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Speech Newtownards Branch: Monday 14 April 2008

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Today is a significant milestone in the development of the DUP as a political Party.  Our political enemies had thought that when Dr Paisley stepped down the Party would fall apart.  However, today's events with the election of a Leader and a Deputy Leader (designate) now in place the future of the Party is now assured.

Dr Paisley is probably one of the world's best known politicians.  His experience, his commitment and his knowledge of how Ulster is thinking have served this Party well over past years.  But like all politicians and leaders in all types of activity there comes a time when it is right to step down; he has recognised now is the time to do so.

Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds are experienced, competent, dedicated and have know-how across the whole of the Party.  These skills will serve the Party well and no doubt as the coming days unfold we will see a change in leadership style.

Peter's skills as a strategist are second to none, he is a politician who thinks about the future, plans for the future, and detail means a lot to him; he bases his decisions not only on gut reaction but on a quantified analysis of any situation.  This is not to say that he will be slow in making decisions rather his decisions will be thought out before any policy is implemented.  I believe the future of this Party is bright and we cannot be defeated by our political enemies- only by division within our own ranks.  The DUP is looking to the future but what of out political opponents?

They have spent the past week gathering together the great and the good who signed up to the Belfast Agreement.  Did you ever see such a miserable bunch of failures?  Sitting in the Europa Hotel, slapping each other on the back, drinking champagne, feeding their faces, talking about a 10th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

Why did they organise a celebration?  Has nobody told them it sunk without a trace years ago?

The funeral of the Belfast Agreement has taken place.  Its failure was there for all to see, each time its structures collapsed.  And it collapsed every time PIRA violence and criminality occured- as it repeatedly did- during its lifetime.

It was declared democratically at the ballot box.  Its collapse was attended by the removal from high office of the UUP leader David Trimble.  Its finish was heralded by the UUP passing from the scene; from the leadership of unionism

I can understand some poor souls David McNarry, Reg (comb over) Empey, Monica McWilliams (remember her) might want to fool themselves into believing the Belfast Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement is the same thing.  Rubbish.

These pitiful and deluded cheerleaders of the 1998 Agreement, predictably, seek to perpetuate the myth that the Belfast Agreement is alive and kicking.

The Belfast Agreement was the product of Ulster Unionist incompetence.  Its provisions were greeted with horror and incredulity by unionists who saw it as facilitating the republican agenda.  In it the UUP agreed to the release of terrorist criminals and the destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which had served the community with distinction during thirty years of bloody violence.  It lamentably failed to nail down the issue of decommissioning and invited republicans into government while the IRA continued its terrorist activities and maintained its criminal empire.  The Belfast Agreement did not make even the least demands of republicians to support the police, the courts or the rule fo law and allowed government departments at Stormont and North South bodies to be run without accountability.

Such a wobbly, rickety and unsound system could never be from a unionist perspective, continued.

Ministers acting independently even against the wishes of the Assembly and other members of the Executive did not and could not offer good government.  Nationalist Ministers could follow their own political programme on North-South matters and unionists were unable to stop them.

You will remember the policy outlined by Sinn Fein's Danny Morrisn "the armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other" that is what the Belfast Agreement offered.  The Provo's were allowed to carry on while Sinn Fein was approved by the Ulster Unionists to follow its political aims in Stormont.

However, the whole thing transformed when the people of Ulster through the ballot box placed their confidence in the DUP to give leadership to the unionist community.  Republicians were not permitted the policy of the ballot box and the armalite.

Only an end to paramilitary and criminal activity would be enough for the DUP.

That process culminated in the negotiations in St Andrews.

The DUP set about the taking to bits the Belfast Agreement and switch it with a fair deal.

At St Andrews we:

  • Made North-South arrangements accountable.
  • We ensured that unionists would have hands on the reins so that no decisions could be taken in Government departments against the best wishes of unionism.
  • We have expanded the East-West axis to increase co-operation between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
  • We made it a legal obligation on all political parties to support the police and the courts.
  • We insisted on decomissioning and required a total end to IRA criminality. 

Today we can have normal helpful and businesslike relations with the Irish Republic based on practical co-operation, and demonstrated by Peter's announcement today where our constitutional posistion is accepted.

And let me say this, would any of you have believed that Sinn Fein would have signed up to a programme for Gvernment and a budget that has as it's ethos the economy of Northern Ireland.

You know that unionism is now in a different place, you will be aware of the confidence unionists have in their future, you have seen Sinn Fein calling for increased policing and you know they are facing challenges from their own supporters; even resignations.

The DUP has buried the Belfast Agreement.  We are delivering for the unionist people.

But what of the future; we cannot rest on our laurels:

  • The devolution of policing and justice
  • The attacks on Orange Halls and the parading issue are emotive and must be addressed.
  • Delivering on education is a hot topic.
  • Addressing waste in Government and restructuring of Government Departments.
  • Making NI successful- providing opportunities for our talented young people, addressing the brain drain, and ensuring adequate public sector housing and affordable housing- the bread and butter issues.
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