As we meet here today for our conference, once again there are many, many hundreds who are in mourning.
There is weeping in the homes and in the streets of Israel. There are empty chairs around many tables – mothers, fathers…children. The scourge of terrorism has inflicted its pain and horror once again.
Party Chairman, colleagues and friends, I know I speak for all of you when I say our hearts and prayers go out to all who have lost loved ones.
Sadly, we live in a world where human life is all too often treated as expendable – each life just another pawn in the violent politics of another. We live in a world where evil is celebrated on the streets, where terrorism and murder are glorified - where right is wrong.
To the terrorist, no action is unacceptable, no act too inhumane. They care nothing for established ethics of war. Their war crimes are to be disregarded and ignored, while they shout about THEIR rights to all who will listen.
To the terrorist, the only rights that matter are theirs.
Conference, we know this story all too well.…for the horror of terrorism visited on the people, the homes and the towns of this place. So many here bear the scars of the grubby, brutal terrorist campaigns of years gone by. There are empty chairs at TOO many tables across OUR province.
I know that loss is still mourned.
Conference - terrorism is always wrong. It was wrong then …and it is wrong today.
This party has always stood strong against the evils of terrorism. We continue to do so.
It is only by facing this down, by standing strong for what is right, by defending what is good that the battle will be won.
On this day, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of terrorism in Israel. We are not fence sitters, weak and watery like some on this issue.
Where the Alliance Party can’t make up their minds either way, we can be clear.
We stand with you Israel, ..in your pain …and in your right to protect your citizens.
It comes as no surprise to any of us to see representative after representative from Sinn Fein tweet out their support for Palestine on the very day of these appalling terrorist attacks. Some said that the masks slipped. Well, it didn’t need to slip very far.
Shameful …from the shameless.
The headlines will disappear –as we know, the pain and loss will endure. When the airwaves fall silent, when the world is not watching, it is what is done for those who have suffered such unimaginable loss that counts.
I have had the privilege and the responsibility of working on legacy for the DUP for almost 15 years now.In 2007, the DUP gave a commitment - We promised to put victims and survivors at the heart of what we do. We delivered significant improvements,
- More than tripling the funding available to support victims, survivors and groups
- Introducing a fully funded victims commission, and Commissioner Office
- Establishing a comprehensive needs assessment to identify need
- The creation of a Victims Forum
- The establishment of the Victims Service – distributing funding on a range of schemes
- Supporting a pension for severely disabled victims, importantly achieving criteria that excluded perpetrators and getting this passed through Westminster
Regardless of what has been achieved in the past, there is more yet to do.
Those who are bereaved deserve additional support. Payments made at the time were woefully inadequate. The loss and suffering of innocent victims must be acknowledged and addressed.
To that end, the DUP is actively engaging with the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors on potential proposals.
For 25 years, at the heart of legacy has been greatest hurt of all – justice denied to many thousands killed and injured by terrorism.
What started with the repugnant release of terrorists from prison has ended with the Government’s abhorrent amnesty. Too few have ever served a day behind bars, even for the most heinous of crimes.
Innocent victims have paid the highest price, a heavy price, yet they have been on the wrong end of compromise after compromise.
Conference, that is why we opposed the Government’s legacy legislation.
While it is right that the Government addressed the witch-hunt against those who served, this is not the way to achieve that end. To remove any real possibility of justice from the many, many innocent victims of terrorism through this legislation, is simply wrong. It is an affront to justice.
Make no mistake though Conference, the hypocrisy of others on this issue is indeed galling. Sinn Fein were happy with amnesty as long as it applied only to them and their erstwhile comrades.
They rejoiced in the early release of prisoners facilitated by the Belfast Agreement. They embraced the “on the run” letters, hiding their grubby backroom deal from sight.
The Irish Government has also displayed breathtaking arrogance.
It is fast out of the blocks to lambast the UK for its approach Yet victims are crying out for Dublin to investigate claims of Garda collusion.
Leo Varadkar might have one eye on the polls. However, any desire to seduce would-be Sinn Fein voters should not trump the moral duty to victims and survivors on both sides of the border. Victims must be valued more than votes.
Conference, it is time for vigilance - for we are witnessing the next stage of the campaign – that of lawfare, of narrative setting and the rewriting of history.
What we are seeing now are twisted, sleeked words to bend and spin the truth – to justify the terrorist and besmirch the name and record of those who stepped up and stepped forward through duty and honour.
We will not allow it to happen.
We will not allow those who did evil to write the narrative of our past. We will speak truth to their lies. We will defend the reputation of those who put their lives on the line in the defence of others.
No greater love hath any man or woman…, conference. While the terrorist hid in the shadows to do harm, the brave men and women of the security forces stood in the light to protect. They put themselves in the line of danger, not through compulsion, but because of their sense of duty and service.
Conference, we will always honour the proud record of those who served. We will remember their sacrifice.
It was this party that led the way on the battle for the Armed Forces Covenant to be recognised in Northern Ireland. It was the DUP that proposed and secured a Veterans Commissioner post for Northern Ireland. In our local councils,
our councillors have stepped up to serve as Veterans Champions - 10 of those 11 posts are held by councillors from THIS party.
Conference, let us take a moment to recognise the service of the Greenfinches. 50 years this year since their creation, we remember them with pride. We remember in particular the 4 women killed
- Eve Martin 1974
- Jean Liggett 1976
- Ann Hearst 1977
- Heather Kerrigan 1984
Conference it is their sacrifice that should shape Northern Ireland’s future, just as it has shaped our past. To each and every person who served with honour let us send a clear message – we are proud of you.
-Moving forward, we face a huge challenge. It is one that we will not shy away from.
It now falls on us to build the future of this place we love and call home. It is now our duty to find new solutions to old problems. To build a prosperous, thriving place for everyone throughout Northern Ireland.
That will require difficult decisions. It will demand new ideas.
The task of building for the future must be based on the lessons from the past, remembering the legacy by establishing shared principles.
- Of the value of human life
- Of what is right and decent
- Supporting aspiration to achieve, the right and ability to provide for your family and community
- to live life free from poverty, struggle, pain or the barriers that hold people back
It is each of us that will shape what is to come.
Our future is not that of crusty old republicans singing songs of war. Our future is not the drugs and criminals that drag communities down. Our future is not a struggle to get health care when you need it, the struggle to get the right support for your child or the struggle to buy a house.
Our future must work for everyone. Excellent public services, peace on our streets, thriving families and communities fulfilling aspirations within a strong Northern Ireland and United Kingdom. The power is in our hands to make this happen.
Conference, we are the party who believes most passionately in making Northern Ireland work.
It is right for us to fight for the best possible outcomes, for we want to build the strongest foundations. A house built on sand will not last. That is why we must get this right.
Together we can lay the firmest foundations for the next 100 years.
Together we can change the tide and build a stronger, brighter, fairer Northern Ireland.
Conference, together, with your support, we will succeed.