We are here today to witness the birth of a new political party. A modern, inclusive party for the 21st century, focused on Northern Ireland, committed to the common good, and determined to build a better future for all of us.
Some of you may have wondered what took us so long.
Well, we have been doing a lot listening, and quite a bit of talking to each other.
We have been stopped in the streets by people who have wanted to shake our hand, others have shouted good luck as they rushed by, some wished us well quietly at the end of meeting.
We have been stunned by the strength of the reaction but one thing is clear, although people are very disillusioned by politics they are not disinterested. They are looking for something different.
This evening I have the opportunity to talk to people who have joined us in The MAC a venue we chose with some care. It symbolise the future, creative, inclusive and technology orientated.
Many people are watching this event live as we stream it to the Internet. By tomorrow our team of volunteers will have edited and posted the video on the web site for those that missed it. The tweets are live, facebook is live, even the websites are live. 21st century politics is all about engagement and technology gives us the opportunity to engage as never before.
And it is this process of engagement that has brought me to this point. The innovators from Farset labs, the 13,000 students from QUB who volunteer, the volunteers in met at Hillsborough, the scout leaders from Ballymacash, the entrepreneurs from Coleraine, a place called T13, the volunteers at the Special Olympics and of course the representative individual that Tina talked to earlier.
They represent the future for this country. They are passionate, engaged, and talented. They aspire to better. Speaking of which, I want to take this opportunity to thank John McCallister for his speech and his support. As some of you will know John managed to resign first, but he did so on an issue he cares passionately about. He did so knowing the risks. Not all politicians are the same. We need more politicians like John, people of courage, people of conviction, people of principle.
In fact we need a new political party full of people like John.
The old grey men of the 20th century parties will not agree. They rarely agree to anything. Some of them believe that politics in Northern Ireland can be reduced to Orange and Green, that we need only one Orange party and presumably only one Green party.
This is a return to the sterile sectarian politics of the 20th century. This is the failed politics of the past.
It denies you that most fundamental of rights in any democracy, choice.
Without choice there is no sanction on poor politicians, without choice there is no alternative to the government no matter how bad, without choice there is no opportunity for change and boy do you want change.
Our party will provide you with a choice, a viable, democratic alternative to the current incumbents. More importantly it will provide you with the opportunity to be that alternative.
Being an alternative does not mean we want to destroy the Assembly. It means we want the debates that affect our future taking place in the open, not behind closed doors. It means we want to hold the government to account and it means that one day we want to be the government, but not as some humiliated and irrelevant bit of window dressing.
And as for a shared future, unless there is genuine engagement on the way forward we cannot move forward.
In this society we tend to build too many walls and not enough bridges. We must not use the symbols of one culture to assault the culture of another.
I don’t need to wrap myself in a flag to tell me who I am, for I am confident in my identity. I am Northern Irish, an Ulsterman, British and Irish but I am more than that, I am an individual, a person, a human being and I reject the labels that others try to put on me. Our party does not put labels on people, for no two individuals are the same and there is one particular label I want to deal with.
Are we Unionist or Nationalist or other?
This is such a 20th Century question.
For most people the constitutional question is irrelevant, settled, accepted … and yet our political parties campaign as if this were in doubt. Some pretend to be for a United Ireland when they know this not what you want. Others pretend that the Union is under threat when it isn’t. Why do we let ourselves be bullied into talking about an issue that is settled?
We have made our position clear on the constitutional issue but for us it is not a question of OR but AND. We are all of the above. Your tradition whatever it is, is secure but you have the opportunity to part of something bigger, something better
The Political parties of 20th Century are simply unable to cope with the challenges of the 21st Century and retreat to the old sectarian arguments because it is the only thing they know.
Am I alone in thinking that the same people who were central to our troubled past are still holding centre stage with their old ideas.
Am I alone in thinking that I do not need a peace and reconciliation process because I didn’t kill anybody, or support anybody who did.
Am I alone in thinking that this small place of ours is full of people that can be different and can make a difference
Am I alone in thinking that there must be a better way, a better future, a better life for you and your children.
So how will we change things?
We need to stop thinking that we can’t change and start demanding that we do.
We don’t need the government to do this for us. We can do this for ourselves. We do not need to ask permission. We can organise ourselves. We are a political movement not just another party.
Parents need to start talking to their children about the future, not the past
Teachers need to encourage students towards the new creative and high tech industries and away from the traditional professionals.
Industry needs fund apprenticeships.
Universities and FE colleges need to advise not just respond to students and they must get in earlier.
And we all need to engage more in the political process.
Too many people have stopped voting. Too many people state that they are not political as if this were a virtue. Too many people vote without thinking
To all of these people I issue this challenge. Your country needs you. Each and every one of you. We need you to take an interest. We need you to encourage and support your neighbour, we need you get up of your backside and do something. We need you to volunteer.
Many of you have not been involved in politics before but you are here because you are interested. This is a grass roots movement. The media will be disappointed that I have no big names to announce, the truth is there are no big names, but even if there were. I don’t want them. I want fresh faces, fresh ideas, fresh politics. I want to replace fear of failure with the excitement of opportunity. I want to give our young people hope, I want to give our businesses opportunity and I want to give us all the freedom to vote for fresh politics regardless of who we voted for in the past.
This speech started about courage and the power of the individual. It will finish on the same note. Do we as individuals have the courage to change our community?
If you are prepared to settle for less continue voting the way you have been but
If you want a better economy, better schools, better hospitals, better community relations, better government. If you aspire to better,
If you believe in Northern Ireland,
If you reject sectarian labels of the past,
If you have the courage to take up the challenge to make Northern Ireland a better place, then our party is for you.
Ladies and gentlemen I announce the formation of a new modern inclusive political party for Northern Ireland in the 21st Century. NI21.