So how was it for UUP then?

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I have just attended the UUP AGM weekend.  This incorporated a pre-AGM dinner on the Friday Night, with the main event happening on the Saturday Morning.

The dinner was on Friday 26 March, and the AGM on 27 March, in the Conference centre at the Kings Hall Complex.
Me and Joan Elliott

I was almost not going to go, but practically at the last minute, and after chatting to Danny Kinahan, i decided to dander along to the dinner event.  I have to say, I was glad I went.  It really was a great night, with a lovely five course meal, a few songs from Ross Hussey and Danny Kennedy MLA (both Conservative and Unionist Candidates in the forthcoming General Election)  Some beautiful reels from two pipers (sorry can't remember where they were from) including Killaloe (a beautiful rousing tune normally associated with the Royal Irish).  I also got to catch up with a lot of good friends like Joan Elliott, a wonderful woman from Banbridge (who's daughter is the recently elected Craigavon Councillor Jo-Anne Dobson), Bill Manwaring, Roberta Dunlop, even got a chat with Burkes Corner.  Mike Nesbitt compered the evening.

As ever a social occasion would not be a social occasion without the inimitable Glyn Roberts, lobbyist supremo for NIIRTA.


Top Right across :- David Campbell UUP Chairman; Ross Hussey, West Tyrone Candidate; Pipers; 'Flash' Harry Hamilton belting out the likes of 'One Vision' (or should that be Fried Chicken?), 'We are the Champions', 'Breakthrough', 'I want to break free', and 'We will rock you'.  

The start of his set was a bit stilted - not his performance but the audience - a lot of people politely listened unsure how to react.  I could see some foot tapping, as people desperately wanted to get up and dance, but at the same time did not want to look like prats in front of the Party Leader!

But by the end of the night the floor was full of people having a great time.

The AGM itself was to the point, quick and well run.  A lot of great chats with friends, and making new friends, and sensing the mood of the UUP as the General Election approaches.

The general mood seemed to be very positive even with the lateness of choices for candidates, and South Antrim still to be confirmed.  A lot of the party faithful seemed to be looking forward to the fight ahead.

Most of the posts were filled unanimously.  The one piece of open competition was for Chairman, Tim Lemon was up against incumbent David Campbell, and though David won out it was a close one.  Tim looks to be a Chairman in the making.  Maybe next year, Tim.

General Election and Council Election candidates
Only time will tell now as to whether or not some of those same candidates will return to tnext year's UUP AGM as elected representatives.

Sir Reg speaks at the UUP AGM in Kings Hall Conference, Belfast

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Sir Reg speaking at the UUP AGM
The Ulster Unionist Party held is Annual General Meeting in the Conference Hall, Kings Hall Complex, Belfast, on Saturday 27 March 2010.

It was mostly just protocol and was over fairly quickly.  I will give a run down of the whole event (including dinner the night before and the actual conference itself). 

In the meantime I reproduce Sir Reg Empey's speech below for you to peruse and assess.

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Sir Reg Empey MLA, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party - 2010 AGM Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

It hardly seems a year since we last met in this hall. But what a year!

I don’t think that I have seen so many radical and defining events take place in such a short space of time before. You literally could not make it up!

But more of that later.

The one thing that has not changed since last year is the plight of the savers and investors in the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS).

I spoke about this at our annual conference in October and quoted the words of the Prime Minister when he asserted that no saver in the UK had suffered as a result of the banking crisis.

I said then and I say now, ‘this is not the case Prime Minister.’

The savers in PMS have endured another year of fear and anxiety.

This was exaggerated by the results of a recent case when the Administrator, acting under the directions of the courts, sought guidance on how he should disburse some funds that have accumulated over the last 18 months.

Headlines saying that lenders were getting ‘12p in the pound’ added to peoples’ anxiety, coupled with the decision that the so called ‘shareholders’ that is those with less than £20,000 of savings, would get nothing.

I know that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes, but time is now short with another possible court case coming up.

It has to be said that the work that all political parties have done on this issue has been a positive example of where working together is getting results.

The united front of all parties and the unanimous support of the Executive is, I believe, about to pay off.

Despite the dark days that are behind the PMS savers, I have never been more confident that we are closer to a positive outcome now than at any time since this crisis began. I think we are entering a crucial week, where London and Stormont will be required to play their respective parts to resolve this crisis.

We await developments with a sense of optimism.

European Elections 2009

Now back to the past year.

When we met here a year ago, we were preparing for the European elections and the first electoral test for our new relationship with the Conservative party.

It has been a year when we have confounded the pundits and our electoral opponents.

It was the year when what wasn’t meant to happen … happened.

You all know what the armchair commentators said.

You all know the jeers of our opponents.

We were meant to be finished.

Well, in June 2009 the people of Northern Ireland showed what they thought of all that.

In the European elections, Jim Nicholson ran a terrific, positive campaign.

And Jim Nicholson was the pro-Union candidate who topped the poll.

Jim, I know I speak for all of us here today when I say that your victory was well-deserved.

You have been an excellent ambassador for Northern Ireland in Europe.

On behalf of our Party, I thank you for your ongoing service to all the people of Northern Ireland.

From Brussels let’s move to Craigavon.

I welcome and congratulate Ulster Unionism’s newest local government representative, Councillor Jo-Anne Dobson.

Jo-Anne and her team ensured that our Party had its best ever local government election result.

During January, in some of the coldest weather we have had for decades, Ulster Unionist canvassed hard … and Ulster Unionist voters came out to vote for Jo-anne in impressive numbers.

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has been a good year for Ulster Unionism at the polls.


Scandals

And yet, 2009 had a bitter sweet quality to it.

For while our Party reasserted itself and its values …

Others were bringing politics into disrepute.

The expenses scandal in Westminster has resulted in politics and politicians being widely despised by the general public.

And who could blame them?

The recent allegations surrounding former Ministers have added to this sense of contempt.

The ‘cab for hire’ remark will haunt Stephen Byers until his dying day.

To see former senior cabinet Ministers is such circumstances was still shocking, even after the revelations of the expenses scandal.

When I was Enterprise Minister in 1999/2000, I had dealings with both Stephen Byers and Geoff Hoon.

They were helpful in securing orders for two vessels to be built at Harland and Wolff for the Ministry of Defence.

How sad to see them in such circumstances now.

Then there was our very own made-in-Northern Ireland scandal that went to the very heart of the DUP.

Utterly shameful.

This is not what politics is meant to be about.

It may sound old-fashioned, but I do not apologise for it.

Politics is meant to be about public service – not fleecing the public.

Nor is it meant to be about building family dynasties or gathering up public offices as if they were trophies.

Let me make this abundantly clear.

I expect – this great party expects – the very highest standards of conduct from our elected representatives.

Double-jobbing and kick-backs are not what this Party is about.

We are about public service – putting the people of Northern Ireland first.

During 2009 the Ulster Unionist Party fought and won the battle over double jobbing.

We set the pace, exposed the unjustifiable behaviour of those trying to be in two or three places at once, munching their way through £400 of food every month.

The announcement by the DUP this week of a reduction of double jobbing is due entirely to the campaign we have run with the Conservatives.

They knew the game was up, but, as on so many other occasions, Peter is still trying to hang on by his fingernails to multiple jobs.

While we have won the battle, the war on double jobbing is not yet over.

There can be no justification for trying to stay in Parliament, which is a full time job, and at the same time be First Minister and an MLA in Northern Ireland.

Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister, is leaving Parliament next month, and the Welsh First Minister is not an MP.

The simple message is, Peter, your time is up!

Decide what you want to be, an MP orFirst Minister.

There is no justification for being both if you believe what you say that Stormont is here to stay.

Restoring the dignity of Parliament

For unionists, in particular, there is a very serious aspect to the scandals of the past year.

It is the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom that has been trailed through the mud because of the actions of corrupt politicians.

Along with the monarchy, Parliament stands at the very core of the United Kingdom.

Alongside the monarchy, Parliament gives meaning to what it means to be British.

Cleaning up politics – reaffirming that politics is, first and foremost, about public service, may not sound very glamorous.

But, as unionists, it is vital to our future.

We must see the next government of the United Kingdom act to restore the dignity of the Mother of Parliaments.

Policing and Justice

On the subject of Parliament, one of the characteristics of parliamentary democracy is robust, free debate.

In parliamentary institutions, parties are meant to debate and challenge.

This is the difference between a parliament and a politburo.

It seems, however, that no-one told this to the DUP or Shaun Woodward before the debate on the devolution of policing and justice.

The DUP said they wouldn’t vote for it unless Ulster Unionism did likewise.

That didn’t quite work out the way the DUP intended it.

They did yet another u-turn.

At the beginning of the week, they couldn’t do it without us.

Then, quite suddenly, they could.

I think I have heard a phrase describe that approach.

What is that phrase? Roll-over unionists!

I do not normally engage in political knockabout.

I am more interested in getting us to a position where we can influence policy and deliver for our constituents.

But I have to say that the last year or so has shown that one DUP figure after another has made statements and drawn lines in the sand which only last a few weeks.

The most recent example was Lord Morrow who declared that ‘policing and justice will not be devolved in the lifetime of this Assembly!’

This same Lord Morrow is, I am led to believe, going to be the first chairman of the Assembly’s Justice Committee!

The serious point I am trying to make is that nobody knows any more what the DUP stands for.

During the early days of Ian Paisley it was clear. Then the big drive to annihilate this party.

Having got to the top of the greasy poll in 2007 Ian and his colleagues did the volte-face of the century.

Today their pledges have a very short shelf life indeed. They truly have become the Democratic U turn Party.

And then there was Shaun Woodward.

His words and actions in the run-up to the vote on policing and justice were shameful.

Mr. Woodward said this party was encouraging dissident republican terrorists by exercising our democratic rights in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This Party needs no lectures from anybody on what it means to stand up to terrorists.

Mr Woodward, look at the long list of our elected and ordinary members who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of this country!

I would have expected more from a Minister of the Crown.

UUP Policing and Justice stance

So, where are we now?

Well, the vote was taken.

The world didn’t fall apart.

Ulster Unionism expressed its principled view that it was unsafe and unwise to devolve policing and justice powers to a dysfunctional Executive.

We are, however, democrats.

Unlike others, we are not wreckers.

We respect the workings of parliamentary democracy.

Policing and justice powers will be devolved.

They are now part of the devolutionary settlement.

Our aim now is to ensure that law and order is provided for the people of Northern Ireland.

We have four issues we will continue to drive home:

Firstly, the May 2012 sunset clause agreed between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is like a sword hanging over the devolved institutions.

We need answers now to what happens after May 2012.

We can’t leave it until then, forcing another crisis onto the institutions.

Secondly, we need to be assured that with policing and justice powers devolved, the threat from dissident republicans will be firmly confronted.

Thirdly, we will watch like hawks to ensure that the independence of the judiciary and the operational independence of the Chief Constable are not compromised.

Finally, and I will put this as bluntly as I can – we do not believe that David Ford has any right or democratic entitlement to the position of Justice Minister.

He can never be anything else in that position other than a puppet of the DUP and Sinn Fein under the gerrymandered proposals they have put forward: he can only hold office by leapfrogging over the heads of others entitled to an additional position.

At the end of the day it is a matter for him.

But if his main claim to fame is a so called commitment to a shared future and being the conscience of the community for fairness and democracy, then I don’t see how his position is tenable.

Then there is the position of Sinn Fein in all of this.

They got what they wanted at Hillsborough.

Martin McGuinness said in his pre-conference broadcast that they forced the DUP to concede.

This week Sinn Fein was in Downing Street to pursue their agenda of unfinished business.

This will include aiming for a divisive Irish Language Act, an undemocratic Bill of Rights, more North Southery and of course, the ‘on the runs.’

It’s sad to say this, but from where I stand today, Martin McGuinness is the ‘daddy’ at Stormont Castle these days.


Unionist unity

Alongside policing and justice, another set of words has been doing the rounds recently – unionist unity.

I believe in unionist unity.

This Party believes in unionist unity.

I believe that where there is a unity of values and purpose, unionists can and should co-operate.

But let us remember that there was unionist unity until Ian Paisley formed the DUP in 1971.

From that time onwards, Ian Paisley and his colleagues divided not only unionist politics, but the Loyal Orders, various church congregations and indeed families.

Let me tell you what unionist unity is not.

It is not parroting the word ‘unity’ while every single day of every single week you attack this Party in the press – and that is what the DUP is doing.

It is not attacking David Cameron while at the same time cuddling up to Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalists – and that is what the DUP is doing.

Nor is it the rank hypocrisy of attacking this Party for our partnership with the Conservatives, while at the same time – behind closed doors – seeking the same relationship with the Conservatives – and that is what the DUP has done.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone & South Belfast

I want to address for a moment the situation in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast.

These two very different constituencies have on the surface little in common. One rural one urban.

The common denominator is that this party had the honour to represent both of these seats for many years, until Peter and his colleagues decided to intervene.

In 2001 the DUP deliberately, in my opinion, set out to deny us the seat while having no prospect of winning themselves.

They supported a spoiler independent unionist candidate who got nearly 6500 votes, resulting in the seat going to Sinn Fein by 57 votes.

The DUP support for that candidate remained even after he declared that he would prefer the Sinn Fein candidate to win rather than the Ulster unionist candidate, James Cooper.

I labour this point because people sometimes forget the facts.

South Belfast was a seat held by the Ulster Unionist party for many years, but was lost to unionism in 2005 because of the intervention of the DUP against our own Michael McGimpsey.

Where is all this going?

I think there is a way out of this.

The DUP say that they want to talk about doing some kind of a deal over these seats. They say they want to talk about unionist unity, whatever that may mean.

But folks, how can we take any of these overtures seriously when they are made through the media and have all the hallmarks of a political stunt?

The DUP have a golden opportunity to make a gesture that could instil confidence that they are serious about unionism working closer together.

I say to them that as they were responsible for these seats going to republicans and nationalists in the first place, then the honourable thing to do is to let us have the opportunity to win them back for Unionism.

If this is done perhaps we can take seriously the calls for unionist unity. As the DUP do not hold either of these seats and never have held them, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Think about it Peter!

Promoting the Union

The recent Belfast Telegraph opinion poll on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future showed what is now at stake.

Clearly, support for a united Ireland remains unconvincing.

Republicans have failed.

The consent principle – won by this Party – has put paid to their ambitions.

But unionism still has a job of work to do.

There is a constituency out there that wants to hear a convincing, persuasive, modern, inclusive case for the Union.

They don’t want to live in a sectarian carve-up.

They want a modern, inclusive Northern Ireland that is at ease with itself in the United Kingdom.

Making that progressive, inclusive case for the Union is the vocation of this Party.

I am fully aware that this will take time. Recovering from years of sectarian murder and destruction is not easy.

We still see renegade IRA elements that are out to kill and destroy.

But Ulster Unionists believe that the Union offers the best model to ensure a coherent and inclusive society to which all can aspire to succeed and prosper. This is happening already.

Northern Ireland is also safer from an economic point of view as a full part of one of the largest economies in the world.

While the Republic of Ireland did well during its ‘Celtic tiger’ days, we can all see what can happen when things go wrong.

Being part of a bigger and stronger economy provides greater safeguards and opportunities

The open and pluralist approach of the United Kingdom is I believe one of the reasons why, as the poll showed, many people from differing backgrounds, are prepared to support the Union.

It is our long term mission to translate that potential into positive support for the Union.

Ulster Unionist-Conservative partnership

And that is precisely what we will be offering voters over the next weeks in the General Election campaign.

With our Conservative colleagues, for the first time in generations, we will be offering a real, meaningful choice to the people of Northern Ireland.

The choice to be part of mainstream British politics.

The choice to take Northern Ireland from the window ledge of the Union … into the heart of the Union.

The choice to actually have a real say in forming the next Government of the United Kingdom.

Others, of course, take a different view.

We will go to the electorate with a vision of Northern Ireland at the heart of the Union.

What is the DUP’s vision?

Well, alongside their Scottish and Welsh nationalist allies, they want a hung parliament.

They want a weak Westminster government.

With the Scottish and Welsh separatists they want to hold the Union to ransom.

We all know that hung Parliaments don’t last. At the first opportunity they will be dissolved and a new mandate sought. The last thing the UK needs at present is a government that can’t govern.


People like Alex Salmond, who wants to destroy the Union, are hoping for a hung Parliament, as they are only interested in pursuing their narrow anti unionist agenda

The Ulster Unionist Party stands alongside David Cameron who has promised never to be neutral on the Union.

I think we can be pretty confident about that on the doorsteps, don’t you?



Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, our forebears who signed the Ulster Covenant bequeathed to us a grand heritage.

The Covenant proclaims “our cherished position of equal citizenship” in the Untied Kingdom.

That is what this Party stands for.

That is what our partnership with our Conservative colleagues expresses.

And that is the message we will be taking to the cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland in coming weeks.

Yes, this will be a tough general election campaign.

Yes, we know our opponents will fight dirty.

And, yes, by the time 6th May comes, a lot of us will have sore feet and hoarse throats.

But it is going to be worth it.

We have a vision of where we want Northern Ireland to be – at the heart of the Union.

We are offering the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to share in mainstream British politics.

That is our message.

Get it out there.

And let’s make sure that on 6th May Conservative and Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland take their place in the next government of the United Kingdom.

This is what it means to be at the heart of the Union.

Thank you.

Mephedrone: just because its legal does not mean it is safe

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As ever i was listening to Stephen (with a PH) Nolan on the radio driving in to work - the traffic is abysmal and it is tough getting there before 9.

I am a glutton for radio punishment, which is why i enjoy listening to the show - really gets the blood pumping for the rest of the day.

Yesterday, but most especially today, it almost did the reverse.  My blood ran cold and I really felt uncomfortable listening to interviews he did with mothers and siblings of young people who have been taking a drug compound called mephedrone.

I am a bloke.  Blokes don't get emotional.

I am married.  My wife puts up with me.

I am a dad.  I want to protect my kids

The Stephen Nolan show made me emotional over people i had never met, never heard off, and probably never will.  The interviews mad me irrationally worry about my kids, especially upon hearing that 6 year old kids were getting hooked on this legal high. They have yet to reach Primary School - but i still worry (I did point out it was irrational).  I don't want my wife or myself have to go through what the parents of those kids on this trashy drug went through.

A lot of politicians are on the ball with this one.  The issue was discussed by the Health Committee today in Stormont and the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, has called for it to be banned too.

Mephedrone it is currently not illegal to possess, but it is against the law to supply or advertise it for human consumption. Mephedrone can cause anxiety and paranoia (feelings of being persecuted), heart palpitations and fits or seizures. If snorted, it can lead to severe nosebleeds. Like many substances regular use can lead to the development of a compulsive habit.

Now from what I have been picking up from Facebook and Twitter is that Mephedrone is a compound drug, and if it were to be made illegal all the dealers would have to do would be to change the chemical make-up of the compound and it would be legal again.

I believe the drug has to be made illegal, as well as any close chemical compound.  Perhaps, Government, in conjunction with medical professionals and experts in this field, can immediately ban the present compound whilst putting together a strategy that will make it very difficult for unscrupulous dealers to continue selling a similar compound.

If you want to help I would suggest at least registering your concerns at the Number 10 e-petition and join the Facebook group.  Raise it with your local MP or MLAs, or Local Councillors.  There needs to be action taken and quickly.

Every cloud has a Sylvia lining.

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Standing her ground
I previously posted about Sylvia Hermon, and the difficulties of her standpoint, especially through her constant support of Labour, public sniping of the Conservative and Unionist link up, and the constant flip-flopping of will she or won't she stand for election.



What is really interesting is that it will be the first real, normal UK wide political election Northern Ireland has ever seen (At least within living memory). Does North Down want a Labour MP or a Conservative MP?

The DUP are in a bit of a quandry (maybe they are not and have their plans of action all drawn up).

It seems to be pretty plain they will not run a candidate. DUP MPs have been duly noted as getting on in a friendlier fashion with Sylvia recently. So what will they do?

The DUP have a number of options, including:

  1. They simply sit back and allow their North Down voters a free vote. This may allow them to hedge their bets without stepping on anyone's toes.
  2. 'Officially' or even 'unofficially' support Sylvia. This would be an attempt to give the UCUNF project a very bloody nose. A fair enough standpoint to take after the 'Thanks, but no thank's' talks on 'Unionist Unity'. Tactically? lovely revenge. Strategically? Maybe not the best idea.
  3. 'Offically' or even 'unofficially' support Ian Parsley. Maybe, but can't really see it happening. It would be a great lift for all in North Down, and the DUP could gain local Kudos from voters in the long term, especially in the Assembly elections next year. But politics can be fickle.

So.  North Down.  Any betting people out there??  What are the odds?


Prep me up..... Part two (updated)

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Capturing social media for campaigning
Well my goodness, a lot of activity has been generated around the issue of Prep Schools on the old interweb.


Both Bobballs (here and here) and Jeff Peel (here and here) have posted about the issues around Prep Schools. As I have myself (here).


Then what do i find?


I find grassroot activism by the parents of children who go to Prep Schools, or went to prep schools, or are just concerned about the issue who are using Facebook to voice their concerns


 Not only amongst themselves, but using it to engage with politicians, publicise information, and encourage further activism.  One proof that Northern Ireland has begun to haul itself out of the 'What's a computer?' age into the 'Arrrgh, this broadband is too slow' age is that an increasing number of our elected representatives now realise and engage with the online constituency.  A number of politicians, such as George Savage MLA and Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA, have fanned the Facebook page, and actually, wait for it......., posted on the page, reacted to feedback from the contributors and shared information.


Kudos, my elected representative friends, Kudos.


Jeff Peel has also reported that parents, concerned about the Department of Education’s plans to remove funding from prep schools, have created a campaign blog as well.


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UPDATE (25 Mar 10 17:45)
Down High Prep Parents Group have also gone all bloggy too.  


Great use of a free social media tool to keep a lot of people informed and up to date on issues as they develop. 
_______________________________________________________________________


It truly is amazing to see people so active in real politics and using the resources to hand to press the point, especially to politicians. A real example of engaged democracy indeed.


Go interweb. Yeah.

 

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