Party Officers, Members, visitors, invited guests, and our press friends – welcome one and all to our party conference 2014, our seventh party conference.
This is the occasion when we reflect upon the year that has past and look ahead to that to come.
The past 12 months have been good to us.
It is appropriate to acknowledge those who have contributed to that: Jim, his staff (worth every penny the tax payer spends on them), our other elected representatives (I should mention our soon to retire grandees), and of course you, the membership (who have worked so hard during election time and outside that too.)
Our party continues to articulate a clear and consistent message.
In preparation for today I was looking back at what I had said at the opening to our first conference in 2008. It is no exaggeration to say that I could deliver that address almost word for word and it would not sound out of time. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp.
- Political stalemate
- Economic problems – in 2008 we were only heading into difficulties but were not out the other side as yet
- Weak Unionist leadership – in 2008 it was Ian Paisley and the emphasis was on fun. Now it’s Peter, certainly no stronger than Ian and whatever else Peter may be accused of it is definitely not being humorous.
- Republican concession train – or “equality agenda” as Gerry likes to call it.
It’s almost as if nothing has changed. And why is it so? It’s because of the system of government we have here.
There were times when I wondered at Jim’s insistence on repeatedly trotting out the mantra about the Belfast Agreement system of government – you know, you can’t vote a party out of government and you can’t have an opposition.
It seemed it didn’t matter what issue arose Jim’s response was always the same, it’s the way we’re governed. Parading – it’s mandatory coalition. Victims – it’s mandatory coalition. Flags – it’s mandatory. The weather – …
To my shame I confess there was at least one occasion I asked Jim to consider “de-emphasing” the need to change the system of government in favour of something else.
I have to say Jim was very gracious in his response – he ignored me. You know what, he was right to do so, I was wrong. He was right. And what’s more I believe the electorate are seeing it more and more clearly.
The system doesn’t deliver because it doesn’t work and it doesn’t work because it can’t. It’s like sitting in a vehicle with no engine wondering why it won’t take you up the hill.
What an excuse for a government we have?
Jim Allister is prohibited from speaking for a month, for what?
Nelson McCausland can mislead the Assembly, treat it with disrespect and distain in ministerial office and we await any accountability.
I’m almost lost for words, not because there isn’t material to work with but because there’s an overwhelming amount.
Let’s be topical. I have to mention MLA expenses.
I don’t know why I’m drawn toward that heating oil bill. You think if your heating expenses doubled you’d notice. If they tripled you’d be starting to suspect someone is syphoning off your fuel. If your bill rises sixteen fold before you notice you may not be parliamentary material.
Question – and a new ipad for the first correct answer.
Can you name the location in Northern Ireland which packs more electronic gadgetry than Silicon Valley?
And poor Arlene and Ian Jnr. It’s another flashback to 2008. The DUP and land and property deals all in the one sentence.
Why does it bring to mind descriptive phrases such as “gravy train”, or “snouts in the trough?”
Talking about metaphors I have to give Gregory a mention before I hand over to our President.
Yoghurt and curry aside, Gregory’s point about the Irish language is valid, but I’m a cynic and I can’t help but think that Gregory’s real motive is not so much making a point about Gaelic as diverting attention from a certain review process.
But it’s the toilet paper reference that really got my attention. Mr Campbell said he considered Sinn Fein’s wish list to be like toilet paper. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what Gregory is trying to say.
This would be very reassuring to unionists from this hardliner if it weren’t for what has happened and is currently happening in the real world. You could listen to Gregory and easily forget about the St Andrew’s Agreement and subsequent concessions made to Sinn Fein up till now, admittedly small matters, like for example, the devolution of policing and justice.
Please excuse me for this – the metaphor is Gregory’s not mine – Gregory and his colleagues have already consumed jumbo sized packs of toilet rolls and seem prepared to swallow more. It does shine new light upon the stomach problems Willie McCrea suffered from in the early days of power sharing.