Ulster Unionist Party 'a party for all'

Published Saturday, 22 September 2012
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Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said the UUP is a party for "all faiths" when he addressed the party conference on Saturday.

Ulster Unionist Party 'a party for all'
Mike Nesbitt made his first party conference address. (© Pacemaker)

In his first party conference speech since being elected to lead the troubled UUP, Mr Nesbitt said he was committed to healing religious division - something he insisted was harming the region's economy, health, education and housing sector.

Speaking at the Titanic Centre, Mr Nesbitt told the conference that Northern Ireland must face the "inconvenient truth" that ending sectarianism will take a long time.

The Strangford Assembly member said while solving the issue of sectarianism and other major social problems would take time, he was determined to offer a road map on how to achieve it while delivering short term measures that would bring hope.

In a speech that also made pledges on economic recovery, job creation and educational reform, Mr Nesbitt invoked the words of party founder Edward Carson that government should not be about factions or sections but for everyone.

The Ulster Unionist Party is not a religious organisation. We are not just a Party for Protestants. We recognise that more people than ever before in Northern Ireland actively embrace the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom, which of course includes the freedom to practice your religious beliefs.

Mike Nesbitt

"It takes us right to the heart of one of the things I want to achieve in politics - the end of sectarianism," he said.

"Sectarianism has lasted longer than the Troubles. Think about that for a second.

"Sectarianism (is) still responsible for deaths and injuries. Sectarianism dictating the pace at which we move to a truly post-peace process situation. Sectarianism holding back the economy, health, housing and education."

Mr Nesbitt said he wanted to help build a future that is "peaceful, law-abiding, and fair".

But he added: "It is an inconvenient truth that it will take time to create a truly normal society, where everyone mixes, particularly in education, and housing."

Mr Nesbitt said the current Sinn Féin/Democratic Unionist administration at Stormont could be characterised as a government of "lost opportunities".

He was seeking to make a strong impact six months into his leadership and following recent controversies.

In 2011, the party suffered a series of election failures as the both the DUP and the Alliance Party gained at its expense.

A recent dispute with former Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Ken Maginnis over his comments on gay marriage eventually saw the veteran figure quit the Ulster Unionists, having been sanctioned for failing to adhere to party instructions on dealing with the media.

In his conference speech, Mr Nesbitt said he was setting the course for the next generation of Ulster Unionists.

I am appealing today to Protestants, to Catholics, to Jews and Muslims, to members of all faiths and none - men, women, urban, rural, Chinese, Indian, eastern European. This appeal is to everyone.

Mike Nesbitt

"It's what I want. For this party. For this country. And for everybody who lives here - everyone," he added.

Mr Nesbitt reiterated his view that a change was needed to the present mandatory coalition form of government and that there was a need for an official opposition, which his party would aim to create.

He outlined a need to reduce the number of MLAs and government departments without "taking a knife" to the number of civil service jobs.

In the wake of massive job cuts at FG Wilson, Mr Nesbitt also said while foreign investment was important, locally based small and medium sized businesses were the key to stimulating employment.

On the Stormont Executive's ongoing negotiations with the Treasury to win the right to set its own rate of corporation tax, Mr Nesbitt said the battle was not going well, but was not lost.

He suggested the Executive could be handed the responsibility to set the Small Profits Rate, formerly the Small Business Rate.

In regard to cutting deprivation levels, Mr Nesbitt promised to set income levels at which the state would allow no family to fall below.

He said tourist revenue could be boosted with the creation of a £5m a year fund to develop new air routes into Northern Ireland.

Mr Nesbitt also said in the context of the Scottish independence debate there was a need for Unionists to engage with Britain's generation of today, whose cultural make-up he said had much changed during recent decades.

The leader concluded by stressing that ending sectarianism meant building a shared future where individual identity remains.

"It does not mean you cannot wear your sports team's top to the pub," he said.

"It means changing the signs that read 'No football jerseys' to 'Team shirts welcome'."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
17 Comments
Des Gusted in Real World wrote (761 days ago):
Unionist political parties close links to the so called 'Loyal' Orders, which are blatantly anti-catholic in nature, make claims of wanting to represent 'All' seem rediculous!
Allen in Bangor wrote (761 days ago):
Ryan,sectarianism isn't something that lies dormant until the marching season nor is it something specific to either the OO or the Protestant community - it is prevalent throughout NI amongst both sides. On the subject of Catholics being "Irish Nationilists anyway" you have shown a very narrow view that is,ironically,shared by those from the other side of the wall.
Charles in lisbellaw wrote (762 days ago):
@Ryan in belfast, Your naivety is stunning!!, you assume that all catholics want to live in a united ireland. Are you from another planet?. What right minded sensible person wants to live in a bankrupt banana republic that holds a begging bowl to the EU and Great Britain for its very survival. The problem you will find ryan is its hard to eat a flag.
Big Joe in eire 32 wrote (762 days ago):
Sectarianism will disappear when young Protestant children are given a football for there first Christmas rather than a flute, drum or sash.
NIC in Belfast wrote (762 days ago):
Unfortunately only tow Parties exist in Northern Ireland. DUP and Sinn Fein SDLP,Alliance UUP gone but not forgotten they sort it all out . Ryan good pun a the end of your comment that get everyones backs up
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