#TUV2014 Conference – seeking sustainable, durable, democratic devolution

On Saturday TUV held our annual party conference in the Rosspark Hotel in Kells, just outside of Ballymena.

Members and supporters from across Northern Ireland descended on Kells making it our most well attended conference to date – something that has not gone unnoticed. Our delegates had the chance to peruse the exhibiters’ stalls and grab a cup of coffee before the main event.

I had a bit of a scene setter as my first Slugger post and the comments can loosely be summarised as this:

What need is there for TUV and what can they offer that other parties do not?

I believe the conference on Saturday set out to distinguish TUV from other parties, both unionist and nationalist, in terms of what TUV stand for, and how we can set out to achieve it.

Prior to the conference Jim Allister gave an interview to the News Letter  stating the obvious – that TUV needs to grow beyond him. That is no small feat for a party with a leader making such an impact because of the skills, expertise and convictions that he possesses, but it is the challenge and opportunity for those in TUV to address.

In our morning session we focused on policy. Our poll topper from Bannside, Cllr Timothy Gaston, spoke on the economy, issuing a warning about the call for Corporation tax powers:

“A cut to corporation tax will therefore result in a drastic reduction to the money Northern Ireland receives from Westminster which in turn will have serious consequences for public services in our Province.

The Silk Commission considered this very move for Wales: “…recommended in 2012 that corporation tax should not be devolved to Cardiff “as the costs would outweigh the benefits”.

Mr Chairman – Let me repeat that: the costs would outweigh the benefits.

The Welsh government shared this analysis telling the Commission that while the “devolution of corporation tax could offer the Welsh Government a powerful tool to promote economic development, this is a volatile tax which is strongly linked to the economic cycle. There would therefore be significant budgetary risks to Wales”.

When it comes to Sinn Fein their desire to cut fiscal ties to London trumps any professed concern for public sector workers – who would be hit by cuts to the block grant.

The UK should retain its unified taxation system. That is the natural Unionist position and it also makes sound fiscal sense for Northern Ireland.”

Cllr Donna Anderson - TUVBallymena Councillor Donna Anderson spoke on a range of health related issues, from the closure of the Dalriada MS Respite Unit to the ongoing ban on new admissions to residential care homes. Most moving though, was her personal experience of the Children’s Paediatric and Cardiac Service, and it’s exiting from Northern Ireland:

The question that has been put to TUV by the media and other parties is this: would you rather parents of children needing this service fly to mainland UK instead of driving to Dublin?

 Those asking that question need to wise up.

 Let me tell you my personal views:

The people asking this question have no idea what the reality is for parents living with this situation. The stress and pressure are colossal. Do they expect families to travel to another country where there is no family or friend support on hand to help or to have a shoulder to cry on? Those people do not have a clue.

TUV wants this essential service to remain in Northern Ireland – as it has been for decades.  That will give those families the support network which will be removed.

Health services should be local, accessible and professional. That is what I fight for my son to access. That is what I will fight for my constituents to access. That is what TUV will fight for at every level of government.”

 Comber Councillor Stephen Cooper tackled the Haass issues:

Contending with the past, to use the Haass team’s terminology, is undoubtedly a complex issue, fraught with overlapping issues which are hindered by the lack of transparency from paramilitary groupings who are unsurprisingly reluctant to divulge any incriminating evidence in relation to their respective organisation’s past deeds.  

It is imperative that we in TUV stand up for the numerous victims across not only NI, but right across the rest of the UK and mainland Europe.  

If we are to have enquiries, then let’s examine the organisation, and specifically, the leadership responsible for the majority of atrocities.  

Kingsmills, Darkley, La Mon, Bloody Friday, Narrow Water, Enniskillen, Droppin Well Inn, Ballygawley, Warrington, Shankill, all remain unresolved.” 

In his usual fashion Jim Allister touched on many issues in the course of his speech, the BBC headline reading “Stormont Executive Will Collapse”; Belfast Telegraph “Executive will implode and talks will fail..”; the Irish News went with “Irish government role in all-party talks angers TUV”; while the News Letter went with “The implosion of Stormont is now inevitable”.

I see the TUV message as positive – wanting to create fair government. I want TUV to be more proactive rather than reactive – we have much this year to celebrate. It is difficult to obtain the balance when your message is that due to the nature of the institutions that there cannot be sustainable, durable or good government – it is destined to fail at some stage.

Alex Kane addressed the party conference and challenged the party to outline its vision of Northern Ireland. In his News Letter opinion piece today he sums it up in the by-line – “They tell us what’s wrong, but how would Ukip and the TUV fix things?”

I agree with Alex that with criticism there needs to be an alternative that would provide a solution – and that is what TUV will need to articulate. To those who doubt that there is an alternative, listen to what Jim Allister says on coalition government:

“And if it needs the added protection of an attainable weighted majority on key issues, then TUV is open to discuss that.

“But mandatory coalition is out. Robbing the voters of the right to change their government is out. Denying even the basic right to an Opposition is out.”

TUV also welcomed David Hoey from the TaxPayers Alliance to speak at the conference on waste in government. TUV has been at the forefront of identifying waste in government, and again this was covered in the course of Jim Allister’s speech:

“We are facing the closure of hospitals and drug addiction units, while Stormont itself is a waste machine – £5m on spin doctors; £50,000 per week on wining and dining; £2m on special advisors  -over twice what is spent in Scotland and four times the cost of SpAds in Wales, over £150m during the Assembly term on the useless North/South bodies, £16.5m per year on 367 staff in OFMDFM – more than twice the staff of the Prime Minister- and with all that they still can’t con the public.”

Whatever your hang ups with the TUV, we are playing a role that is vital to the public – scrutinising, exposing, questioning and then doing our best to make the shoddy system that little bit more transparent and hopefully more accountable.

We are a party that believes in devolution, but that it needs to be on a democratic footing.  We are also a party that believes in small government, not big and wasteful as the NI Assembly has become.

Ultimately, it is your money and your government.

Richard is vice chairman of TUV; and an advisor to Jim Allister MLA.