Friends, Fellow Delegates, Well here we are again.
As I have said many times over the years, the lack of trust that is so patently obvious between our political parties, and the fact that they all still think in terms of winners and losers, means that judgements are clouded, ideas are restricted on the way forward, and the prospect of any progress toward a sustainable and equitable settlement in Northern Ireland, and the building of confidence and sanity for all citizens, are at best a matter of hope at present.
The priority in all discussions appears to be the political party, NOT how the party can work for the good of all.
The time has come, I believe, for a bit of plain speaking and clear action, so that the people of Northern Ireland can finally witness their representatives working for the common good, in many instances, for the first time! The parties must seek to achieve a stable, durable and fully democratic governmental mechanism, and put their own selfish interests behind them.
The two governments have to act as clear persuaders to all the participants, including the anti-agreement camp, by making it abundantly obvious that any solution arrived at must be for the benefit of all, not just those who have private armies, or marching organisations which block our streets over 3,000 times a year. They must also leave no doubt in the parties’ minds that this time round it really is the last chance, it’s take it or leave it time for everybody.
Gerry Adams and his party have to accept that democracy without the armed threat is only way forward, and it is up to him and his colleagues to use their undoubted talents in that area to persuade the IRA that their arms are not only not needed or wanted but constitute a definite block to progress by their very existence.
In various statements, the IRA has committed itself to the peace process.
I say to the IRA here and now
Your words are fine but actions speak louder than words. Disarm NOW, not next week or next month.
Loyalist paramilitaries have their own problems, but the message is the same to them. Disarm NOW!
Stop telling the IRA what they should be doing and DO IT YOURSELVES!
Allow all of us to enjoy a life free of fear and intimidation, safety to go out at night, safety to lead our lives worrying about our finances and our families, and what sort of new car we should buy —NORMALITY!
A major issue at the moment is sanctions. The Unionists must accept that any sanctions put into the system are to deal with the transgressions of any party or any member, not as a tool for them to hit at Sinn Fein.
The UUP must realise that vetoes do no good to anyone. Their failure to attend the Implementation Group has NOT stopped the group operating in a very worthwhile manner, in areas including victims, exiles, community relations, to name a few, and the only people to lose out are the unionists themselves, and, of course, their electorate, but why should they worry about them-they have never bothered about the people before!
The SDLP are in a difficult position in spite of the genuine efforts of Mark Durkin to move things forward, but they really do need to keep their eye on the ball instead of concentrating their efforts on side issues.
At Hillsborough, for example, the SDLP spent 31/2 hours raking over Criminal Justice legislation, matters relevant to Westminster and not directly within the remit of Monday’s talks, rather than turning their attentions to more immediate topics on the table there and then!
The SDLP have produced similar ideas to our own on areas such as victims, and we look forward to working with them in such pursuits, but it really is urgent that they stop looking at a wide range of subjects in unionist/nationalist terms. At one time I was told by the then SDLP leader that I must be a nationalist as I am a Catholic from the Falls.
Such an approach can NOT lead to an equitable solution to our problems. A closed mind is equally closed whether it is in the majority or the minority, whether it is Protestant or Catholic, whether it is unionist or nationalist!
And then there are the two governments. No one can doubt their commitment, but, at times, their thoughts and actions are restricting and, on occasions, dangerously erroneous.
Various Secretaries of State have stamped their own style and attitudes on the situation, but none of them ever seems prepared for the negative reaction from one side when they do something for the other. Invariably all SoSs have adopted the false premise peddled by all the main, sectarian parties, namely that there are only two traditions so all will be well if they keep the big parties sweet.
I say this with particularly strong feelings at this moment in time, because we only succeeded in keeping in touch at Hillsborough earlier this week by adopting a particularly robust, almost aggressive, attitude to the two governments and their officials.
Only by being almost verbally violent were we listened to at all, and only then did we discover amendments that had been made to various papers without anyone else being told.
The situation got so bad that David actually received an apology from the PM during the course of a Round Table meeting of all the parties.
From this we, as a party, must learn to be robust, questioning and accept nothing at face value! Our record as a party, over the last 30 years, has earned us the right to be listened to, and our advice to be followed most of the time. Remember who produced Governing with Consent ten years before most of it was implemented in the Good Friday agreement and the Assembly?
Unfortunately, those parties with larger mandates use them like weapons of mass destruction rather than a series of individuals whose interests deserve to be put forward. Stability, equality, REAL PEACE should be the only guiding principle, not party political advantage!
Northern Ireland has wholesale problems in all sectors, Health, Education, Transport, Employment, etc. Pulling together, the NI Parties can solve many of these problems over time. We must have real partnership, involvement of all, fairness for all.
Northern Ireland needs an opening of minds, the development of tolerance and an attempt by all in the political field to go forward to the future rather than living in the past.
As has been said in the context of American politics, but I feel is singularly appropriate to our politics in Northern Ireland:
Politicians are people who, when they see a light at the end of the tunnel, get themselves another tunnel!
I beg to propose the motion.