“A Stronger Union”
Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA
Titanic Hotel, Belfast – 21 June 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen, my thanks to you all for coming tonight and to those who have made this evening possible.
I am delighted that the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP has been able to join us this evening and you are very welcome in this part of the United Kingdom and a man who is not currently unknown in media circles.
I believe it is important that Northern Ireland hears all voices on the issues that are set to affect us. Over the last number of months there has largely only been one viewpoint shared by some visiting MPs & MEPs to Northern Ireland.
But my Unionism, our unionism is:
About openness and the exchange of ideas & ideals.
It is about the right to challenge and the ability to be heard.
It is about the right to question and the expectation to be answered.
So I look forward to hearing from Dominic later this evening.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our theme for tonight is “A Stronger Union”, and that builds on my call for a New Unionism.
A Unionism that can be confident without being arrogant;
A Unionism that can be proud without being condescending;
A Unionism that can be embracing and mean it;
A Unionism that doesn’t rely solely on fear to win elections.
It has been heartening to see the revitalisation of Unionism in Great Britain and I have been vocal that I want Northern Ireland to play its part in this.
Unionism is not merely a rejection of a different constitutional arrangement.
It is the ultimate belief that the constitutional settlement we enjoy makes sense and holds values, ideas and commitments that can and will build an inclusive and strong society.
It is about a partnership that is enduring and allows us to draw on the diversity that Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales bring to economic and cultural success.
Pro-Union politics builds upon what works. It develops and steers progress. It imagines a future built around what we know and trust. It is big enough to challenge itself and evolve.
It is more than just an identity; it is a mutually dependent relationship.
Our wellbeing, welfare and wages depend on us being a strong and enduring nation with trade links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain helping us grow and prosper.
Those who invest here do so because we are part of the world’s fifth largest economy.
And that is all before we come to the National Health Service. Seventy years after its foundation, this system, built on fairness and equality, is envied the world over.
Any threat to the Union is to underestimate the core threat to this magnificent institution.
I believe it is up to each and every one of us who cherishes the Union to become more vocal not just in our support for it, but also in our reasons for supporting it.
We need champions and ultimately we need converts.
The reality is that Brexit has provided a challenge to Unionism as nationalists in both Northern Ireland and Scotland have identified it as being as good a chance as they going to get to achieve their ultimate aspiration.
At this time of uncertainty, it is important that those who are for the Union stand strong.
There are those who are agitating that a constitutional crisis is certain, or that pro-Union voters in their droves are suddenly willing to disregard the real benefits of being part of the UK.
I say to them simply – you are wrong!
The reality is that the pro-Union majority endures. But we should not be complacent and ignore the risks still posed.
I am concerned that just as there are those within nationalism who seek to exploit this situation for their own ends, there are Unionists who are so focused on our exit from the European Union that they have become blinkered to the challenges being created to the most important Union of all.
And there are those in Westminster so focused on brexit that Northern Ireland is seen as expendable.
This is the danger of relentlessly following ideology and not accounting for the realities.
While across this nation we may not always find ourselves together on the same page, we must always find a way that does not damage the greater good.
Whether Brexiteer or Remainer, the focus should now be on the solution.
I also want to see a return to devolution, for the devolved institutions offer a stability that can only serve to strengthen our union. But in their absence Northern Ireland still needs proper governance and if there are no other options then it should be direct rule.
One of the biggest strengths of the Union, like the Ulster Unionist Party, are our complex identities and values.
The ability to embrace your individual identity while enjoying equal citizenship of the United Kingdom.
These identities will be ever growing and changing because the United Kingdom provides a home where new ideas are able to be explored and new attitudes adopted.
This party has often faced criticism for being a broad church. But in many ways that reflects the true nature of Britishness.
I want this party to continue to uphold those values of inclusiveness and being broad-minded while ever upholding and valuing the importance of private conscience.
It is within the Union that we can build a society that is free from bias, free from prejudice and free from sectarianism, one that supports and promotes the advancement of all our people.
We have often undersold the benefits of the Union - we must become relentless and confident in articulating our message.
Because a stronger Union is to the benefit of everyone.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have chosen the Goliath Trust as our nominated charity for this evening. Education is very important to this Party and to me. I still hold the view that it would be revolutionary to see our education budget being spent on a single education system where all our children are educated together, as opposed to being split between the fragmented and divided system that we currently have.
I and my Party aspire to this as something that could bring real change when we would see money focused on the child rather than management structures.
So can I again thank you for attending this evening and ask Ray Hayden from the Goliath Trust to say a few words about their work.
I wish you an enjoyable evening.