Text of my speech at the Braid district demonstration in Broughshane on 12 July.
The past year has been a remarkable year in politics around the world and here in Ulster and across the United Kingdom we have had our share of surprises.
The Assembly election in March was a black day for Ulster and for the Union. There was a surge of votes for Sinn Fein in the Assembly election and the outcome was a shock to most unionists.
That was followed by the triumphalist gloating of Gerry Adams and his northern assistant Michelle O’Neill.
We were then faced with a Westminster election in June and republicanism threw everything it had at key seats such as North Belfast, their prime target, Foyle, another key target seat, and South Belfast.
We saw an army of Sinn Fein volunteers mobilised from both sides of the border and based on the reports from Londonderry there was also a significant level of electoral fraud.
However the unionist people responded and in June, while Sinn Fein retained that surge in support, there was a corresponding surge in the unionist vote in every part of Northern Ireland.
It was disappointing to see Tom Elliott lose out in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, although the result was closer that Sinn Fein would have wanted and that seat can be taken back.
However in our capital city unionism now holds three of the four seats. Sinn Fein retained West Belfast but their hopes were dashed in South Belfast and North Belfast, as were the hopes of Naomi Long in East Belfast. It was a good day for Ulster and for the Union.
This was the start of the unionist recovery and on this day especially we have a right to celebrate both the victory of King William III, Prince of Orange, at the Boyne in 1690 and the electoral success of unionism here in Ulster just a few weeks ago. However we cannot afford to be complacent.
After a decade of electoral decline, Irish nationalism and republicanism have reversed that decline but I suspect that Sinn Fein will find it hard to build their vote much further. When you have done almost everything, legal and illegal, there isn’t much left to do.
Unionism on the other hand has the potential to build the unionist vote even further. With a systematic campaign of voter registration and greater attention to postal and proxy votes, replicating what Sinn Fein do, but without the fraud, we can increase the unionist vote.
We need electoral registration but we also need organisation, communication and motivation and that should be a priority for the unionist family, including the Orange Institution. Many districts and lodges did valuable registration work in the days leading up to the Westminster election and they deserve credit for that but we must not rest on our laurels. There is more to be done to build for the future.
Meanwhile we face the demands of Sinn Fein for a muscular stand-alone Irish Language Act. That would be a recipe for disaster. It would empower Sinn Fein and advance their cultural war.
That cultural war goes back thirty years to a time when Sinn Fein stated that every Irish word was another bullet in the freedom struggle.
The cultural demands of Sinn Fein were then rewarded in 1985 in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Anglo-Irish Agreement said that the government would support the cultures of both traditions but in fact the only culture that was promoted was Irish Gaelic culture.
Many of us here today will remember protesting outside the Anglo-Irish secretariat at Maryfield but little did we know that inside the gates of Maryfield representatives of the Dublin government were pressing the Northern Ireland Office to make concessions to nationalist demands for the Gaelic language.
The situation was made worse by the Belfast Agreement, cobbled together by Tony Blair and his cronies, which ensured preferential treatment for Irish medium schools and Irish language broadcasting. Indeed the advances made by the Gaelic language movement are the outworking of that iniquitous agreement, an agreement which the Orange Institution opposed. Tony Blair has a lot to answer for!
Now we are confronted by Sinn Fein’s further demand for an Irish Language Act, a ‘muscular’ and ‘free-standing’ Irish Language Act.
The truth is that this is about much more than promoting a minority language. It is about building Gaelic strongholds in Northern Ireland. It is about building a Gaelic infrastructure to drive forward Sinn Fein’s Gaelic cultural agenda.
Furthermore, as one senior Sinn Fein politician said, they have to create jobs for Irish speakers to encourage more people to learn Irish.
An Irish Language Act is also about greening Northern Ireland to make it more like the Irish Republic and it is about demoralising unionists, by making them feel that they are strangers living in a foreign land, with Gaelic signage on street names, Gaelic signage on buses and trains, as has been proposed for Londonderry, Gaelic signage on government departments and institutions, and the Irish language embedded in every area of life.
They also want an Irish language commissioner to enforce it and for that commissioner to be backed up by the power of the courts.
An Irish Language Act would be very expensive but it would also be deeply divisive and damaging to Northern Ireland and that damage and division would be almost irreversible. Culture matters to republicans, therefore it has to matter to unionists as well.
We need a good cultural strategy, one that puts unionism on the front foot, rather than the back foot, and I believe that it is something we can achieve.
Just as Martin Luther stood against the errors of Rome, an anniversary we celebrate this year, and just as our forefathers won the day at the Boyne in 1690, so we today stand on the same ground of Reformed truth and on a platform of civil and religious liberty.
Sinn Fein often talk about human rights and about adopting a ‘human rights based approach’ to everything. We even saw their election posters with demands for human rights, respect and equality. However for Sinn Fein those words are simply weapons in their political arsenal. They have weaponised the concepts of human rights and equality just as they weaponised the Irish language.
Gerry Adams admitted that ‘equality’ was simply a ‘Trojan horse’ to break unionism and as regards ‘human rights’, Sinn Fein didn’t care much about the ‘right to life’ when the IRA was bombing and murdering.
They even get worked up when a Sinn Fein election poster is burned on a bonfire. Well whatever the rights or wrongs of posters on bonfires, they didn’t show the same level of concern when the IRA was burning people to death in terrorist firebomb attacks such as La Mon. The IRA were burning real people, not posters, and Sinn Fein continue to glorify those who carried out that terrorist campaign.
This is a good day, when we gather as a Protestant and unionist community across Ulster, to celebrate the Glorious Revolution and the victory at the Boyne over tyranny and arbitrary power.
We give thanks to God for His blessing on our land down through the years and in so many ways and we look today to Him who has been our help in ages past and who remains our hope for the years to come.