Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt accused his DUP counterpart Arlene Foster of ‘scaremongering’ as he addressed Saturday’s spring conference in Armagh.
In her conference speech last week, Mrs Foster urged voters to back the DUP as the only means of preventing Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister.
However, Mr Nesbitt dismissed those claims in his most outspoken attack yet on his unionist counterpart.
He accused the DUP of launching ‘Project Fear’ and ‘Project Scaremonger’ in a bid to combat the UUP.
Here is the full text of his speech at the Armagh City Hotel.
Thanks to Chair, Party Officers, Executive ….
I am not going to dwell on my achievements of the last four years, because I see in the audience an old friend whom I first met as a student binman in Newtownards, where we were taught by one of the regulars – the charge hand or Head Bin as we called him – the expression “self praise, no recommendation” …. Verbs were optional on the bins … profanity a bit more compulsory, but that’s another story!
But what we have achieved and are achieving is being driven by a collective will.
We want to be more professional as an organisation, and we are getting there. And that is thanks to the 24/7 efforts of people like John Moore and Colin McCusker. I thank all our staff – at Stormont, Headquarters and the European Office.
We want to be more coherent in what we have to say to the voting public, and we are getting there, winning over the fiercest of media critics.
We want to be more successful, and we are getting there.
The big test, of course, now just 54 days away.
But let us not rush ahead. The AGM is a time to reflect as well. And the major achievement is clear to all.
Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott becoming Members of Parliament, ending a short but hurtful exile for this great party from the green benches of Parliament.
Danny winning South Antrim for us.
Tom winning Fermanagh and South Tyrone for all unionism. Remember, colleagues, running Tom in Fermanagh was our plan. We may not be the biggest unionist party at the moment, but we are the party with the best ideas – and the most inclusive ideas – like offering all unionism the opportunity to coalesce around Tom, take on Sinn Féin, and deliver a rare, rare electoral defeat for Republicanism.
I will take to the grave the scenes at the Fermanagh count in Omagh, as Republicans grappled with the shock of loss.
I will also never forget Tom phoning me just before the result.
I want to share the conversation.
Tom phoned me in the wee small hours of the Friday morning. I had just left Danny celebrating his win at the Valley Leisure Centre and I was driving to Tom’s count in Omagh.
And I’m going to change one word.
Tom wanted to know if I was thinking of coming to the count and I said, yes, I’m on the motorway, on my way and I hope it’s going to be worth my while.
Oh I don’t know, says Tom, but I’m leading.
You’re leading! FLIP! I said. Any idea by now much, I asked – and remember the courts said Michelle Gildernew won by a single vote in 2010.
I’m ahead by about 500 says Tom.
500! That’s amazing! How many more boxes are there to open?
There’re all open, says Tom.
FLIPPITY FLIP! Says I. Tom Elliott, is that your way of telling me you are the next Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and south Tyrone?
Aye, I suppose.
Colleagues, your MPs, working for ALL their constituents and for ALL the people of Northern Ireland - Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan.
Tom was replaced as a MLA by Neil Somerville and I want to put on record my thanks to Neil for giving it a go at what turned out to be the worst possible time for him. I have no doubt in other circumstances he would have made a fine member of our Stormont team.
Alastair Patterson already has – as has Adrian Cochrane-Watson in South Antrim.
I thank them, I thank our entire MLA team and their personal staff.
I also wish all the very best to the three MLAs who are about to open a new chapter in their lives, as they stand down from the Northern Ireland Assembly. Colleagues, please join me in acknowledging Sam Gardiner, Leslie Cree and Michael McGimpsey.
So, the Assembly elections.
Last weekend, the DUP Leader fired the first shot of the 2016 Assembly Election campaign.
As I have said, I made the first suggestion last year. I proposed something that was positive – something that was good for all Unionism, not the Ulster Unionist Party.
It is on the record, my Conference speech of 2014. An appeal to the DUP to work together to do something significant ... and something magnificent. Win the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom back for Unionism. Give those people proper representation, not an abstentionist MP. Show unionists who think the political process is a one-way street that it isn’t, and there can be wins for unionism.
It took some effort, but we won that chance and we took it.
So, what big idea did the new DUP leader come up with last weekend? Something equally bold, positive and inclusive?
No. It was a verbal shot, and directed not at Sinn Féin, or Dublin, or any enemy of the Union.
It was aimed squarely at us.
And it was Project Fear ….. Project Scaremonger …. again. Vote for me, or you get Martin McGuinness as First Minister. Like he isn’t already.
The DUP – remind me – aren’t the DUP the party of Smash Sinn Fein?
Now, they are in bed together.
In 2016, is anybody really going to vote on the basis of who sleeps on the right side of the bed, or who sleeps on the left?
Or who has the better reading lamp?
Martin McGuinness nearly put the light out on Devolution last year over Welfare – from the position of Deputy First Minister.
So, is Project Fear and Scaremonger the best the DUP can come up with after nine years and two full mandates in charge?
The DUP are welcome to Project Scaremonger. I have no interest in encouraging people to vote out of fear.
I want us to promote Project Hope.
Vote for what you hope for on the 5th of May.
And you can certainly hope for better.
We will campaign as oppositions do, on two planks.
We will highlight the failures of those who have now led our devolved government for the last nine years and two full mandates. And we will offer our vision of how we will change things for the better, and that won’t be difficult because it would need a Herculean effort to do any worse.
Because the record is shameful.
OFMDFM – the DUP and Sinn Féin – promised
v They would spend £12 million on affordable, accessible childcare by March 2015. They only spent £4.6 million;
v They promised 5,000 jobs at the Maze through a £300 million investment. If it wasn’t for the RUAS, it would be an empty lot;
v They promised our brave emergency services the finest training facilities in the world outside Cookstown. It’s a green field.
v They promised to spend £80 million on poverty by March last year. They actually spent …. £1.5 million. And know what. On Wednesday, the First Minister and deputy First Minister confirmed to me that the £80 million will not be spent before financial year 2019/2020- five years – five years after they promised. For poverty. For the vulnerable. Five years late.
I have studied the latest Budget document closely. It admits we have a prosperity issue in Northern Ireland. Simply put, our people bumble along with about 75 to 80% of the individual wealth of our cousins in England, Scotland and Wales.
This also makes clear the gap was at its narrowest in 2007 – the year Sinn Féin and the DUP took control of government!
Someone will say “Ah but what about the world recession” And I say “Exactly!”. We have such a large public sector, we were better protected than any other nation of the United Kingdom, so the gap should have closed further during those dark days.
And so it goes, BUT if you are the DUP, that doesn’t matter. They think it’s worth voting for more of the same, otherwise …. They would have to clear out of the First Minister’s suite of offices at Stormont Castle.
If it was David Cameron who broke all those promises, he’d be out. If it was Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh, Carwyn Jones in Cardiff, Enda Kenny in Dublin, the electorate would reject them. They have in Enda Kenny’s case, and the Irish economy is growing at nearly 6% compared to our anaemic 1%!!
If it is not acceptable in England, or Scotland or Wales or the Republic, why is it tolerated in Northern Ireland?
Because of Project Fear.
There is nothing to fear except fear itself. The words of Franklyn D Roosevelt in 1933 …. 83 years ago. Yet fear still has currency in Northern Irish politics.
There is nothing to fear but more of the same – another five years of DUP/SF rule. Another long mandate marked by indecision and mutual veto.
This election, we must put it to the people, plain and simple.
You have a Choice.
Or more of the same.
I am for Change.
I am for Hope.
I am for Better.
Northern Ireland is not working properly.
That is what we know.
That is what we are hearing, on a daily basis, a consistent basis, and from all strata of society.
And that the problem is with the political leadership at Stormont.
Devolution is simply nowhere near as good as it gets.
You were promised:
Ø True peace
Ø Mutual trust and respect
Ø Better government than Direct Rule
You have been FAILED
I have a vision for a new Northern Ireland. In three words, my vision is to MAKE IT WORK
I hear non-Unionists say they want NI to work.
That is the opportunity.
A new partnership, of those committed to peace and dedicated to the hard work and leadership that will finally transform Northern Ireland into what it wants to be – one of the most attractive small countries on earth, a place people are proud to be born in, to live in, to invest in, to visit, and yes to move to and settle in.
MAKE IT WORK
We need a new Vision for Northern Ireland.
People have lost faith in the politicians leading our devolved government.
They are disillusioned, disgusted, disbelieving.
We need a new Era of Belief.
Belief in Stormont, its politicians and their motivation.
That is one reason why we will not automatically rejoin the Northern Ireland Executive after the 5th of May. We are not motivated by ministerial salaries, chauffeur-driven cars and the rest. This is not about getting our noses in the trough.
We will seek a strong mandate to enter the negotiations on the next Programme for Government that will follow the Elections and precede the formation of the next Executive.
And remember, doing the Programme for Government first was our idea – seeking broad agreement on the work programme before anyone knows exactly what role they will have in delivering it.
There will be up to two weeks of talks after the 5th of May, and at the end of that we have two tests.
Is it a progressive Programme for Government, capable of improving the lives of our people.
And Two, have we sensed a collective will to deliver it for once.
If the answer to either question is “No” we will form the Official Opposition.
Interestingly, I hear other parties starting to make similar noises about whether or not they will join the next Executive.
Our Vision for better is not based solely on the numbers. Yes, fewer Executive departments makes sense. Cutting the number of MLAs should also help effective and efficient government. But it is not the key. 18 MLAs can make as big a mess as 108.
The game changer is a change in attitude, which will transform what we have, which is a Bureaucracy, into a proper Democracy.
We need a cultural shift that puts the focus on outcomes and is mature enough to realise Stormont cannot and should not try to do everything.
Why, you may well ask, did devolution stop at Stormont?
In my vision, Stormont will stick to setting the vision. But the power to deliver will be devolved off the hill, through the councils, into communities and as near to the family unit as possible, because that is where you effect real change – in the family unit.
Surrendering power does not come easily to the current big parties of the Executive. But it’s the right thing to do for Northern Ireland.
We have a Vision, and it is here in this document. It is also online at uup.org
And we have policies.
I make no apology that the first to be published addresses our shocking levels of poor mental health and wellbeing.
This is a 15 point plan for helping those whose lives are blighted by mental health issues. People who woke this morning, as they did yesterday and will tomorrow, with no real sense of purpose in their lives. People who crave a more fulfilling existence.
We want a Mental Health Champion. Not an expensive Quango. A champion, paid for by the mental health charities and philanthropic donations, not a penny of public money involved. A truly independent Champion.
We want to do more for our Armed Forces and Veterans and their families. The Armed forces Covenant is an expression of the nation’s moral obligation to those who put on a uniform to defend our values. It is not acceptable that service personnel suffer disadvantage because they happen to be from, or are living in, this part of the United Kingdom.
We support the Knowledge Economy, and its unbelievable potential to put people first. You do not need a big machine, or a dry dock to make money anymore. You need to know things and that takes us into our schools, and the failure of successive Sinn Féin ministers to tackle underachievement. It is a political crime that the same children from the same areas leave school without the knowledge and skills that are essential to a fulfilling life in the 21st Century.
Between now and the election, I will repeat my call for an Army of Book Buddies, people like you and me prepared to give up just an hour or two a week to work one-on-one with children with literacy issues. It’s an internationally tested model, and it works. For the cost of a police check. £33 a head. We could have an army of 1,000 Book Buddies for £33,000, a sum of money that wouldn’t even register in the Department of Education’s budget, which currently sits at over 2.1 Billion pounds.
We offer a new Era of Belief where we restore pride and confidence in our public services. Particularly the NHS, the jewel in the crown of our statutory services.
An era of belief that we will no longer turn a blind eye to violence.
An era of belief that the Ulster Unionist Party will always take a stand and put the Country before petty party political advantage.
HOW WILL YOU KNOW
The next Programme for Government, we are told, will be about Outcomes.
Why were the last two Programmes for Government NOT about outcomes?
What else is there to “be about”?
Unless it’s self-interest. Power for power’s sake.
You will know how to judge an Ulster Unionist–led government.
I am happy you judge us by our ability to:
Ø Make decisions in a timely manner;
Ø Deliver positive changes that improve your life;
Ø Reintroduce Common Sense to the heart of government.
We will embed Wellbeing, asking you how you rate our delivery in terms of your:
Ø Life satisfaction;
Ø Self-reported health;
Ø Satisfaction with family life;
Ø Satisfaction with social life;
Ø Satisfaction with the devolved government.
This is about making our people Wealthier, Healthier and Happier.
They know. We do not need to ask.
I need to mention Europe.
When I was elected Leader, I was warned to stay away from two issues because they would split out Executive. Both were IN/OUTs. IN/OUT of government and IN/OUT of Europe.
In the last six months, the Executive voted unanimously to withdraw from the devolved government, and were one lone voice short of being unanimous in accepting the recommendation about the EU last Saturday.
That is the proof that this is a different party.
And this will be a different election from 2011, and 2007, and 2003. It will be different and better.
Better because we are healed.
We believe in ourselves again.
And we have new found credibility with the public.
And the belief and the credibility feed off each other in a virtuous circle, that gives us the electoral gold dust of Momentum.
We are the only one of the big five with Momentum.
We have the vision.
We have the Policies.
We have the Candidates.
When we debated the EU last Saturday at the Party Executive, I was very pleased with the quality of the debate. Councillor Alex Baird from Fermanagh quoted Shakespeare:
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.
That was actually the Spice Girls, but break it to him gently ……
I’ll tell you what I want. I want to introduce our Candidates, and I want you to show them that you support them.
We are showing huge changes in the candidates we are fielding in this year’s Assembly Elections. Compared to last time out in 2011, only 8, less than 25% are standing again. That means no fewer than 25 new candidates, including a totally new slate for Belfast.
There is a tide in the affairs of man, that taken at the flood, leads on to Fortune
Colleagues, the tide started to turn two years ago in the local government elections. It grew stronger last May with the Westminster Poll. There is every reason to think it will continue to build this May.
I ask you to support our candidates. I ask you to promote our candidates. I ask you to join me in thanking our candidates, because it is a lonely and very exposed place that we all are going to over the next 54 days.
And my last words are for the candidates themselves.
From this moment on, until 10pm on the 5th of May, FIGHT LIKE YOU’RE LOSING.
LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND.
If you do, I think we will leave very few of you behind on May 5.
So, I say to our candidates.
Let us meet again at 10 AM on Monday the 9th of May, in Room 277, Parliament Buildings, for the next planning meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party’s Assembly Grouping.
Get out there and turn the tide.