What I would say to the DUP
DUP leader Peter Robinson addresses his party's annual conference in Belfast tomorrow. We ask three leading political commentators to draft the keynote speech they think he should give to delegates
Published 20/11/2009 | 08:00
In three short years we will celebrate the centenary of the Ulster Covenant; the greatest expression of unionism in history.
Now is our time to reflect; to learn from history and seek inspiration to make the next hundred years prosperous and peaceful.
Dr Paisley's great hero and our great inspiration, Edward Carson, would be proud of where we are today.
Ulster is at peace. Its people well fed and cared for and the two traditions are at last finding the space to work together in mutual interest.
He would have been happy to see an ash tree planted beside him at Parliament Buildings. A symbol of the Gael in him and so many of us, nationalist and unionist; a reminder that whilst proudly British we are also deeply Irish.
It is time to express our unionism in modern ways. To look into our children's eyes and pledge they will live a life of opportunity, free from persecution or discrimination. Aware of history, but not prisoners of it; able to love their faith without having to hate another's. The moment has come to accept the cancer growing inside us all.
To acknowledge that peace does not mean reconciliation and that we all have many prejudices which we must bury before this region can truly thrive.
We must be careful not to destroy what we most want to defend; yet the longer we ignore sectarianism the weaker Northern Ireland becomes.
It was Carson who said "believe me, whatever way you settle the Irish question, there are only two ways to deal with Ulster. It is for statesmen to say which is the best and right one. She is not a part of the community which can be bought. She will not allow herself to be sold.
"You must therefore coerce her if you go on or you must in the long run - by showing that good government can come under the Home Rule Bill - try and win her over to the case of the rest of Ireland."
We are Irish too and the time has come to celebrate this. To look south and ask that we can be persuaded a new Ireland can work.
We will never give up our rights nor our identity. It is for our fellow countrymen, as Carson would have described our nationalist brothers and sisters, to convince us that all of us on this island are peoples worth uniting. It is for us to come to that discussion with open minds and a willingness to explore new relationships and opportunities for everyone on this isle we all call home.
There is also a job of work to be done here. We must build a Northern Ireland which is bigger then its two communities.
We must make our region a place of hope; a beacon to others who suffer in the din of war; a triumph of politics over prejudice; a place our children will want to lay roots and make their fortunes.
Conall McDevitt works in PR and is a former SDLP ministerial adviser
Before I begin setting out the DUP's vision for the Union and Ulster there is a vital issue that I must address directly - politicians' expenses. This issue cuts across all party boundaries but today the focus is our party. The DUP has always strived to be the party of ordinary working people. We know these people are angry. Thus on behalf of the DUP, I apologise to anyone we have let down.
However an apology is not enough. We will act. The DUP will support the full implementation of the Kelly report. Our party will adopt a transparency agenda on expenses. We will fulfil our pledge to phase out double-jobbing and seek to reduce the size of government.
I stand before you as the leader of the party with the most elected representatives of any of Northern Ireland's parties. Our party grew to this position by gaining the faith of pro-Union voters and we will keep that position by maintaining their faith.
Pro-Union voters are asking were they right to support us in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Myth-making has made people wonder where the DUP stands. Today we will leave them in no doubt where we stand.
People are hurting badly from the recession. The DUP understands the pain people are suffering. People are frustrated by the flaws of mandatory coalition.
The DUP shares the public's frustration. These problems were predictable. In fact the DUP predicted them and this is why we have consistently sought a voluntary coalition. Yet, as we work on these challenges, the future Northern Ireland we want to shape must be considered.
The DUP sought the mantle of leading unionism to transform Northern Ireland. Our vision was a stable, peaceful and fully democratic region. The St Andrews Agreement was the first significant step on that path, but it will not be the last. Today our vision remains unchanged but we set our sights on achieving this goalby 2021, the centenary of Northern Ireland's foundation.
The DUP will shape the Northern Ireland of 2021 through defending educational excellence, helping deprived communities regenerate and reducing government to enable the private sector to flourish.
It will seek to shape the Union by campaigning for a new constitutional settlement based on our cherished value of equal citizenship - a federal UK with a written constitution and Bill of Rights. To achieve this, the DUP will use all political means at its disposal, whether it is in negotiations at Stormont or the opportunities of a tight Westminster vote.
The UUP's strategy of clinging to Cameron's coat-tails will not deliver the change Ulster needs. We must shape our destiny - not hope others will do it. The TUV strategy of collapse and hope for something better will not deliver for the Union.
We must define our future not destroy it. So I ask pro-Union voters to keep the faith, vote for the DUP's 2021 agenda and together we will secure Northern Ireland's second century.
Fair deal is prominent DUP-supporting blogger, who regularly gives his views on websites such as Slugger O'Toole
It has been traditional at DUP conferences for speakers to recite sacred and profound texts. I'm going to break with tradition to quote one of comedian Harry Enfield's catchphrases - "calm down, calm down".
That is my message, not just to this party, but also to the political system and all the commentators.
Yes, things are tricky at Stormont at present. But we are going to work our way through them. Somebody has to do it - and I don't see anyone else rising to the challenge.
As for this party, let's disprove the allegation that we are looking over our shoulders at the TUV.
They have their own problems to worry about, not least in trying to sell the attractions of direct rule.
People haven't forgotten the days of Peter Hain. It's time for a reality check. For any unionist who claims to want devolution, power-sharing with north-south and east-west dimensions is the only show in town.
You can dream about going back to pre-1972 majority rule if you want, but you will have to wake up.
The time when a big-house unionist party ran the whole show was not always paradise on earth. The DUP was set up as a reaction against it.
Nor can we decide for nationalists who they want to represent them. That's their call. So let's take time to reflect. Think about where we are today as a society, the progress made and the many opportunities that lie before us.
There are tough challenges too. Life can be like that. Politics can certainly be like that. I'm big enough to admit that some mistakes have been made over the past year, for instance, how we handled the expenses issue.
We'll learn the lessons and move on. We'll also continue to review our approach to media relations. Being in a permanent state of war with newsrooms is not an ideal situation.
I'll end with another quote, this time from High School Musical: "We're all in this together." That could be a new motto, not just for this party, but for the Stormont administration we help lead.
My goal is a true partnership government that really works together, making a real difference to people's lives. I know we can do it. It has to be done. And this party will not shirk the challenge.
David Gordon is a Belfast Telegraph journalist and author of the House of Paisley (Gill and Macmillan)