Statement by the Rt. Hon. The Lord Trimble, Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Political developments here in Northern Ireland are bringing about the final stages of the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement we made at Stormont on Good Friday 1998.

That Agreement settles the constitutional issues that have dominated the whole of my political life in Northern Ireland, and settled them, moreover, on a basis entirely satisfactory to unionists, and clearly, equally satisfactory to other sections of the community.

The implementation of the Agreement is now being underwritten by those who were its, and my, bitterest enemies. This does not, however, detract in any way from my pleasure at the prospect.

I decided not to seek a new term in the Assembly. I did so in part because I felt that having successfully accomplished my life’s work in Northern Ireland, it was time to move on. I have always been interested in and wanted to be more involved in national politics. The House of Lords provides an excellent vantage point from which to observe, but I want to go further than mere observation.

Consequently I have decided to join the Conservatives.

I look forward to working with a resurgent, revitalised party and want to help them work through the challenges arising from devolution generally.

Devolution to the Assembly is desirable to give people here responsibility for local issues. It is necessary in order to provide the only possible locus where each section of society here can work together within an institution to which each will feel equally committed and which each can regard as truly “ours”.

But devolution is not sufficient. The major issues of politics, taxation, expenditure, the broad thrust of public police, defence and foreign affairs will be decided at Westminster.

I know from my experience in the Commons that a handful of opposition backbenchers rarely have enough influence. My move today will not change that. But my move draws attention to my view that the people of Northern Ireland will need to have more influence and can only really do so if they are more fully involved in the national politics of the United Kingdom. This would require a direct link to the major parties of the State, namely, in alphabetic order, the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats. For parties are the life blood of British Parliamentary democracy.

This would mean some form of realignment bringing all the national parties to compete for the votes of the people here. Part of that realignment could be the recreation of the historic relationship between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists. But as the experience of the Northern Ireland Conservatives has shown, realignment cannot be achieved by one party alone. We need Labour and Liberal Democrats to be equally involved. Consequently I have not tried to persuade individual Ulster Unionists who intend to remain active in Ulster politics to follow me as individuals. But I do want to persuade the Ulster Unionist Party, and others, to integrate themselves more fully into British politics.

I will no longer be campaigning in Northern Ireland for Ulster Unionists, but, having got through the Assembly election in good shape, I am confident for their future. I want to thank all those in Ulster Unionism for their help and friendship over the years, to assure them that I will continue to be committed to Ulster’s place within the Union and that I will never campaign against them.

Note to editors:
I discussed the relationship with national parties at length in speeches at Conservative conferences on 10 October 2001 and on 3 October 2006. Both speeches can be accessed at www.davidtrimble.org

(17 April 2007)


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