Tom Elliott: I will work with others to benefit UUP and province
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott sets out his vision for unionism on the day he formally launches his party leadership campaign
In May 1998, the people of Northern Ireland voted for the Belfast Agreement. While not perfect it delivered the start of a working government relationship.
It delivered a deal that allowed the appointment process of First Minister, which would ensure that the senior position would go to a unionist as long as unionism was the largest designation in the Assembly.
What I do regret is what happened at St Andrews, where the DUP carved out a quiet, self-interested side-deal with Sinn Fein, which has changed the way the Northern Ireland Assembly elects its First Minister. The people who supported the Belfast Agreement have not had the opportunity to vote on that fundamental constitutional amendment, which opens the door to Sinn Fein nominating one of their own as First Minister.
I have already met with the Secretary of State on this matter and if elected as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, I commit to continuing to work with the United Kingdom Government to take us back to the position the people agreed, that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister command cross-community support. That is not sectarianism: that is democracy.
The Ulster Unionist Party has always been willing to co-operate with others, on the basis that it satisfies Ulster Unionist values and is for the good of Northern Ireland. I am willing to continue working with others, but only when of benefit to the UUP and this province.
I will insist fellow unionists respect the UUP voter, and that starts with a more inclusive attitude to Ulster Unionist ministers and their staff at the Executive. I have heard promises of greater co-operation but I have yet to witness delivery. If this doesn't happen, others cannot expect our co-operation and I will take whatever action necessary to protect the integrity of the UUP.
As someone who has served with the Ulster Defence and Royal Irish Regiments, I have some experience of threats to the Union. In 2010, Northern Ireland is under physical threat from so-called dissident republicans — some former PIRA terrorists — and the UK as a whole is on high alert against attack by international terror groups, some trained, encouraged and inspired by the Provisional IRA.
As if that was not enough, the Union is also under fire from Scottish and Welsh nationalists, English nationalists, and even Little Northern Ireland nationalists. In 2010, the Union is, above all else, an economic and social imperative. Who else but the UK Treasury can match our Block Grant, currently worth around £9bn per annum? What other state guarantees freedoms, rights and entitlements like our Mother of Parliaments? Where else can you access excellence in essential services like health and education without being regularly asked to pay at the point of delivery?
I live in Fermanagh, on the western geographic edge of the Union. My concerns are no different from people living in the eastern and northern border counties of the Republic, or from those in Northern Ireland east of the Bann. I want my children to avail of an education system that encourages them to discover what they are good at. I want young adults to build a life around a job they enjoy, a home they cherish and a lifestyle of their choice. I want older people to retire knowing they need never worry about fuel or financial poverty.
My vision is of creating the conditions where Northern Ireland is at peace with itself, where its people are comfortable in their own skin and our communal focus is on a prosperous future. The Ulster Unionist Party started and delivered that process. In 2010, I offer myself as a leader to finish the job.