Arlene Foster – 2016 Speech at DUP Spring Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, at the DUP Spring Conference held in March 2016.

Mr Chairman, I am absolutely delighted to be here in Limavady today as we move towards the start of the most important election campaign in years.

It is good to be back and see this beautiful constituency which has served these last 15 years as a pathfinder for DUP success.

And so it will be again this year. ​

This is an historic moment for this party and for this country. We are starting a campaign that will determine the direction of Northern Ireland for decades to come, shape our future and – importantly – determine who will be the First Minister to chart this course.

There can be no better place to start than in the constituency of my friend and colleague Gregory Campbell. For the first time in many years, Gregory will not be fighting the Assembly election but I am absolutely certain he will be with us each and every step of the way.

I am also delighted that former Ulster Unionist Councillor Raymond Farrell has travelled from Fermanagh to be with us today. I am even more delighted that Raymond is fully supporting the DUP election campaign in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Thank you Councillor Farrell, and we look forward to having your support in the weeks ahead.

We gather here today in Limavady on the cusp of a new era for this party and new opportunities for Northern Ireland.

I took on this job at an important moment in Northern Ireland’s history.

Our country has changed beyond all recognition from the society I grew up in not too many years ago. There is so much that has been achieved but there is still so much more to do.

We all know from the despicable attack on a prison officer in East Belfast yesterday that we must always be vigilant against those who would seek to take us back to the past.

But one thing is absolutely clear, no matter how hard they try, no matter what depths they stoop to, they will never ever win.

Northern Ireland has changed for the better. You don’t need me to tell you this you just need to watch the news or read the papers or look around in your own communities.

We have begun the long slow process of rebuilding from the lost decades of the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Twenty years ago who would have believed that Northern Ireland would become better known for golfers than guns? Who would have believed that our cities would be thronged by tour buses? Who would have believed that we could attract top businesses from across the globe to provide jobs for our young people and who would have believed we could attract world class sporting events to places people once feared to travel?

These changes did not come about easily or by accident but because we were prepared to take tough decisions.

Things are better and Northern Ireland is moving in the right direction, but we cannot be complacent. It took strong leadership to get us this far and it will take even stronger leadership to stay the course and see this journey through.

You will not believe it but I’m old enough to remember what it used to be like! But I am also young enough to see through the next phase of the transformation of our society.

I have seen the changes first hand. And I have spoken to others too.

When I was elected leader of this party last December, I made it my first priority to get out and listen to what people had to say. Since then I have continued to travelall across Northern Ireland to hear from the people who make this country so great.

Today, I want to talk to you about what the community has told me over the last ten weeks and to set our stall out for the election on the fifth of May.

I want to build on the strong foundations laid down by my predecessors Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson – Northern Ireland is much better off for their vision and strength of leadership.

The evening I was endorsed by our party executive andelected as party leader, I made it clear that while the fundamental values of the DUP would not change, I would want to make my own mark on this party.

Ten weeks on, that process of change and renewal continues.

I want to repay the faith that has been shown in me and do all in my power to help this Country and our peoplereach new heights.

As a mother, I understand the pressures and worries of families when it comes to relying on a strong health system, balancing the family budget, hoping there are real job opportunities.

As a politician, I am uniquely placed to help unite unionism and put an end to the decades of division we have seen.

But if we want to continue to lead the people of Northern Ireland, we must first make sure our own house is in order.

That’s why I want our party to set the standards in public life and not just to meet them. I want our members to know they are listened to and valued, and I want the public to get the best value from our political system.

If, in the months and years to come, that means taking difficult decisions to help restore confidence in the political system, I will take those decisions.

My plan for a stronger future for Northern Ireland comes from what I’ve heard, not just from party members but the wider community. It is their voice as much as mine that needs to be heard in the corridors of power, the Executive room and in the Assembly chamber. Before we can ask people to be on our side we must prove to them that we are on their side too.

In just six weeks I have travelled from Bessbrook to Ballymoney, Ballynahinch to Bushmills, Cookstown to Coleraine, Dungannon to Larne, from Omagh to Bangor, Limavady to Lisburn, Enniskillen to Portadown to Ballymena and to north, south, east and west Belfast – and all places in between.

I’ve been to party meetings and business breakfasts,visited schools and commercial premises and spoke to literally thousands of people.

I’ve been lucky to have met people in every walk of life right across Northern Ireland.

They are the bedrock of this country and why I have so much optimism for the future.

The welcome I have received everywhere I have gone has been truly humbling.

I started the tour to listen and to learn and finished more inspired and motivated than ever before.

Many of the people I met have very different experiences of life but almost all share the same Northern Ireland values. Those values are belief in hard work, belief in family, in helping our neighbours, compassion for those who are less well off, and pride in our country.

These are the values I was brought up with and have lived by all of my life.

I may be the leader of the DUP and now First Minister but my story is really no different than that of so many people across Northern Ireland.

Some of the most inspirational visits of all have been to primary schools to meet children who have been untouched by the Troubles and with boundless imagination for the future. Children who have not yet been sullied by the past or have grown tired of political stalemate.

What more can any of us ask than for the next generation to have a better chance and a better start in life than the last?

My vision for our future is simple.

I want to build a stronger Northern Ireland.

It’s easy to spout words –but it takes strong leadership to see it through.

When our election campaign starts I will set out my detailed plan for Northern Ireland. But today I want to set out my priorities for the next Assembly term.

They are shaped by what I have heard over the last six weeks but also by what I have known growing up in this community, all of my life.

As a politician I know that there are some legacy issues that will not be easily or quickly addressed, but as a mother I know that we have to get on and sort the everyday problems that face ourselves, our friends and our neighbours.

And what matters to people is not always what they are bombarded by on TV screens, on the radio or in the papers – it is what makes a difference to their everyday lives.

They care about the public services they receive. They know that more money isn’t always the answer to every problem but they also know it takes money to run our schools and our hospitals.

They care about the health service. My mother is over eighty years of age. I know how important it is to be able to see a doctor when you need to and to get treated within a reasonable time. People want to know that the NHS will be there when they need it.

They care about being able to get a decent job for themselves and their children, so they can grow up in Northern Ireland and not have to move elsewhere. They care about having enough left from the pay cheque tolook after their families and they want to see government spending money wisely before they are asked to pay more.

I know how much you want your children to have a good start in life and a fair chance from the education system. You want a good home and safe neighbourhoods in which to live and you want to see your local areas improved.

These are aspirations we all share and I want to see them delivered for everyone in Northern Ireland.

There is a renewed sense of pride in Northern Ireland – and not just from people from a traditional unionist background.

Despite all of the pain and the hurt, I feel a genuinedesire in the community to put the past behind us. People tell me they want a peace process that works but they want to make sure that it is fair and balanced.

They are prepared to move on from the past but they are not prepared to allow those who terrorised this country for over thirty years to rewrite it.

They are optimistic about the future, but frustrated that progress has been slow.

The Northern Ireland people are proud, they are strong and excited that we are on a new path.

And when I go to the United States next weekend yes it will be to tell them that political progress has been made. We are a great place to invest and create jobs because a lower rate of Corporation Tax is being introduced – but more than anything, it will be to tell them to come to Northern Ireland to meet our people and share in our strong future.

I want to lead a stronger Northern Ireland and continue on the path to make it a safer place for all of our people.

Today I want to set out the five key priorities which will be at the very heart of my plan for a stronger Northern Ireland.

Firstly, I want to continue creating more jobs and increase incomes.
In the last five years we have promoted over 40,000 jobs though foreign direct investment, business start ups and local support.
With the reduction of Corporation Tax to 12.5% from April 2018 I believe we can create tens of thousands ofjobs by 2020.

Secondly, I want to protect family budgets.
Due to the tough decisions taken by DUP Finance Ministers, Northern Ireland continues to have the lowest household taxes anywhere in the UK.
We pay half as much as people in England and around 60% of the average in Scotland. That means people living here get to keep more of their hard earned money than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
In this next Assembly term I want to continue protectinghousehold budgets, ensuring we don’t raise a penny more in household taxes than is needed.

Thirdly, I will prioritise spending on the health service.
I believe the single most important role for government in Northern Ireland is to provide the best possible health service for all of our people. That’s why our Health Ministers have employed 1200 more nurses and almost 300 more consultants. At the same time, we have tackled waste and saved £800m.
To build on this work will involve a significant cross party agreement on reform but will also require prioritising funding. That’s why in the next five years we will increase the health budget by at least £1 billion to employ more doctors and nurses and to reduce waiting times.

Fourthly, I want to raise standards in education for everyone.
We rightly take pride in the best of our education system,which produces better exam results than anywhere else in the UK. But we must make sure that every child is given a chance in life and the best possible education.
I want to build an education system which does not play favourites but is fair to every sector, every school and every child.

And fifthly I want to invest in infrastructure for the future.
That means building new schools, new roads and new hospitals so that Northern Ireland is prepared for the future.
I want to see real investment in local communities and neighbourhoods so that everyone can take pride in where they live and improve their quality of life.
I don’t pretend that government can solve all of our problems. In fact a government that tries to do too much will inevitably fall short: that is why I am clear about our priorities and our direction.

As I indicated earlier, when the election proper gets under way I will set out my detailed plan for the next five years. We will also launch a series of policy documents detailing how we will deliver on our ambitions.

But I need the strongest mandate to implement our plan to build a stronger, safer, more stable Northern Ireland.

That is why I am asking for the support of people from right across Northern Ireland, from people who have always loyally supported us and from people who are prepared to give us a chance.

I can’t promise the earth but I will promise to be as good as my word.

If I’m asked a simple question, I will give a simple answer. I will not change course to court popularity but will always remain resolute to ensure I do what I believe is best for Northern Ireland.

That may not always win me friends but I hope it will always win me respect.

It is on this basis that I will put myself forward to be returned as First Minister at the next election.

At the heart of this election is an important choice for the community.

108 MLAs will be elected but in reality the next first Minister will either be me or Martin McGuinness. Your vote will decide. It’s that simple.

We have come too far to now turn to the untried and untested. There is too much at risk.

This is a time for political leaders, who have stood the test of time.

It is the time for those who have made their name by having achievements of their own.

It is time for those who are rooted in the community and have withstood the political battles to come out stronger.

My record shows I can work with anyone in the best interests of Northern Ireland but make no mistake Martin McGuinness and I have very different visions of the future of this country.

I want to work with our national government to bring about a better future, not against it.

I want to make sure that we remember the past, not rewrite it.

And I want to make sure that we have a fair and balanced peace process, not one where some are more equal than others.

It is a choice between his vision of taking this Province out of the United Kingdom and my vision to strengthen the Union.

What Northern Ireland needs now, more than ever, is strong unionist leadership.

We need to move forward to a stronger future and not go back to the past.

We must not allow all that has been achieved to be set back.

Northern Ireland needs stability, not instability.

We need a party with a plan and not half a dozen with competing and conflicting visions for the future.

That is what the DUP under my leadership will offer on the fifth of May.

Division and instability would be disastrous for Northern Ireland and would put at risk everything that has been achieved.

I have more respect for those who stand their ground than those who blow with the wind and will seek to be all things to all men.

On Election Day the people of Northern Ireland will be faced with a simple choice.

I may not be on the ballot across the Province but a vote for our DUP candidates all across the country will return a unionist First Minister.

People who vote for the DUP in East Belfast or East Antrim are voting for me to be the First Minister every bit as much as people who are living in Enniskillen.

Northern Ireland needs strong leadership.

That’s why your success will give me the opportunity to deliver on my plan to strengthen Northern Ireland.

People seem to assume that this election is a foregone conclusion and that it has been decided even before a vote has been cast.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Politics in Northern Ireland is tough and brutal. This election campaign will be no different.

Make no mistake, this election is very close.

A swing of only two votes in every hundred from the DUP to Sinn Fein would see Martin McGuinness become the next First Minister.

Their real agenda in the May election is to shred and split unionist votes.

They didn’t make the breakthrough they wanted in the South and will do all they can to take Northern Ireland.

They will seek to capitalise on a new and untested leader of the SDLP and on the complacency of some unionists.

That would be bad for unionism and bad for Northern Ireland.

It would take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction and send out the wrong message at this crucial time.

For many, including myself, power sharing with Sinn Fein is difficult but it is a price worth paying to keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward.

But if you think it is difficult now just imagine what it would be like with a Sinn Fein First Minister and the Executive dominated by republicans.

That’s why we must stand our ground and fight for every vote.

And it’s not just to stop a Sinn Fein First Minister, I want the mandate to promote my positive agenda for the future.

But we can only deliver it if we get the support of the people at the ballot box.

The next two months will determine the fate and fortunes of this party and of this country for decades to come.

Every vote in every seat will matter.

The stakes could not be higher. Not a single vote has yet been cast. The outcome will be for the people of Northern Ireland alone to decide. We serve at their pleasure and only with their consent.

If motivation were needed just imagine what our forefathers a century ago fought for and endured.

Let ours be the generation that brought unionism back together and gave unionism new hope for the future.

Let ours be the generation that made 2016 the year the people of Northern Ireland made clear our place within the United Kingdom is settled for decades to come.

Last December, you did me the honour of electing me as leader. Today I am asking you to go out to fight for every vote and for every seat.

This party is the only party that can provide strong leadership for a better future.

A momentous choice faces the people of Northern Ireland.

To win this election we need your help.

We must remind people of the choice they face and take our plan to every city, every town and every villageacross the Province and up and down every lane way on the map and a few that are not!

When you meet them on the doorsteps tell them what is at stake on the fifth of May.

Remind them that their vote matters and their vote will determine if Martin McGuinness or myself wake up as First Minister on the sixth of May.

Tell them about our plan for the future of Northern Ireland.

Tell them how close this election really is.

And when you have done all of that, ask them for their precious vote on election day.

We need strong leadership if we are to build a stronger Northern Ireland that is a better and safer place to live.

I look forward to seeing you all on the campaign trail. Let us go out and make sure we can commemorate the sacrifice of 1916 and celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland with unionism still in the driving seat.

Thank you.

Arlene Foster – 2016 Speech on Becoming First Minister


Below is the text of the speech made by Arlene Foster in the Northern Ireland Assembly after she became First Minister. The speech was made on 11 January 2016.

Mr Speaker, it was with great humility, an enormous sense of responsibility and the imagination of endless potential for Northern Ireland that I affirmed the pledge of office and take up this post today.

I can think of no greater honour than to have the opportunity to serve my country and the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister.

I am truly humbled by the trust and confidence which has been placed in me and grateful for all those who have kept me in their prayers in recent days.

As a young girl growing up in rural Fermanagh, the most westerly constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom, in the days when we were plagued by terrorism and decisions affecting our fates and our futures were taken far away, I could not have dreamt that I would be in this position today.

Is it any wonder that in politics I believe that nothing is impossible.

But the real measure of success is not in obtaining the office but in how it enables me to help others realise their dreams, ambitions and aspirations.

For my part I want to make sure what is possible for me is possible for any young boy or girl growing up in Northern Ireland.

For so many reasons, this is an historic moment.

I take great pride in the fact that since Northern Ireland was created almost a century ago I am the first woman to hold such a post.

It was with even greater trepidation still that I learned I am also the youngest person to have assumed this post.

I hope that I can bring the perspectives that both these attributes have to the office.

Indeed, at this turning point in our country’s history, as we seek to address the challenges of the future, I believe the moment is right for the next generation to assume leadership.

The challenges that this generation face are very different to those that our forefathers did a century ago, but our fundamental values remain the same.

The challenges in just five years time will be different again.

Though I may be the youngest holder of this post I am not new to Ministerial office.

Mr Speaker, you will be aware that this is not the first time that I have taken this Pledge of Office but over the past eight years have done so as the Environment Minister, the Economy Minister and most recently as the Finance Minister.

I have learned much in all these roles that I will bring to my new office.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that both Dr Paisley and Peter Robinson gave me to serve the community in Ministerial office and the rich legacy that I am inheriting in this office.

That experience has prepared me for the challenges that will undoubtedly lie ahead.

Last autumn we published the Fresh Start Agreement; and today we make a new start with our eyes focussed firmly on the future.

But in looking to the future we will never forget the past.

I am conscious of those who have not lived to see this day.

Of course, I think particularly of my father who would have been so proud of what has been achieved.

I also think of all of those who served the community in the security forces during the dark days of the Troubles and those whose lives were cut all too short.

I make this promise: In all I do I will honour their memory.

We are all shaped by our history and our experience.

Many of us live with the scars, emotional and real that we have endured.

Far too often during my earlier years I saw the devastating effect that terrorism and violence had on our community.

We cannot allow the past to forever blight our future.

That’s why I want to make sure that we never ever go back to the bad old days.

I believe that the duty on me to make Northern Ireland work is all the greater for the sacrifice that they have made.

The reward and legacy of those who gave their lives defending the Country is a stable and secure Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

I also pay tribute to those who have served our community so well in positions of leadership over the last decades.

It is because of what they have done that we have the hope for the future that we do.

They have laid the foundations for the new Northern Ireland that we are seeking to build.

But at this moment in our country’s history it is time for a new generation to step forward.

To build on all that has been achieved and to move our country forward.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

That is our responsibility now… to create a better future than the past and one where we can live together in a society free of strife and conflict.

The challenges of our time are great, but they are different than in the past.

The challenges of our time are great, but the opportunities for the next generation are greater still.

The challenges of our time are great, but there are none that we cannot overcome.

With Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom secure, with devolution safeguarded, and with the economy growing again, we can have hope for the future.

Over the years people from this small corner of the world have done remarkable things.

We can do that again.

In my role as the economy Minister for seven years I travelled the world seeking to bring jobs and investment home.

In that time I am proud that we created more jobs from international investment than at any time in our past.

One thing made that easy. It was the quality of our young people.

When I travel across Northern Ireland I see people with abundant gifts and talents … sometimes held back by nothing but a lack of confidence and a poverty of ambition.

The only thing that they lack is belief.

I want to use this office to restore that belief and to give new hope.

I want to instil a new confidence in our people and a pride in our Province.

I want everyone to love this country with the same passion that I do.

Leadership has many facets and many responsibilities but there is no greater challenge than to motivate and to encourage and to inspire.
I want to bring hope to those who lack it and help to those who need it.

I want us to live in a more harmonious society where we seek accommodation with one another and not conflict.

Those in positions of responsibility in Government cannot do everything but we can act as an example to others.

If only we believe in ourselves all things are possible.

Mr Speaker, I make no apology for being a unionist but my role as First Minister calls on me to serve the whole community.

I see that not just as a legal duty but a moral imperative.

I want the same opportunities for every child in Northern Ireland as for my own.

I want no section or part of the community in Northern Ireland to be isolated, marginalised or left behind whatever their background or way of life. That was Edward Carson’s vision of the Union and it is mine too.

The best way to safeguard our history and culture and traditions is to make sure that we create a society in which everyone can have a say and play a part.

That is why it is no coincidence that support for our constitutional position has never been stronger.

I believe in Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland. I believe we are a special people.

People ask me what I want to do in office and what I want to achieve.
My answer is simple. Like every mother, I am a practical person.

Above all else, I want to look to the future and I want to get things done, I want to make Northern Ireland a better place and I want to strengthen our United Kingdom, I want to give our young people the future that has been denied to so many for so long.

I want Northern Ireland to be a beacon to the world of how, by working together with political opponents and old enemies we can create a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.

I want to do all of that not in spite of my own past but because of it.

I will work with anyone who can share that ambition of hope and will oppose anyone who would deny our people the future that they deserve.

The people we represent deserve no less.

I’m tired of Stormont being a watchword for arguing and bickering. That’s not why our people elected us. They did so to provide a better future for us all.

I will do all I can to change the political culture of this place but I can’t change that alone. We can only do it by working together.

I know from experience it won’t be easy. Real change never is.
But I ask today that we find a new way of doing business, one that places a greater premium on consensus than on conflict.

Mr Speaker, it is with great honour that today I accept the nomination to become First Minister.

It is truly humbling that the girl who was raised and reared in Fermanagh has been given the opportunity to lead the country and the people she loves so much.

Today is a new chapter in Northern Ireland’s story but when the history of this time comes to be written let it be said of all of us that we fought the good fight, we finished the race and we have kept the faith.

Thank you.

Arlene Foster – 2015 Speech Following her Election


Below is the text of the speech made by Arlene Foster, marking her unanimous election as the Leader of the DUP, on 17 December 2015.

The very first thing I want to say is thank you.

Thank you for the confidence you have shown in me, thank you for the opportunity you have given me and thank you for entrusting the leadership of this party to me.

It is an enormous honour and an even greater responsibility to take up this role.

It is truly humbling to follow in the footsteps of political giants like Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson.

For much of the last forty years this party toiled in the political wilderness but today we stand tall as the largest unionist party and the party of Northern Ireland.

That is down to the hard work and efforts of those who have gone before me.

And as a result of that labour this role is not just as leader of the DUP but the leader of unionism.

I want to build on the firm foundations that have been laid and take this party from strength to strength.

It is not a word of exaggeration to say that none of this would have been possible but for the work of Peter.

There will be other opportunities to make our tributes and to place on the public record our appreciation but I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying just a few words.

We all know and history will undoubtedly record the role that Peter has played in building this party and building this Province.

He was never stronger than when times were tough and never better than when there was a political crisis.

Put simply we would not have government at Stormont today if it were not for Peter Robinson.

We owe him a debt of gratitude that words cannot adequately express.

He was instrumental in bringing me and others like me into the DUP and in consolidating our political dominance.

Little did I think that when I joined this party eleven years ago that I would be standing here today.

From the very first day I was welcomed with open arms and made feel at home.

It is the strength of this party that we welcome all those who share our values and our vision.

That is why we grow and that is why we succeed.

In this room we all know that there is not an old DUP and a new DUP, there is only one Democratic Unionist Party and for as long as I am leader that will always be the case.

Tonight you do me the great honour of electing me as your leader.  From tomorrow it will be my job to repay the faith you have shown in me.

The style of leadership may change but the fundamental values of this party will not.

I want to take our cause and our case to every part of the Province.

I want to make the case for the Union to every class and creed.

I want us to help make the lives of our people better.

I want us to make Northern Ireland a more harmonious society.

And I want us to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our people.

None of this I can do alone but only with the support of you all.  I know in the times to come I will rely on your trust, your support and your counsel.

We are starting a new phase of our journey but we do so confident about the future.

Many of us can remember what it was like just 20 or 30 years ago.

Northern Ireland was a very different place.

A place full of great people but not much hope.

But throughout the worst of the Troubles we never lost our belief that we would pull through.

That terrorism and tyranny would be defeated and that peace and democracy would triumph.

It was a long hard road.  Too many didn’t make it.

We will never, ever forget their sacrifice.  Nor will we allow others to rewrite our history.  Sullying the memory of those that stood up for freedom and democracy in a feeble attempt to justify murder and mayhem.

We are on the cusp of Northern Ireland’s second century.  Just think about that for a moment.  In six short years, Northern Ireland will celebrate its 100th birthday.

Can any of us imagine what it must have been like for our founding fathers back in the early 20s? Building a new state from scratch.  One that was under threat from the very start.

No one thought Northern Ireland would last. Terrorist campaigns and less than loyal governments sought to deprive us of our birthright.  Yet the people of Northern Ireland stood strong and withstood whatever was thrown at them.

When I was growing up, many of our family and friends firmly believed that a United Ireland was inevitable.  I can recall people talking about emigrating when that fateful day would come.

But it never arrived.  Something that seemed so certain for many in a generation battered by terrorism and betrayed by governments in London they looked towards to defend them, has given way to a new found sense of certainty that Northern Ireland is here and it’s here to stay.

With the safety and security of knowing that the constitutional question has been settled, it should inspire us with the confidence to look forward into the future and transform Northern Ireland into the sort of society that was denied to so many because of the Troubles.

Our place within the United Kingdom has been fought for and secured by the sacrifice of others. It is now up to this generation to seize the opportunity to move Northern Ireland forward.

We must remain ever vigilant.  We can’t be complacent or let our opponents use other means to erode the Union, our heritage and our culture.

But our politics need not be consumed by the constitutional argument in the way that it once was.

It is a sign of our success that our political discourse is no longer dominated by disagreements about the constitution.  That our efforts have settled an issue many thought insoluble.

The best way for us to cement the Union for this and future generations is to do something that our enemies did their best to prevent.  And that’s to make Northern Ireland work.

How do we do that?  By focusing on ideas and not ideologies.

The people of Northern Ireland don’t want to hear their politicians squabbling about issues that seem unconnected to their daily lives.

People who get up early in the morning, get their kids to school, go and do a hard day’s work and come home tired, don’t want to turn their TVs on and hear us sound completely and utterly out of touch with real life, arguing over things that don’t matter to them or their family.

They want to know that when they work hard and pay their taxes that their government is doing its best to ensure that their children get a good education, that their parents will get the healthcare they need when they need it and that they will be supported if times get tough.

We will never resile from our belief that Northern Ireland is best served being part of the Union.  But unionism is about all of us and not anyone alone.  It is about everyone working together as one, for the greater good, to build a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.

I want people to support the DUP because we are the best defenders of the Union that is so important to the success of Northern Ireland.

But I also want people of all religious persuasions, from all social backgrounds to make this Party their home because we are the ones who can create a growing economy, who can best reform our NHS and who can tackle educational underachievement in our working class communities.

Sometimes it can be hard in the here and now to appreciate how far we’ve come.  How much progress we’ve made.  How improved things are.

But be in no doubt. These are better days.

Better days than we’d ever have imagined possible or dared to dream about back in the deepest, darkest days of the Troubles.

Dark days that cast shadows over far too many homes in Northern Ireland.  Mine included.

They are experiences that will live with me forever.

I could have been overcome forever by the anger or animosity that experiences like that can understandably create.  But I didn’t.  If anything, those experiences have served only to strengthen my determination to do absolutely everything I can to ensure my children and another generation don’t have to endure what we did.

A generation is growing up with no understanding of what it was like to live in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.  For many, it’s just something they learn about in history at school.  It’s an echo from our past.  Thankfully it isn’t something they have to live through today.  And that’s how I want things to remain.  I want our children and those that come after them to live in better days than we did.

There will always be the sneerers and the snarlers who will talk down the progress this Party has made.  But be in no doubt the DUP has helped deliver better days for Northern Ireland.

And better not just because we have a degree of peace and political stability that seemed so far from our grasp for many years.

But better because we are beginning to build a Northern Ireland that is realising the potential that we know that this wee place we love possesses in abundance.

Better because we are attracting more inward investment than at any time in our history.

Better because our children achieve the best GCSE results in the whole of the United Kingdom.

These are better days. But we can have better still.

But we have moved on and we can go further.

As far as we have come in recent times we know we have further to go.  The Northern Ireland of 2015 is an infinitely better place than the one of the 1970s or 1980s but we have not yet reached our full potential.

We’ve made massive progress but the absence of violence is not in itself enough.

I want to see us achieve much more.

Some like to talk this place down.  They say we are too small.  We are stuck on the edge of Europe.  We can never compete against others.

The same was probably said a century ago when this part of the world was an economic powerhouse.  A global player.  An engine in our Kingdom’s economy.

Why did we fight so hard to reduce corporation tax after others gave up?

Why do we endeavour to attract inward investment?

Why do we focus so much on growing our economy?

Not simply because of the benefits it brings business.  But because of the benefits it brings our whole society.

And it also creates the chance to usher in an era of opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland.  To create a Northern Ireland in a new century that is as good as we know it can be.

A Northern Ireland which offers its citizens a good start in life.

A good working life.

A good family life.

A good place to grow old.

And a good place to do business.

Northern Ireland should no longer be somewhere where second best will suffice.

We aren’t held back by the Troubles.  Or the inability to shape our own destiny.  We don’t need to look to anyone else for help.  Or point the finger of blame in another direction.  Our future is in our own hands.

A further, better shore may not always be the clearest to see or seem the easiest to reach.  But it is there.  And it is not beyond us.

Better days do indeed lie ahead for Northern Ireland.  But they are only possible if we begin to believe.

Begin to believe that we can transform our economy.

Believe that we can have the best schools and hospitals.

And believe that we can build a united community.

Our job in the weeks and months and years ahead will be to instil that same belief that better days are yet to come in the people of Northern Ireland.  That we are the ones who will help this country be the best that it can be.  That the DUP – and the DUP alone – leads the way to better days.

Tonight with humility and hope for the future I accept your nomination and endorsement to lead this party.  Tomorrow the next phase of our journey begins.

Together let us work to make sure that we strengthen the Union and to make Northern Ireland a place in which we can all be proud.