For the second year in a row, the Progressive Unionist Party’s conference wasn’t open to the media and despite some conversations with the party, an invitation was not extended.
Extracts from Dr John Kyle’s speech at Saturday’s conference in Antrim have, however, been released, detailing the deputy leader’s analysis of the way forward regarding Stormont structures and a culture of partnership.
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Nothing has changed but everything has changed. Another 12 months without Stormont but:
- The DUP are mired in controversy
- Welfare reform is now biting, and Universal Credit has begun to roll out; expect chaos
- Mary Lou McDonald has replaced Gerry Adams as SF President
- The Legacy Consultation has closed
- Brexit is imminent
At a critical time of historic change, the country is drifting like a boat towards turbulent rapids with no one at the helm, not even a Secretary of State.
How can we move forward?
1. Mandatory Coalition is not working. As advised in the GFA it needs to be reviewed and reformed. A minimum would be Voluntary Cross-Community Coalition, but the PUP in its paper Review and Reform (subject of Cllr Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston’s Soapbox piece in February) has set out a more radical but pragmatic proposal based on the PUP’s historic document Sharing Power, Sharing Responsibility, which advocates an adapted version of the committee-based structure which functions successfully at local government level.
2. The United Kingdom. We are proudly Unionist and proud of the United Kingdom, a remarkable and unique political construct. A partnership of nations that is greater than the sum of its parts; a hub of social, cultural, scientific and economic vibrancy; diverse and dynamic, its democratic foundations are rooted in history. We want to champion the benefits of being part of to such diverse, culturally rich and globally influential family.
3. We want to make the case again for Northern Ireland. The DUP have come to represent Northern Ireland to those outside, a party whose political lexicon mostly consists of the word NO. Yet this misrepresents the people of Northern Ireland, a people who are friendly, warm industrious, resilient, genuine, resourceful, welcoming, humorous, gifted, and creative, if at times also fractious and obdurate. We want to create a country of which people can be proud, where everyone plays their part and makes their contribution, Gael and Planter, Unionist and Nationalist and newcomer.
4. We want to create a culture that is positive and forward looking, that enables and empowers, that celebrates and honours people and their successes. A culture in which justice is front and centre – for example challenging an education system that creates elites and reinforces social divisions through an academic selection system that divides children into success and failures. A culture which supports working class communities, too long neglected and scapegoated, to overcome their social, economic and health deficits.
This vision of Northern Ireland values both Unionist and Nationalist, it can only be achieved through partnership. It addresses disadvantage and seeks to reduce inequality of opportunity. It recognises both rights and responsibilities. Alex Kane recently pointed out that the only threat to the Union is when a majority of people in NI don’t vote for it. We want to be doing everything in our power to broaden that majority and to achieve the reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust spoken of in the Good Friday Agreement.
Photo from 2016 conference.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.