Could I just begin by saying how glad am to be addressing the conference again this year and not standing at the back of the room?
Sometimes at conferences there is a temptation for parties to attack the press for failing to report their wonderful achievements in the year which has passed.
And sometimes a party has actually achieved things which cannot be ignored by the press or the electorate.
I don’t think anyone in this party believes that the SpAd Bill would have been possible without Ann but it is also true to say that if there was no TUV there would be no Ann’s Law.
There had been terror SpAds for 14 years without complaint and as Martin McGuinness, quite reasonably, observed: “What changed? I will tell you what changed. The TUV got a Member elected at the previous Assembly election.”
Yet there are some people who say TUV never has anything positive to contribute to politics. Oddly enough, though, many of those same people appear in this photo (Displays photo of MLAs at press conference following passage of Ann’s Law).
I read a few days ago a claim by the First Minister that under Sammy Wilson’s guidance the issue of terror SpAds would have come to a head anyway. Really?
Consider the following piece from the Irish News on 14th June 2011 – before the idea of Ann’s Law was ever floated:
“Three weeks on – and despite criticism from the DUP, SDLP and UUP at Sinn Fein’s move – the issue has not been debated nor have any motions been put down to deal with the hot political issue.
“Yesterday Jim Allister, TUV leader, was the first to elicit a formal response to the controversy from the Culture Minister through an Assembly question.
“The fact that only the leader of a fringe party is willing to pursue the issue sends out a message that the mainstream parties want the controversy to go away.
“Sinn Fein is determined to weather this political storm and keep Mary McArdle in place.
“It’s not a surprise – it is an approach that has been successful when difficulties around the previous Education and Regional Development Minister struck.
“But it is one that is made easier without any questioning or debate being pursued by any of the other main political parties.”
Conference, I am proud to be a member of a party which inflicted the first political defeat on Sinn Fein in 15 years.
What of the Maze shrine? The primary credit for stopping the project must go to those who were made victims by the occupants of the Maze. No argument was greater than theirs. But it was this party which consistently made the case against the Conflict Centre. I am happy also to pay tribute to the role of the UUP, UKIP and the Orange Order. This is a party which is willing and able to work with other Unionists for the benefit of society. Or, as some might put it, we are proud to be nutters!
On two of the biggest political issues of the year – Special Advisers and the Maze – this party set the agenda. And we continue to set the agenda. This very week when it came to the Road Racing Bill we saw how on Tuesday TUV was the only party with concerns about the rights of church goes and, suddenly, right at the deadline for amendments, a DUP amendment appeared.
Small wonder that our party leader was voted MLA of the year by The View. Coincidently, it naturally follows from that that he also has the best staff.
Fifteen years on from the Belfast Agreement growing numbers of Unionists are realizing that “the process” has an end point. With the tearing down of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall, attempts to re-write history so as to sanitise the terrorist and demonise the terrorised and Loyal Order parades being stopped which were never stopped before they know that the destination of the process is not somewhere they want to go.
Friends, Unionists might be told time and again that Sinn Fein are not what they once were. But regardless of those claims we see the reality.
We know how genuine Republicans are about a “shared future” when they call for the arrest of flag protestors but attack a conviction for murder as “vindictive, unnecessary and counterproductive”.
We see through the cant when Gerry Kelly leads a protest against an Orange march in North Belfast because it’s supposedly sectarian but addresses an IRA parade to commemorate bombers in the very village they intended to blow up.
We didn’t need a parade in Castlederg to know what Provos would do at the Maze.
The truth is, neither did others. It wasn’t fear of what Sinn Fein/IRA would do at the Maze that forced the U-Turn. It was the knowledge of what Unionists would do at the ballot box!
Conference, I’m glad that there is not just one Unionist party. If there was there would be no Ann’s Law. If there was there would have been no U-Turn on the Maze. If there was there would be no one to say that’s it’s both morally and politically wrong to share power with those who this party, and only this party, unashamedly calls what they are – terrorists.
Thank you very much.