The TUV conference attracted 300 or so members to the Hilton Templepatrick hotel today to hear party representatives and guest Kate Hoey MP. A small number of exhibitors had stalls in the foyer, including the local office of the European Commission whose pens seemed more popular than the institution.
Henry Reilly’s appearance under the TUV umbrella must signal the end to any electoral cooperation between the two minority unionist parties. Though his presence in the party at last creates a potential succession plan for leadership beyond Jim Allister. Other unionist parties hoping that the TUV will eventually wither on the vine may be disappointed to realise that the proportion of enthusiastic young people matches what I saw at recent UUP and DUP conferences.
There was no doubting members’ enthusiasm and fervour as they applauded, jeered and constantly heckled those talking from the podium. There’s an element of banter and pantomime familiar to all political events. Some snippets from the speeches today would not have been out of place on The Blame Game.
Listening to the rhetoric, some of what Jim Allister says makes good sense. His analysis on the lack of effectiveness of the Stormont institutions rings true. But why does the TUV message fail to garner more support? Tackling
wastage, mismanagement and hypocracy should be good for votes? The party is well organised, and from the look of the silent collection on the way out to lunch, well funded. So why does the TUV not do better at the polls? greed and squander
Is it the tone that hampers the message’s appear? Does the sharpness of the biting criticism and caricature of politicians from other parties – and the wholehearted audience reaction – jar with the evangelical framework that underlies the TUV’s principles? It goes beyond critique and steps into nastiness? Perhaps a few sermons on James 1:26 and James 3:10 would be useful on Sundays in November. Using an instrument “sharper than any two-edged sword” needs to be balanced with belittling other human beings?
Party chair Ivan McConnell began the public session of the eighth TUV conference by aiming his verbal blunderbuss at other parties. Peter Robinson, Mike Nesbitt and Martin McGuinness.
[Jim Allister] may not have the warmth of Peter. He may not have the unwavering convictions of Mike. Or the personal charisma of Mr Ford. Or the ecumenical vision of David hug-a-paramilitary McNarry as I like to call him … but [Jim’s] still our party leader and he still has my vote.
Henry Reilly received the first of many welcomes and rounds of applause during the five hour conference.
It would be churlish of me at this point not to say something nice about Peter … and I will … should anything come to mind … Peter couldn’t retire if there hadn’t been an agreement and there couldn’t be an agreement – certainly not such a poor one for unionism – if Peter hadn’t been in such a rush to stand down before he suffered the same fate that his predecessor had.
During an extended analogy about the Executive that imagined Peter Robinson driving Noddy’s Toy Town car with Martin McGuinness beside him, “Mr Ford” and “Colm Clint Eastwood” as back seat drivers, and Mike in the boot, Ivan McConnell misspoke and then corrected himself with an off colour remark:
Marty’s hanging himself. I should rephrase that. That was a Freudian slip there. Just wishful thinking on my part. Marty’s not hanging himself. He’s laughing loudly to himself …
Party president William Ross joined in the critique of unionist parties.
I find it rather sad to listen to those former members of the UUP who now sit as senior members of the DUP and attack us. They left the UUP because of betrayal of the principles we still espouse only to be let down by the DUP betraying those same principles. I do think, however of the story of the Medes and Persians taking over Babylon.
He criticised British Prime Ministers who “have as a primary duty the maintenance of the Queen’s Realm” but failed to keep their promises on the Constitution. The last PM in office “who gave his word to Unionism and kept it” was Jim Callaghan.
Quite simply Stormont doesn’t work because it can’t work and that has little to do with those elected to it. It’s because the whole concept and structure created by the Belfast Agreement is founded upon a false pretence. The latest agreement rests upon that same foundation. Therefore to those who laud it as a bright new dawn I say “sorry, no one really believes you”.
Ross said “thank you lad” to Sammy Morrison who had filled in for the missing National Anthem at the Stormont Remembrance Day event … an example of “the whole republican body politic constantly trying to erode the British identity of Northern Ireland”.
In a final section he compared NI policing with the French security force reaction to terrorism in Paris. An “endless succession of inquiries into the actions of the security forces combatting the IRA” blackens and blames security forces.
The French security forces and Government take a different approach. Those forces assaulted an occupied block of flats killing and capturing the terrorist gang within. A ferocious barrage of automatic fire was used. Will there be complains about the use of excessive force? Would the French government ever allow inquiries? No! There will not, for the French nation and government will live by the dictum of De Gaulle that “A nation which cannot defend itself is no nation”. Where is the major party in this nation who lives by that standard, especially dangerous world in which we live?
Four Assembly election candidates and councillors spoke about security, TUV’s vindication, economy, agriculture and health.
Stand your ground. Many of the heroes of Ulster history have demonstrated the necessity of that imperative. Next year we’ll mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. And if ever men from Ulster in face of the greatest possible adversity stood their ground, it was the men who battled at the Somme. We have much to be grateful for for those who stood their ground. And for those who don’t back down. Think of the men of the Covenant and their spirit which in spite of the odds was “we won’t back down”. And TUV won’t back down.
Stand your ground. What a contrast to the slipping and slithering of rollover unionism that last week renewed its vows in government with the IRA. It’s already been suggested that events since our last conference have validated and comprehensively vindicated the TUV analysis and our stand. Who was it that constantly challenged the convenient contention that the IRA decommissioning was complete? TUV. Who was it that derided the pretence that the IRA had disbanded? TUV Who was it dared to say the IRA Army Council was still there? TUV. Who was it that wasn’t afraid to talk about the continuing IRA criminality? TUV. And who was it that perpetuated the myth that all was well, that the IRA was gone, that the Army Council was a thing of the past? Those who all the time who were keeping them in government.
Remember the dishonest pretence over devolving policing and justice. Remember Jeffrey Donaldson coming out to tell us that we’ll not be agreeing to policing and justice so long as there’s an Army Council. Jeffrey reminds me of on of those pesky kids who was always in your class at school. And every time the teacher wanted something done: “Me Miss! Me Miss!” And Peter would say “Who will go out and say that the Maze shrine is a great thing?” “Me Peter! Me Peter!” “Who will go out and say the Maze shrine is a bad thing?” “Me Peter! Me Peter!” “Who will go out and say we’ll have no policing and justice as long as there’s an Army Council?” “Me Peter!” Now it turns out the TUV was right all along.
All that macho man Gregory Campbell [someone in audience heckles “Curry My Yoghurt”] could plaintively tell Nolan: “we can’t get them out”. Last year Gregory was worried about yoghurt. This year’s he’s swallowing murder.
Jim Allister’s voice dropped to a theatrical whisper as he noted Sinn Féin’s
tributes to Peter Robinson’s retirement.
They have much reason to be grateful to him. What a legacy for the man who once said that the only cabinet the IRA should be in should be one with brass handles. This is the man whose legacy is the IRA in government. But as Peter Robinson’s peerage inevitably follows, maybe as a title Lord Trimble-esque would be suitable. I see Martin McGuinness is going to take him fishing … better than shooting I suppose.
The Fresh Start was “a trade-off of climb downs”.
Sinn Féin climbed down on welfare, accept £385m when a year ago they had £564m. The DUP’s climb down … much more shameful. They climbed down on murder. But they tell us “Ah, but you don’t understand, we’ve got a strategy in place to deal with paramilitarism. They’ve going to have to sign up you know.”
Here’s the problem. Those they’re going to ask to sign up to deal with paramilitarism Sinn Féin say “Us? We haven’t got a paramilitary organisation so there’s nothing for us to do.”
Here’s the inherent flaw.
On the National Anthem:
This year we reaped what they sowed. What they did in electing a Sinn Féin speaker in Stormont. As that Speaker surgically removed the National Anthem as an integral part of Stormont’s remembrance service. Then he hadn’t reckoned with Sammy Morrison! Well done Sammy. And wasn’t it good to see that where the TUV leads, others follow. And unlike some we’ve no apology to make to an IRA commander for honouring Her Majesty at a remembrance service particularly recalling what the IRA did at Enniskillen. No apology whatsoever. And shame on those who grovel by apologising for the singing of the national Anthem.
Allister saw a challenge in A Fresh Start agreement to the SDLP.
Are they going to rise from the doormat and stand up for themselves and be a party that isn’t constantly stood [on] and have others wipe their feet on them in an Executive in which they are irrelevant?
The parties that spent 12 weeks in Stormont House. The SDLP, the Alliance – they wouldn’t really care, they were just glad to be there – and the Ulster Unionists. They knew no more about what was going on than I knew. They were kept wholly in the dark. And 45 minutes before the Executive approves it, they’re handed 67 pages and asked to dutifully agree. And I’m sure some of them will. But the SDLP need to stop being a doormat for Sinn Féin in this Executive if they ever want to assert themselves as a viable alternative.
The Ulster Unionists. Well, they did the right thing by getting out of the Executive. Think of it. The once mighty DUP outmanoeuvred by Mike Nesbitt. Could it be any more humiliating than that? But he did the right thing. I hope he sees it through. I hope it’s not just a ploy to get through the next election. And then if he can get two seats in the Executive he’ll be back in quicker than anyone. I hope that’s not the case.
This party – the authentic voice of opposition – doesn’t blow hot and cold. We stick to our course, and so we will. And one of the warning signs from the Ulster Unionists – though they’ve done the right thing in pulling out of this Executive – one of the warning signs is that in the same breath MR Nesbitt says that his vision is to get back to the 1998 vision of the Belfast Agreement. And what was the vision of the Belfast Agreement? It was no opposition, mandatory coalition. So if he’s taking himself out of the Executive and his vision is to reinstate the very thing that opposition is incompatible with, then it does leave you wondering about whether or not that particular policy has a sell by date.
The TUV leader sought “liberation”.
We want to see liberation at home and abroad. Liberation at home from the shackles of failed mandatory coalition. And liberation of our nation from the chains of the EU.
So long as mandatory coalition is in place there will be no democratic, functioning, workable, durable devolution. The only path to workable, durable devolution is the path of voluntary coalition where those after an election who can agree on what they’re going to do about health, about welfare, about education and who can together can command the requisite majority. They form the government. Those who can’t, they form the opposition. A real opposition not the neutered shadow of an opposition that the Fresh Start suggests.
He referred to the TUV’s leaflet “A path to making Stormont work” which outlines their vision of a voluntary opposition as “Plan A”, describing it as “our preferred option”.
But for slow learners who find it hard to face the reality that mandatory coalition has failed, will fail and will go on failing, we have a second plan. Until they come to that realisation. But since it patently hasn’t worked at Executive level you salvage from Stormont what has to a degree worked: the law making powers, the scrutiny powers.
You give the MLAs those functions and until you get to the point of being able to form a voluntary coalition then the Executive functions are exercised by British ministers. But they exercise them through the Assembly. Their laws going through the Assembly. Their ministers being scrutinised through the Assembly. And then when the penny finally drops that the way forward is voluntary coalition, you’ll let a local Executive be formed. That’s what we call Plan B in our document.
That is our positive vision as to how we liberate ourselves from this scandalous bind that you can’t vote a party out of government, you can’t change your government, you can’t even have an opposition.
Manufacturing was in crisis, epitomised by the end of Michelin and high exorbitant energy prices.
What does our hopeless, out of depth, DETI minister say? He says “don’t let anyone tell you that manufacturing in Northern Ireland is in a difficult place”. Eye on the ball instead of eye on the camera would suit some of our ministers better.
Yesterday we had that shameful slap in the face for Wrightbus and Northern Ireland manufacturing when another DUP minister proudly announced that a huge contract for a huge fleet of buses isn’t going to Ballymena, it’s going to Belgium. And then they wonder what’s wrong? Then of course they don’t see a problem.
And as for energy, this Executive has pursued this all-Ireland centric policy that has widened the gulf between our energy prices and the lower GB prices and aligned us bit by bit with the higher Republic’s prices. And meanwhile our vital Moyle interconnector lies only in half use, broken down, needing repairs. And meanwhile DETI prioritises the most expensive, highly subsidised electricity of all, that produced by wind.
Wind bags and wind farms are putting us out of business.
Money is tight yet this Executive prioritises benefits over jobs. This Executive prioritises keeping benefits recipients at the level to which they’ve become accustomed over adequately funding our health and our education. By creaming off £585m – not new money ladies and gentlemen, not a handout from Westminster – coming off our Block Grant, money that would otherwise be spent on your roads, on your health, on your education. DUP/Sinn Féin deal is throw it all at benefits.
Budgets are stretched but not so stretched it seems that Mervyn Storey wasn’t able to find the money to fund the Outburst Queer Arts Festival to stage an offensive and blasphemous play. Shame on him.
In Stormont “greed and squander were alive and well”. Jim Allister said he was “still being pretty generous” with his legislative proposal to only OFMdFM’s number of special advisors from eight to four and to link salaries to a Civil Service grade. When the bill came before the Assembly, he said “the DUP was half on strike”.
They couldn’t come in to debate autism. They couldn’t come in to debate waiting lists. They couldn’t come in to debate cancer. But you couldn’t have held them back to come in to come and vote down the bill – to protect their own. The shameful scandal of waste and squander protected by those who waste it. Think of it, hadn’t time to debate the scourge of cancer, the problem of our autistic community, but falling over themselves to get through the lobbies to vote down anything that would kerb the squander on special advisors.
The squander and the greed is evident at every level. Take the Emma Pengelly example. It speaks volumes about the DUP. This lady on £92,000 a year as a special advisor resigns so to speak on a Friday and on Monday she’s appointed as an MLA on £48,000 a year. But when she leaves her office as a special advisor she gets a golden handshake of £46,000, £30,000 of it tax free. And the next day so to speak she walks into another public post, that of an MLA. And she pockets the £46,000. And three weeks later without so much as having made a maiden speech as an MLA she’s a government minister on £80,000 a year. Does that not speak volumes of where that party has got itself on the basic issues of probity and right and wrong. It certainly does to me.
Think of the squander on hospitality, wining and dining. Stormont departments and their arms length bodies last year spent £1.8m on wining and dining. That is £35,000 a week. Twice what many a man is earning in a year … Your money … You’ve spent over £100,000 on coffee, scones, fruit platters for MLAs at committees as well as providing them with free mints in the chamber. And then the spin doctors. 160 spin doctors it takes to spin the good news of Stormont. I think 159 of them spend their time looking for the good news.
But they cost you £5m a year to try and convince you that their misgovernment is good for you. The joint first ministers have 454 staff More staff than Downing Street!
Then the photographers …
Stormont has spend £400,000 of your money on photographers so that you can admire their every move. [Someone heckled “Mervyn Storey”] The Minister for Photo Opportunities, yes. In the upcoming election this party will be making the greed and squander of Stormont an issue at the polls. I serve notice of that today.
The TUV leader promised “to lay out our positive vision of voluntary coalition and vibrant opposition as the path to durable devolution”. He said that the TUV “were the trailblazers for democratising Stormont”.
The TUV will ensure that on the fifth of May voters have that alternative and all who proclaim themselves unhappy with the failures of Stormont will have the chance to prove it for voting for the party of positive change.
But he was aware of the need to turn discontent into votes. There was an echo of an altar call as he drew his leader’s speech to a close:
The question I have for every single voter in Northern Ireland is “Are you happy with what you’ve got?” … And if anyone … honestly says I’m not happy with what I have at Stormont, then commit today to doing something about it by voting TUV. For you will be heard loudest and clearest and no one will misunderstand what you’re saying when you vote TUV. That is the vote that allows every concerned citizen to say “enough is enough”.
Last year Henry Reilly – and it’s great to have Henry in our ranks to strengthen our cause and I very much welcome him to our team and he won’t be the last – Last year Henry Reilly and I had £100,000 votes between us in the European election. I want to speak directly to each one of those hundred thousand voters. You voted for us because you respected and believed what we were saying. You knew we were right. We by your choice were your voice. I want to say to each one of those hundred thousand voters. You can guarantee that Stormont will never be the same again by voting net year for TUV again.
Give this party the chance. Give this party the mandate that that volume of votes speaks to. And I guarantee you Stormont will never be the same again. That’s the challenge. That’s the opportunity. Make sure none of us miss it. It needs to be done. It can be done.
After lunch [Ed – no fruit platters, and the only mints were provided by the hotel!] Labour MP Kate Hoey spoke about the case for leaving the European Union.
She characterised the opportunity of the UK leaving the EU as “emancipation” that would allow the UK to sell freely across world, including Europe. How dare the Republic of Ireland government tell “us” that peace in Northern Ireland is dependent on staying in the EU.
Cautioning against believing that the EU has kept Europe safe, Hoey said “it’s been kept safe by our membership of NATO”.
Ex UKIP and now TUV councillor Henry Reilly was introduced as having “found his true home” in the party. He proposed a vote of thanks to the guest speaker.
I speak with absolute sincerity when I say that I am humbled and honoured to be here among kin …
He spoke about the DUP’s divergent views of Europe:
Nigel Dodds – great man, you would think – he said when cosponsoring a Parliamentary motion that we should leave the EU: “the EU is an overbearing, anti-democratic superstructure that has intruded on almost every aspect of our lives”. Now you might say “brilliant stuff from the DUP”. A few miles away – you couldn’t make this up – Peter Robinson said “our new office in Brussels would ensure that Northern Ireland remains at the very heart of Brussels” and that “Brussels has been a loyal friend to Northern Ireland and a shoulder to lean on” and he even thanked the EU for the £20m for our conflict resolution centre at the Maze. One of my proudest moments was when I stood with Jim Allister and we beat that proposal.
Henry Reilly moved to “the UK Independence Party in Northern Ireland led by a man called David McNarry”.
David’s claiming to be the sole heir and successor to Euro-scepticism in Northern Ireland. (laughs) I actually done a wee bit of research on him. Just before David transferred over to UKIP after he left the UUP: “I repeat my party’s call for the creation of a dedicated Stormont committee on European Affairs to give a proper focus and to coordinate the province’s European funding and policies that would enable us to use Europe far more and become an active part of European policy formulation which would ultimately create an act of financial and policy support here for the Assembly”.
So here’s a man who now calls himself Euro-sceptic that wants to bypass Westminster, the properly constituted parliament of this country, and run in Brussels and do deals with Brussels’ bureaucrats. That’s not a Euro-sceptic. That’s a Euro-phile. I actually though maybe David had been out to Syria and been helping those moderate rebels e hear about and maybe he had had some sort of Damascus style conversion before he came over to us. That’s out with the jury.
He asked “where do [the Ulster Unionists] stand on anything now?”
Jim Nicholson has apparently gone so native that he speaks French a lot of the time. Apparently he was speaking to Mike Nesbitt recently and said [in a poor French accent] [“Mike Nesbitt get off the fence or your bottom will go sore”].
[Ed – unionist mocking of Irish now extended to other European languages? Maybe UU right to scrap some modern language courses?]
The hotel fire alarm and power problems disrupted TUV vice chair Richard Cairns’ closing speech about the Path to Making Stormont Work policy. Sammy Morrison reprised his November 11 role of starting off the National Anthem, to which one wag added “No Surrender” to the end.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.