example. More of our children live in poverty today that when we achieved devolution – an unexpected and deeply unwelcome situation. Many of those children have at least one parent in work, so you cannot point a finger at the families.
If the Ulster Unionist Party was in charge of the Office of the First Minister, we wouldn’t promise to eradicate it all at once – not possible – but we would set the sort of target that is currently missing. We’d agree an absolute income level we didn’t want a family falling below – we would add two specific deprivation measures – and then target the sector. It’s not the whole answer, it does not help everyone, but it tackles those most in need. It’s a clear, common sense Action Plan.
The whole debate about how to fix Stormont is focused on numbers. How many MLAs, how many government departments, how long should be the term be, how many jobs can one politician hold down. I’ll tell you what I think in a moment, but there’s no point tinkering with the numbers if you don’t change the culture. Those numbers are inputs, and frankly, 18 MLAs could probably achieve as little as 108, if we do not refocus the culture on delivery on the ground. We need two things – less input, more output.
For the record, here is how we would change Stormont, and why.
In 1998 there were groups who supported politics, groups that were wedded to violence, and others who tried to ride both horses. To get everyone to go forward politically, you had to create a large set of institutions, so everyone got a share. It was designed to be inclusive government, not necessarily efficient government.
Those arrangements were always meant to be transitional. How could you possibly justify jobs for the boys in 2012, with 63,000 people looking for work?
So, what would we do?
We have too many MLAs. We can take the first step. Lose 12 if we go with the reduction of constituencies from 18 to 16. Let me stress, that is not the end game, just the next step. If we are sticking with 18 constituencies, we need to negotiate another way to cut numbers, but in a manner that improves efficiency without corrupting the principle of inclusion that underpins devolved government.
We would reduce the number of government departments to eight, including OFMdFM. That number is based on our analysis of the situation; it’s not plucked out of fresh air. But to be clear about the implications, do not think that means we will be taking a knife to the number of civil servants in the current government departments. Fewer government departments does not mean a night of the long knives for the civil service. It would run totally against my view of good government to put civil servants on the dole because we want to rebalance our economy.
If the public sector is comparatively too big, then grow the private sector, and grow the social economy – create the space where people can swap jobs, not lose employment. There are already too many Lost Opportunities.
And I have to pause here, to say, the Ulster Unionist Party gets the social economy – the so-called “not for profit” sector. We’re talking about services like childminding. Some people are unemployed, not because they don’t want to work, but because the cost of private sector childcare is prohibitive. There is £12 million set aside for childminding in the Executive budget – let’s use some to create an affordable option, which liberates the individual trapped on benefits, without damaging the private sector. We would maximise the potential of the social economy – because we get it!
We remain resolute in our view that the biggest single change to make Stormont a building that delivers rather than survives, is the introduction of an official opposition. Let me nail the big misconception about our view on Opposition. It’s not about the Ulster Unionist Party looking for a return to Majority Rule. I cannot see a time when Northern Ireland will not require a cross-community government.
So, if we have an Official Opposition, whoever is in it, will work in opposition to a Coalition, a cross-community government made up of the largest parties of the two big blocks.
The other misconception is that the Ulster Unionist Party wants money to go into Opposition. That’s a cheap shot. Whoever goes into Opposition must have the same sort of entitlements, like speaking rights and research facilities, available to oppositions in Dublin, and Cardiff and Edinburg and London.
A normal democracy affords voters the opportunity to change their government every few years. In a normal democracy, the Official Opposition is afforded maximum opportunity to scrutinise the government, and offer up an alternative. I want a normal democracy for Northern Ireland, albeit, I accept our particular circumstances mean a cross-community Coalition Government is here to stay.
I understand that with two big blocks at the heart of government at the moment, you may think we are close to what I am calling for, but we are not. Because all they do is cancel each other out, without any fear of being replaced.
That is what people voted for, and this Party needs to respect that. But there is a developing opportunity, a mood we all sense on the ground, that people want more than a face off at the heart of government.
The challenge I set this Party is to persuade people it’s time to stop voting because of what you are afraid of …… It’s time to vote for what you hope for.
The way forward conference must involve more than keeping Sinn Féin happy.
Never never never never was never the way to offer hope and equality to all – but swapping “never” for “what time is throw in Marty” isn’t the answer either.
Last week’s unemployment figures were a disaster. The FG Wilson disaster followed soon after. It’s time for a Plan B.
It’s so bad, I am sure all of us have either experienced that terrible feeling of not having a reason to get out of bed in the morning, or know someone in that position. It’s awful. Tens of thousands of our citizens going to bed at night, denied the sense of satisfaction that comes from a good day’s work. And they crave it.
According to the Labour Force Survey of 2007, when Devolution was restored, the unemployment rate here was 3.7%, the lowest of all UK nations and regions. There were 29,000 people unemployed.
Five years on, the rate is 8.2%, higher than the UK average. That’s tens of thousands of Lost Opportunities. I want the Ulster Unionist Party to fix that.
On the day the latest unemployment figures came out, the NI Federation of Small Businesses reported that some 90% of unemployed people who found work in our private sector since 2008 did so by starting their own small business, or joining an existing one.
There’s a solution right there. I am not against Foreign Direct Investment. It’s very welcome, when it comes with a long-term commitment, but the fact is our private sector is almost exclusively made up of indigenous Micro, Small and Medium sized Enterprises.
So, there’s our economic policy. The Ulster Unionist will always put local business first.
We will be unapologetically, aggressively, and openly pro-local business.
Let me repeat, I am not against the right type of Foreign Direct Investment, but we need urgent actions, and there is something we could do that would be more impactful than the current policy of attracting £80 million of additional exports over four years.
We have a pot of money worth £3 billion a year used by Stormont and our councils for procurement – to buy goods and services for our schools and hospitals and to resource the public sector.
If we were in charge, we would change the procurement processes to ensure our indigenous businesses got as much of that pot as possible. We would stop our small businesses looking enviously at what the administrations in Scotland and Wales are doing, and have the Scots and Welsh asking us how we do it.
The unemployed in the room and the unemployed watching will note that the current economic strategy commits to creating 25,000 jobs over the next four years. What message does that send? That their government – the devolved, locally-led, locally accountable administration we fought so hard to achieve – cannot help over half of you in the foreseeable future.
Not goo enough,
I offer you just seven words to sum up what is wrong with our economy: seven simple words:
Not enough finance, too much red tape
We need money flowing again, from our banks to our entrepreneurs. This is not the time for banks to build up their asset bases at the expense of funding private sector growth. This is the time to get cash flowing.
And the Ulster Unionist Party wouldn’t just look to the banks. Our local pension funds have a role, and so do Public-Private Partnerships. Controversial as some of you may think they are. We need to use ever lever available to increase access to finance.
It is also time to cut the red tape and bureaucracy that holds businesses back. If the Ulster Unionist Party had responsibility for the economy, that’s where we would focus.
This Party led the charge on Corporation Tax. It was our idea! We never claimed it would be a silver bullet for the economy, but it was – and remains – a potential game changer, particularly in the face of new European regulations that will force Invest NI to change how it works.
As I speak, the battle for devolving the power to set our own rate of Corporation Tax may not be lost, but no one is arguing it is going particularly well. I note the First and deputy First Ministers were in Downing Street again this week, again emerging with no agreement.
It’s time for a Plan B, and we have one.
What about focusing only on the Small Profits Rate – formerly the Small Business Rate. Give us the power and we will help our indigenous small businesses by cutting the Small Profits Rate and helping local people continue to do what they do best and invest in and grow their businesses.
Also, we do not need to reduce the tax all at once. It can be phased in, and pre-advertised, to allow Invest NI to get new Foreign Direct Investment on the ground before the new tax rates kick in.
I have listened to the reports on the discussions with Treasury. I’m not hearing any Plan B. Remember, the prize is tackling Lost Opportunities – generating jobs, with more people with money to spend, and fewer needing welfare.
And if the problem is political, not economic, and we need a Plan C, bring down the Small Profits Rate across the whole of UK. NI will take disproportionate advantage from such a move.
Whatever happens at those Corporation Tax negotiations between the Executive and Treasury, for the sake of the economy, I urge the local team not to walk away without a commitment to large scale infrastructure projects. I urge the team representing NI not to leave the table without a cheque – a commitment to £200 to £300 million a year, as a short term game changer for our Construction Industry. In short, there is more than one way to close the gap.
Ulster Unionists would also close the ridiculous gap between asking for advice from experts, and acting on it. Professor Richard Barnett was asked to review economic policy and reported back in September 2009. His group recommended we set up a single Department of the Economy. On the 22nd September 2012 – three years later – it still hasn’t happened, even though no one disagrees with the idea. All that has changed is that the dole queue is considerably longer today than three years ago. Lost Opportunities.
Earlier this month, Kate Barker, who chairs the Economic Advisory Group set up by the Department of Enterprise, said it was time to hold the Executive’s feet to the fire of delivery. She’s singing our tune. It’s time for Action Plans, not Strategies. It’s time for every Plan A to have a Plan B. If we cannot generate jobs, we can generate Apprenticeships – anything up to 40,000 according to the FSB.
We need a Plan B so Invest NI does not have to hand back tens of millions of pounds. It’s easy: if there’s a Plan A then form a Plan B.
As a townie, let me reassure the farmers and agri-food sector they can stand easy!! I appreciate their contribution to the economy, a constant over the last 100 years. I asked a local food entrepreneur recently if there was a limit to how far he could expand his business. He told me the story of McCain’s chips – you see them all the time, in the frozen food section of every supermarket.
The McCain family were farmers in Canada, forced by necessity to diversify and find a niche market. Today, their turnover annually is measured in the billions of dollars. That’s the potential for our agri-food sector.
Let’s think bigger for Tourism too. I acknowledge we’ve had some successes from Our Time, Our Place, but key strategic fault lines still remain.
Too many tourists arrive on this island by aeroplane into Dublin rather than Belfast. If we were in charge of tourism, we would back a new route development fund, £5m a year over 3 years to pump prime new air routes, including the Middle East. We would also look at clawbacks for failure to deliver.
We would bring a new strand to the tourism offer – what I call human heritage, celebrating and promoting the incredible number of people from Northern Ireland who have had a global impact.
17 US Presidents whose roots can be traced to Northern Ireland and the Ulster Scots tradition. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. Francis Hutcheson, philosopher. And after the summer of sport we have just enjoyed – or endured, if you prefer – what about the sportspeople – the George Bests and Danny Blanchflowers, the Willie John McBrides and Mike Gibsons …. Mary Peters and all the Olympians and Paralympians, Rinty Monaghan, Barry McGuigan, Fred Daly, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, the list isn’t quite endless, but the marketing potential is. It’s a Lost Opportunity to market our greatest tourism asset.
So the Ulster Unionist tourism slogan wouldn’t be Our Place, Our Time, it would be Our Place, Out Time, Our People.
By the way, here’s a thought on joined-up government – and that’s something we need to get much, much better at.
We’re giving some of the major team sports many millions to improve their grounds, including the Irish Football Association. The IFA will move their headquarters to Windsor Park when the stadium is redeveloped.
Why don’t we negotiate to buy their current HQ at 20 Windsor Avenue. It’s the old home of Thomas Andrews, the staircase is the inspiration for … that what we’ve covered up behind us. [The UUP blue set was built in front of the staircase.] So, it can be part of Titanic Belfast. And it could also become the home of the Football Museum we so badly need to celebrate and commemorate what we call Our Wee Country.
Let me turn to the future of the Union.
The business guru Charles Handy tells the story of a particular type of frog. He says if you put the frog in a pan of cold water and slowly bring it to the boil, it will die, because it doesn’t spot how the environment around it is changing, and not in a good way.
That is a lesson for unionists in 2012.
Having seen off the threat of Irish nationalism
it would be careless, to say the least, to ignore the new threat emerging from elsewhere. in the face of 35 years of the murder of unionism’s bravest and best and the destruction of our private sector – which, by the way is still a core reason explaining why our private is so relatively weak –
Let me give you a small example of how the Union is changing. In 1939, Neville Chamberlain took the UK into war with Nazi Germany, a regime that was trying to invade us.
Chamberlain was a Member of Parliament for Birmingham. In 2012, Birmingham Edgbaston is represented by someone of German origin. Gisela Stuart – a German born member of the Labour Party, democratically elected by the people of Birmingham. No one saw that coming in 1939.
Neither did they see a situation where the population of England’s second city would be moving rapidly to a position where the majority are non-white, have their roots in Asian and other ethnicities and are more comfortable defining themselves as British rather than English.
The implications of this new environment will ripple out to every corner of the Union, as the debate on Scottish independence develops. As good citizens of the UK, we need to find meaningful ways of engaging that new generation of British citizen ….. a generation with whom we do not share a long cultural, political and military history – people who will not necessarily bond with us because of our contribution to the Armed Forces in two World Wars, who know little of the 36th Ulster Division at the Somme.
The 36th Ulster Division was formed by men who were willing to lay down their lives to defend Ulster – the men who formed part of the quarter of a million who signed Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant. In 1912, they had little idea the environment would change so drastically they would lay down their lives in another place, for another reason, fighting at the Somme, alongside so many Irishmen in the 16th Irish Division.
So, we need to connect with that new generation of Briton. We need to engage with them, tell them our story, understand how they view the Union, and inform them that the Ulster Unionist Party has over 100 years experience in delivering the sort of government they seek, that is fair, tolerant, and respectful of all traditions.
I was born a Unionist. I was taught values, including something as seemingly trivial – yet fundamental – as waiting for the National Anthem after the late showing at the cinema, rather than bolting for the exit.
I was brought up to believe in the importance of honouring obligations and responsibilities, rather than simply demanding my rights …. of earning money, not just borrowing it … of contributing not just taking.
Republicans have tried to brand unionism as reactionary. It is not. Not Ulster Unionism.
Ulster Unionism is open, liberal, progressive. If we’re looking back in this centenary year, let’s look back even further. Look at the values of Francis Hutcheson, born in Saintfield in 1694, and one of the most influential thinkers in western civilisation.
He promoted the Enlightenment. He supported the individual over any sect or section of society, but encouraged the individual to focus on his or her responsibilities as well as their rights. His thinking informed the French Revolution, American Independence and, yes, the United Irishmen.
Look at the values of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States of America, and one of the most influential. His parents came to the States from Carrickfergus in the 1760s and led the drive that brought America the Democratic Party, and an end to government by the elite.
That is a political philosophy I support.
I want to cover two more areas before I close: Dealing with the Past, and Education. Both are keys to enabling our society to move forward with all boats rising on the devolution tide.
In education, we have a choice – allow the debate to stay focused on the contested ground of post-primary transfer, or we can move on to a bigger debate. Some will have heard me say we need to start asking a different question of our children. Instead of asking “How intelligent are you?” and measuring it purely in terms of academic ability in English, Mathematics and Science, we should ask “In what ways are you intelligent?” and embrace the full range of a child’s talents, be they academic, vocational, sporting, or artistic. It’s thinking inspired by Professor Ken Robinson from Liverpool.
Since I started talking that way, I have heard others use the same phrase, substituting the word “clever” for “intelligent” and another using “smart.” One is the current Education Minister, the other Bishop Donal McKeown …. That suggests to me there is more room for agreement that you might think.
You have heard Danny on our position paper on education. I add two points.
Firstly, every year, some children – our children – leave school without basic numeracy and literacy skills. Lost Opportunities.
How on earth do we expect them to fulfil their potential? To get the job they are worthy of? The home they seek? The lifestyle of their choice? Without the ability to read and write.
Recently, the London Evening Standard newspaper focused on a failing primary school in the Eastend of London, and after two years supporting volunteers going into the school and offering one-to-one mentoring, children are achieving again.
I know that is happening here, to a degree, thanks to organisations like Business in the Community. But we need it on an Industrial Scale. We need to be ambitious, and say we’ll eradicate illiteracy within five years.
There is a scheme we could import from the United States. It’s called Book Buddies. Primary school children spend time with older people, under controlled conditions, in Folds. The older people read and talk to the youngsters. The outcomes – which are measured – show literacy levels blossom among the youth, and medication intake among the older people drops, as they find a new sense of purpose in their lives. Win-win!
By the way, I sent the Book Buddies details to the Education Minister months ago. I still await a reply.
If we had responsibility for the Department of Education, we would look to imaginative solutions like Book Buddies to break the cycle of underachievement. And we would argue for funds from outwith the Education budget – including the £80 million Social Investment Fund, and Europe’s PEACE 4.
Secondly, no one takes a university degree, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education because they believe that after ten years in the classroom they’ll be millionaires! They do it because they believe in it. So let’s free them up from this increasingly high accountability, low trust environment.
Let teachers teach. Let children learn, not least about themselves – who they are and what they might become.
For too many, the Troubles have given rise to nothing but Lost Opportunities.
If we are to tackle the issue of Dealing with the Past, we have to accept there is much more to the challenge than truth and justice, important as that is. There are all those Lost Opportunities in education and employment, in health – physical and mental – in savings and pensions and – in short – quality of life.
The legacy of the past is everywhere, and emerges most poisonously in Sectarianism. If we’re going to deal with Sectarianism, we must build a Shared Future. That doesn’t mean everyone has to lose their identity. It does not mean you cannot wear your sportsteam’s top to the pub. It means changing the signs that read “No football jerseys” to “All team shirts are welcome.”
It’s about generating the sort of spirit of generosity shown by the Royal Black Institution in their recent statement. It’s the spirit of generosity Cardinal Sean Brady demonstrated when he spoke to some of us at Ulster Unionist Headquarters earlier this month, along with the leaders of the other main churches. The Cardinal chose the Queen and her visit to Dublin as an example of generous, open Leadership.
That leaves the narrower but important ground of
truth and justice. What we have yet to agree is what we are trying to achieve, and for whose benefit. Dealing with the Past in terms of
Currently, we examine specific incidents in forensic detail. We have Public Inquiries, a Police Ombudsman, the Historical Enquiries Team and Coroners Court. It adds up to an incomplete and imperfect set of processes. Worse, as the files that get opened are state files, and the witnesses that are called tend to be the state’s representatives, it’s deeply imbalanced and serves to re-write history, painting the state and its agents and officers as the villains.
I say NO to that.
That’s a red line for us. I say the Ulster Unionist Party has no problem saying thank you to the RUC and the UDR.
Whatever needed fixed in this country in 1968 or 1969, no one needed to die.
The legacy also leaves republican ex-prisoners at the heart of government, while their loyalist counterparts feel politics, and politicians like us, have left them behind.
I will help any ex-prisoner, and anyone associated with ex-prisoner groups, if they are genuine about using their commitment and energy positively for their community. I want the paramilitary groups to go away. And I want ex-Prisoner groups to go away too – to become groups, and I acknowledge this journey has begun.
But I question how healthy it is for someone to define themselves primarily as an ex-prisoner 18 years after the Ceasefires. I want them to tell me what they want to be, not what they were then. But I also hear what the ex-prisoners say about not being able to go away.
We the politicians made commitments in the Belfast Agreement that linger unfulfilled in 2012. I promise I will work to close that gap. And again, there’s a role for PEACE 4 funding. We must grow the capacity of our community to move on.
In conclusion, I am drawn to the words of Issac Newton – he of the fallen apple. He once said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Next weekend we all have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the giants of unionism. Do not waste that chance to revisit the thinking of 100 years ago that resonates today.
So, as I finish, do not applaud me, applaud the giants who offer us their shoulders. Craig, a 6 foot 7 inch colossus of efficient and effective government; and Carson, the leader.
Let me repeat his vision – the vision of a government at Stormont.
And this time, let me pitch it, as an invitation to the tens of thousands of pro-Union citizens who currently see no one or no Party to vote for. Because if this Vision is your vision, then together, we can change this government, change it for Carson’s vision of a Stormont that provides a GOOD government, a FAIR, government, an HONEST government … a government not for sections or factions, but a government for ALL.
That was his vision then. That is my vision today. And that is the Ulster Unionist vision, always.
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.