Peter Robinson – 2016 Retirement Speech


Below is the text of the retirement speech made by Peter Robinson when he stood down as the Northern Ireland First Minister. The speech was made on 11 January 2016 in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Speaker,

I am grateful for the opportunity to make this statement. It is typical of the fairness and courtesy you have demonstrated during your time in office that you provided me with this opportunity and made all the necessary arrangements. I can assure you that I do not intend to trespass on your generosity by speaking too long.

Mr Speaker, it has been a great privilege to serve the people of Northern Ireland for almost forty years – with nearly eight of those years as First Minister.

In this Assembly we have had our share of trials and ordeals but through them all we have emerged stronger. Every new institution composed of politicians who have known nothing other than being in opposition will have a learning curve while members mature, develop and adapt to taking responsibility – and while the more sensible ones – adjust their ambitions to fit the politics of what, with effort, is achievable. Crucially, after centuries of division, we had to outlive the growing pains of learning to work together, fashion shared policies and create a more inclusive society.

It is a feature of every societal transformation that some will be displeased at the pace of change – some believing it to be too fast and others feeling it is too slow. Yet so much has been achieved and the platform now exists to do even more.

Politics by its very nature is a combative endeavour and we don’t always take time to recognise the role that others play.

I differ with some in this House on many issues but in my long experience in politics there are very few who are not well motivated and who do not act in the best interests of society as they see it. In whatever capacity they serve I admire those who devote their lives to public service.

When we take a step back and with the perspective of history we can see just how far we have come. We now live in a new era.

You only have to look around to see the progress that there has been not just in the physical structures that didn’t exist a decade ago, but in the lives of our people.

Though we don’t always fully appreciate it, devolution underpins the level of peace and stability we enjoy today. After thirty-five years of stop-go government, devolution with local people taking the decisions, is once again the norm.

That has allowed us the platform to recast Northern Ireland’s international image and to bring in more jobs than at any point in our history. Whereas once tourists avoided coming here we now attract people from all over the world.

We not only provided for partnership government but we agreed the devolution of policing and justice functions. In recent months we have resolved the welfare reform issue and put the Assembly’s finances back on a stable footing. We have secured the devolution of Corporation Tax and agreed a rate and a date for commencement.
We have agreed significant reforms to the way government operates with a reduction in the number of Departments and MLAs and the creation of an official opposition.

In politics there is never a full stop, and much remains to be done but I believe that this is the right moment for me to step aside and to hand over the burden and privilege of Office.

Dealing with the legacy of the past is a work in progress and reconciliation will be an ongoing enterprise but even here real progress has been made.

The foundations have been laid and it will be for others to continue building.

It would be remiss of me not to thank the deputy First Minister and all of those I have served alongside in the Executive over these past years.

Through good times and bad we have worked together despite our many differences in background, temperament and outlook.
Strangely we were at our strongest when the threat from outside the political institutions was at its greatest. The collective revulsion across the community and across this chamber following the murders of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, as well as Constables Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr was the surest sign that we were never going back to the past.

I thank my party colleagues for the opportunities they have given me and I wish all of them well for the future. I am absolutely certain that in Arlene, I have a worthy successor.

I can assure her that I will not interfere in her work but that if she ever needs a word of encouragement or advice I will always be there to offer it.

Mr Speaker, consistent with the terms of my letter of last Monday, I hereby resign the office of First Minister with confidence that the political institutions we have together created will be here for generations to come.

Thank you.

Peter Robinson – 1979 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Peter Robinson in the House of Commons on 21 May 1979.

As this is the first occasion on which I have addressed the House of Commons, I should like to thank the House for the great kindness shown to me in my first two weeks in this building. I should like to go further and thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for imparting to me their knowledge and experience.

Although I and my colleagues will sit on the Government side of the House, we shall be doing so as a separate and independent group.

I am told that in making a maiden speech one is expected to be non-controversial. Since I come from Belfast, East, the most important part of Northern Ireland, a country that is steeped in controversy, the House will understand my difficulty this evening. Indeed, I come from a party in which controversy has not been entirely unknown. My campaign was indeed controversial. Indeed, the policies I pursued were controversial, and therefore I face certain problems in making my maiden speech.

Before I go any further, I should place on record the appreciation of the people of East Belfast for the outgoing Member, the right hon. William Craig. Mr. Craig has been a colleague of mine for many years, and although we differed on policy matters I can say with confidence that we always maintained our friendship. William Craig has always been a gentleman, and I greatly respect him.

I shall be brief, and I shall do no more in this speech than nail my colours to the mast. Since I come from Northern Ireland, I shall do no other than speak of the most important matter in the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland, and that is the subject of security. I was pleased to see in the Gracious Speech a statement of the Government’s intention to restore peace and normality in my country. While that remains their policy, they will always have my full support and that of my party.

Hon. Members will all be aware of the terrible tragedy of terrorism. I know that it has come close to many in this House who knew Airey Neave. Those of us in Northern Ireland who knew him, loved and respected him, will appreciate the great loss occasioned by his death. In Northern Ireland about 2,000 people have died, over 20,000 people have been maimed and mutilated, and millions of pounds worth of damage have been caused in senseless and savage terrorism.

I ask the Government to adopt as their first priority the defence of the citizens of this part of the United Kingdom. I ask that they adopt the toughest security measures to put down terrorism in Northern Ireland. I may be stretching the idea of non-controversy too far if I suggest that the Government might even go as far as to bring in capital punishment for terrorist crimes.

In Northern Ireland many of us are aware of the great difficulty faced by the security forces. I wish to place on record my appreciation of the great job which they undertake against the propaganda that is put out by the Provisional IRA and other terrorist groups. I know that many hon. Members will take the view that I am too young to advise this House, and that may be so. But, despite my tender years, I have walked behind many a hearse and have looked in many an open grave. I have held the hand of many who have lost loved ones as a result of the terrorist campaign. I have carried in my arms fatherless children of many of the victims of Ulster sorrows.

Tonight, with all the force at my command, I call on the Government—because it is to this Government that my people look—to act with all speed and determination to solve the security problem in my country. On behalf of Ulster’s dead, I call on the Government to act. On behalf of Ulster’s living, I call on them to do it now. I ask them to stand up to terrorism in Northern Ireland and let my people live.

Peter Robinson – 2015 Speech to DUP Spring Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Robinson, the then Leader of the DUP, to the party’s Spring Conference on 28 March 2015.

When we gathered at our annual conference last November we were in the midst of a crisis that threatened the political institutions. Rather than allow the process to drift towards inevitable collapse we took the bull by the horns and forced the matter to a head.

Over ten weeks at Stormont House we spent many long days and even longer nights negotiating a way forward across a range of issues. And against all the odds we managed to hammer out a deal on issues which had for so long proved intractable.

The Stormont House process was conducted in sharp contrast to the Haass process of the year before and unlike those talks an outcome was reached with which we were able to agree.  Indeed I have to say that in all the years I have been involved in political negotiations I believe that this process resulted in the best outcome for unionism.

As part of the Stormont House Agreement we were able to deliver on many of our long-term goals. Real progress was made in reducing and re-organising the number of government departments, cutting the number of MLAs, providing for an official opposition and improving how the Executive does its business.

On the past we were able to rewrite and reshape the Haass proposals in a way that defended our red lines. Real progress was made but there continues to be a major job of work in terms of implementation.

Perhaps the most challenging issues to resolve at Stormont House were welfare reform and the Executive’s finances. These issues were a real threat to the viability of the Assembly and devolution.

For the eighteen months, since the Assembly’s Sinn Fein leadership failed to sell the original set of welfare proposals to their Dublin bosses, devolution had been drifting towards disaster.

But in the 5-party talks at Stormont Castle slowly but surely progress was made.

It was perfectly clear from the outset that whatever the UK government was prepared to do for us financially in other areas of expenditure they would give nothing towards welfare reform.   That meant any support, additional to what was being provided in Great Britain, would have to be provided by the Executive and would therefore reduce the funds available for key public services such as health and education.

In the end we were able to reach a 5-party agreement that included the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

That agreement paved the way for a wider deal and the return of the Welfare Bill to the Assembly.

It cleared the way for the Executive to produce a balanced budget, to provide for long-term structural reform of public services and for Parliament to pass legislation on Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland and for the UK government to provide a worthwhile financial package for the Executive and Assembly.

This was a massive breakthrough that resolved outstanding issues and created the potential for long-term financial stability and prosperity.

Delivery remained on track right up to a few weeks ago when, out of the blue, we were asked to believe that someone turned the lights on in Connolly House and Sinn Fein suddenly realised that what they had negotiated and agreed was not what they thought they had signed up to.

This represented either an alarming act of bad faith by Sinn Fein or the most inept negotiating by republicans in the history of the process.

For myself I find it inconceivable that they did not know or understand what was written and detailed in the document agreed by them at Stormont.

And let me make it abundantly clear. Given the sums of money involved – no one with post-primary education could possibly have believed that the funding envelope in the agreement could have covered the entirety of the shortfall for each and every claimant now and in the future.

I make some allowance for Sinn Fein’s poor grasp of economics but not even they could have thought a fund of £20 million per year could have covered what they once claimed to be a gap of £450 million.

And let me make one thing clear, this is not, at its heart, a dispute between the DUP and Sinn Fein: I’m fed up with some journalists characterising this failure by Sinn Fein to implement an agreement as a quarrel or dispute with the DUP, or as the difference between their version of events and ours!  When governments and local political parties are lining up to condemn Sinn Fein for its U-turn it’s pretty clear where responsibility lies for the present impasse.

We must not allow anyone to rewrite the history of this issue. It is clear, it is unambiguous, it is clear-cut, and it is inscribed in black and white for everyone to see.

So the responsibility for the present difficulty is established beyond doubt, but a solution still must be found.

I have made it clear, and I do so again today, I’m prepared to look at how we implement the December agreement – but I’m not prepared to re-negotiate it.  In particular I am not prepared to take another penny from our vital public services to solve what is at its heart an internal Sinn Fein dispute.

The hypocrisy of Sinn Fein in supporting a strike against a budget they voted for is only matched by their willingness to boost welfare payments by further cutting front-line public services they complain need more funding.

Mr Chairman, this is an historic moment for this party and for this Province.

We stand on the verge of a momentous opportunity for Northern Ireland.

In just forty days time the United Kingdom will go to the polls to elect a new Parliament and a new Government.

All the pollsters and predictions would suggest that no single party will have sufficient seats to form a majority government.

This means that the DUP will have a unique opportunity to help shape and influence the next government to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.

We could have a real say in shaping the next government of the United Kingdom.

Almost every serious political commentator has predicted that DUP MPs can be the kingmakers after the election.  If they are right – and opinion polls suggest they may be – then a strong and united DUP team can make a real difference to the lives of the people we represent.

It’s just a fact. No other local party will figure in the talks that follow Election Day.

We, therefore, need the strongest DUP team to get elected in order to strengthen Northern Ireland’s hand in such negotiations.

Every vote will count and every seat will matter.

That’s why this election is so important and that’s why we take nothing for granted.  We will work for every vote.

This opportunity may not come around again for a political lifetime.

Northern Ireland can’t afford to waste the opportunity that has been presented to it.

Today, I want to set out why this election matters so much; to publish our Northern Ireland Plan and to officially launch our election campaign.

Every election is different in some respect but this election is truly unique.

Our goal is not about success for the DUP for its own sake – it’s about what we can deliver for Northern Ireland.

Though today marks the official start of the election campaign the preparation work has been going on for months.

I believe that the forecasts are good for Northern Ireland.

At long last unionism collectively is starting to get its act together.

That’s good for Northern Ireland.

That’s why I was delighted to be able to announce, along with Mike Nesbitt, the most far-reaching unionist electoral pact in thirty years.

And it’s working.  How do I know?  I know it’s working because our political opponents are snorting and ranting – they don’t like it.

I can’t think of anything that antagonises the enemies of unionism more than the idea of unionists working together.

Within minutes of the historic deal with the UUP being announced our opponents were out in force seeking to undermine, confuse and divide.  No tactic was out of bounds in order to undermine the deal.

They said the DUP was running scared.

They said the UUP had been sold a pup.

They decried, lamented and bemoaned the lack of choice for unionist voters – though those same critics would never in a million years have considered voting for a unionist candidate themselves.

If there is one common feature in my – over forty years – in politics it is the desire by unionist people for unionist politicians to work together.

Division costs unionism; it always has.

Split votes cost unionism seats and lost seats means lost influence at Westminster.

Whose interests are ultimately served if two or more unionists divide – mostly over matters of detail rather than matters of principle – and allow a non-unionist to be elected?

It’s simply not in the interests of unionism!

In no negotiation will everyone achieve everything they want but I believe that the deal I did with Mike Nesbitt is good for unionism and good for Northern Ireland.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Armagh I want to pay tribute to our associations who have been asked to stand aside.  But make no mistake in twelve months time, at the next Assembly election, the wider interests of unionism will be best served in these two constituencies by voting for the DUP candidates.
Though, again I say it, I hope in that election too we can have a voting agreement that ensures voting preferences go to other unionist candidates.

Whatever anyone may think of the balance of the pact, that debate and discussion has ended

Ideally, I would have liked to see an even wider deal.  I would have liked Upper Bann and South Belfast to be included.  But let’s be clear the DUP is the largest unionist [JR1] party in both those constituencies.  We are leading in the polls in both constituencies and in each of them our main challenge comes from outside unionism.

In Upper Bann there is a fine margin between the DUP and Sinn Fein with the UUP trailing behind in third place – but still capable of endangering the seat.  Let’s be clear this is a two-horse race between the DUP and Sinn Fein.  If the seat is to be held for unionism it will only be David Simpson who can do it.  While Upper Bann remains a strongly unionist constituency the danger to unionism is a split unionist vote allowing Sinn Fein through the back door.

That would be a disaster for unionism.

The same can be said in South Belfast.  This is a four party contest.  The SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance are chasing the DUP who have led all parties in the last two elections in this constituency.  There is now a real opportunity for the DUP to win back South Belfast for the unionist cause.

The facts are clear for all to see.

It is only the DUP that can win the seat for unionism.  Unionists in South Belfast are already uniting their efforts behind the DUP.

And I can imagine no better candidate than my friend and Ministerial colleague Jonathan Bell.

The UUP are miles behind the four lead parties – and the other small unionist parties in the field will only further shred the unionist vote.   The message in South Belfast is clear. If you want a unionist MP you can have one – but only by backing Jonathan Bell.

Right across the Province we have a slate of candidates unmatched by any other party.

Both in terms of those who have a real opportunity of being elected and those who are the standard bearers for our party in other seats we have an unrivalled team.

We have a mixture of youth and experience.

From my colleague William McCrea who was first elected in 1983 and has spent almost 25 years in the House of Commons, to the more youthful Gavin Robinson who is fighting a Westminster election for the first time – we span the generations.

No.  I’m not going to dwell on the East Belfast contest today but I want Gavin and his team not just to win the seat but to do so in a manner that makes it clear that the voice of East Belfast at Westminster is unambiguously and unashamedly a unionist voice.

Let me also wish Jim and Ian, William and Jeffrey, Gregory and Sammy, well in their re-election campaigns. I am confident that their hard work in their constituencies and at Westminster will pay dividends when people come to cast their votes.

After this election I want to see this exceptional team led by our deputy leader, my friend and colleague, Nigel Dodds back at Westminster negotiating the best deal for Northern Ireland.

I was confident that Nigel would win through in North Belfast even without a pact but if we can persuade unionists across the constituency to come out on Election Day Nigel’s re-election can be secured.

Let me make it clear unionism needs Nigel at Westminster to engage in what will be a vital period of negotiations.

Unionism has within its grasp the potential to move from having just one out of four seats in Belfast in unionist hands to three out of the four seats.   What better answer could there be to those who lowered the Union Flag in Belfast than raising the banner of unionism right across that great city.

Over the last few months we have not only been preparing for the election but we have been preparing for after the election as well.

We do not take a single vote or a single seat for granted but if and when the opportunity arises to get the best deal for Northern Ireland it is critical that we are ready for those negotiations.

Our position after the election is clear.  Our goal is not to achieve anything for our party or ourselves but for Northern Ireland as a whole.

We will not seek, nor would we accept, any role in government but we would demand a good deal for Northern Ireland.

While other smaller regional parties have limited their options in terms of who they would be prepared to support, we have sought to maximise our options and our influence.

For us more votes and more seats really does mean more influence.

We are not tied to either of the major national parties but will be guided by what is good for Northern Ireland in particular and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Since we became the largest unionist party back in 2003 we have been working to a long-term strategy to move Northern Ireland forward and to strengthen our position within the United Kingdom.

Over the past few months we have been working on a plan to advance this strategy over the next five years.
Today I am publishing the DUP’s Plan for Northern Ireland.

It is a plan designed by the DUP for the benefit of Northern Ireland.

I hope it can win the support of not just our core voters but of many people across the Province who recognise the opportunity that exists to achieve key objectives.

This document sets out our five key goals.

The Plan demonstrates a reasonable and rational approach and one that shows a vision for Northern Ireland.  If we can deliver, it will not only be of advantage to Northern Ireland but to the UK as a whole.
We have not sought to unpick the political agreements that have been reached in Northern Ireland nor are we making demands that are undeliverable.

We have a positive plan for Northern Ireland. We want to –

  • Make Northern Ireland an economic powerhouse
  • Deliver world class public services for our people
  • Create a society based on fairness and opportunity for everyone
  • Make politics and Government work better in Northern Ireland
  • Strengthen the United Kingdom and protect and enhance our British identity

Under each of these values we have set out in much greater detail many of the policies and proposals through which these aspirations can be delivered.

We don’t expect any government to deliver every dot and comma of our plan but we do need to see delivery of a range of the goals at the heart of our proposals in order to elicit our support.

We need to see measures that can help transform Northern Ireland.

This plan will be at the heart of our election campaign.
It will also be the test against which we will judge the terms of any understanding from a potential party of government.

The capacity to deliver across this range of goals will be our only litmus test, nothing more and nothing less.

We are not prepared to play media games of prioritising, weighing or negotiating the terms of any agreement in the glare of publicity or creating artificial red lines.  If the circumstances arise we will seriously discuss the nature of any potential government’s own programme and assess how compatible it is with our own.

We are publishing this document at the start of the election to give the national parties the time and the opportunity to understand our proposals.

Exactly how much we can deliver will depend on the strength of our mandate and the need for our votes.

We will respect the verdict of the UK as a whole and will expect the national parties to respect the verdict of the people of Northern Ireland.

So in this election I am asking for a mandate not just for the DUP but a mandate to deliver the Northern Ireland Plan as well.

We are the only party with such a plan and the prospect of delivering it.

There will be those who may not agree with us on every issue and some who may not normally vote DUP, who in the context of what this opportunity could mean for Northern Ireland, may opt to lend us their vote for this task.  I hope they will.

Give us the strength and the mandate to deliver on the Northern Ireland Plan.

It would be a tragedy through split votes, shredded votes and wasted votes if Northern Ireland returned a divided, fragmented and ineffective team to Westminster.

That won’t work for Northern Ireland and it will hurt our chances of getting a good deal for the Province.

As this short conference comes to an end, the long hard slog over the next forty days is about to begin.

The battle lines are set. The time for talking is done.

At long last the phony war is over.

It is time for the campaign to commence.

We have the team to succeed.

We have the plan to deliver.

Let us write the next chapter in the history of our Province.

On May 7, let us win a mandate that we can take to the corridors of power in Westminster.

The broadcasters may have conspired to keep this party out of the television debates but I know that no force on earth will keep our team from taking our case directly to the people.

Today, we have gathered to launch this campaign but from Monday we must take this campaign to every door, every street and every hedgerow in Northern Ireland.

It’s our opportunity to make a real difference.

With zeal and enthusiasm let us fight for every vote and every seat.

Strong in our commitment, resolute in our determination, eager to transform our province – we now take our case to the people.

Let us play our part at the heart of the nation we all love.

For a better Northern Ireland, for a stronger United Kingdom.

Only this party can deliver.

Conference, let the election begin.

Peter Robinson – 2015 Speech to DUP Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Robinson, the then Leader of the DUP, to the party conference on 21 November 2015.

Mr Chairman.

Today, I am proud to report that the state of our party is sound, our Province is safe and the Union is secure.

Ulster is no longer at the crossroads – we’re on the motorway and on a clear path to a better future.

On the 6 May this year the people of Northern Ireland were asked once again to pass their verdict.

And I am delighted that the verdict was clear and unambiguous.

Once again we are Northern Ireland’s largest party, with an increased vote share and more votes than five years ago.

While our political opponents try to spin their results, we just have to count our votes.

I want to thank you all for the work you have done and the success we have achieved.

The true test of any political party is not what is written in the newspapers but in the votes cast at the ballot box.

That is where this party is tested and this party is vindicated.
At this conference and in this hall, twelve months ago I declared that our number one target at the general election was to return East Belfast to the unionist column.

Today, I can express my joy that 19,574 people in East Belfast agreed with me and together we elected Gavin as our voice in the House of Commons.

I want to thank each and every one of you who contributed across the province to our electoral success.

It may be the candidates who take the plaudits but we all know that it is only made possible because of the hard work of the team around them.

Once again the DUP received more votes than all other unionists added together and once again we established ourselves as Northern Ireland’s largest party both in terms of votes cast and MPs returned.

While we gained East Belfast we lost South Antrim by a small margin – indeed less than a thousand votes cast differently in two constituencies would have seen us return with ten MPs.

I know that we were all saddened by the loss of William in South Antrim but I want to thank him for all the service that he has given both to the constituency and to this party.

I am absolutely certain that we have not seen the last of William McCrea. In the past William has returned from adversity and defeat and I am sure that he will do so again.

But let’s record our congratulations to Nigel and the Westminster team who were returned in last May’s election. Well done all of you.
Mr Chairman, for a few weeks in May it looked as if there was a real chance that the DUP would hold the balance of power at Westminster.

In the end the Conservatives returned with a majority of 12 but that is not a majority that will see a government through a full term.
We may not yet hold the balance of power at Westminster but make no mistake, in the coming months and years of this Parliament, our influence and our pivotal role will grow and grow.

As we said during the election, “more votes, more seats, more for Northern Ireland.” I can assure you – when that day comes – we will use our influence wisely.

But the last twelve months have been dominated by the rise and fall and rise again of the Stormont House Agreement.

We have all been around politics long enough to know that no deal is ever the last deal – there is no finish line in politics – it progresses, it ebbs and flows, it develops, it evolves but nonetheless the agreement reached this week does mark a fundamental break with the past and a solid foundation for the future.

It was a long time coming!

Last December’s Stormont House Agreement represented the best deal for unionism in generations and the delivery of key DUP policies that date back many years. Last week’s agreement builds on that and goes even further.

So what does it mean?

I believe that it can mark a break with the past and a fresh start.
It means that politics can work again and start once more to deliver for those who elected us with the threat of bankruptcy and collapse removed.

The fundamental block on politics these last three years has been the refusal of some to face up to financial realities and accept welfare reform.

That impasse soured relations; starved key public services of much needed resources, and threatened the Executive with financial ruin.
This deal ends that uncertainty and removes the obstacles to progress.

It means the welfare reform issue has been resolved on an affordable basis with the most generous arrangements in the UK to protect those who are the most vulnerable.

In turn that means, on the one side, an end to the crippling welfare penalties and, on the other, stable long-term finances for the Assembly.

And this time because the key legislation is being passed at Westminster it means we have absolute certainty that it is going to happen.

It means we can spend more money on public services like health and education.

It means we can provide help to the working poor who will be so badly affected by the changes to tax credits.

In the weeks of negotiations that led to the final agreement, these were the people that I most wanted to support – yes; over 100,000 Northern Ireland families will be relying on that support.

And it means that we can announce the 1st April 2018 as the start date for a 12.5% rate of Corporation Tax that will mean tens of thousands of new jobs for Northern Ireland.

That is one of the achievements in the past few years that I am most proud of. When a few years ago other parties lost their way and lost their nerve on this issue it was the DUP that pressed forward undeterred.

In a few years time I trust that our determination will be rewarded by a buoyant and balanced local economy with our young people no longer having to leave our shores to find work.

We didn’t ask the government for hand-outs. We sought the means to develop a sustainable economy. We are also working with Westminster to cut out fraud and error and for the first time we are sharing the savings.

Through the Voluntary Exit Scheme and other reform initiatives Northern Ireland is leading the way in public sector reform and ensuring that every pound spent will support front-line services.

This agreement delivers on the DUP’s efficiency agenda. The policies we first advocated well over a decade ago are part of this deal. It means fewer government departments from next May and fewer MLAs from 2021. It means the removal of most of the delivery functions from OFMDFM which will become a more streamlined and strategic Executive Office.

It signals further progress from the mess we inherited in 2007 and makes changes in how the Assembly and Executive functions. It offers the creation of an official opposition and it tackles paramilitarism head on .

For months Mike Nesbitt, when he wasn’t apologising to republicans for the singing of the National Anthem during an act of Remembrance, has been complaining about the existence of paramilitary groups – but he delivered nothing. The DUP held its nerve, rolled up its sleeves, did the hard graft and attained the most comprehensive result ever achieved on disbanding paramilitary groups and all their structures and tackling paramilitary criminality and organised crime.

The deal represents the most far-reaching programme to deal with paramilitarism in all its emanations with a new pledge of office for Ministers, a statutory undertaking for MLAs, a cross-border task force to lead the drive against paramilitary and organised crime, a new strategy to completely disband paramilitary organisations once and for all, a new monitoring and assessment body to chart progress and significant additional resources from the UK government to help us combat terrorism and paramilitary crime.

I sometimes wonder if the begrudging parties who have complained about this agreement really think people in Northern Ireland are incapable of seeing through their rhetoric. They complain about the deal not including various features. They complain about the process taken in reaching agreement. Yet these same parties, who have been at the same Talks, for the same length of time as us, never produced or reached any alternative agreement on any issue – even with each other – never mind one that included the two main parties and governments.

The non-achievers, the wreckers’ and the do-nothing coalition carping at those who deliver and those who produce solutions – such hypocrisy! Do these failures really think people can’t see that their disapproval of the deal, we have subscribed to, is but a smokescreen to cover the embarrassment of parties who have no attainable alternative whatsoever?

Anyone can parrot party policy. Anyone can set out their own position and favoured outcome but it requires courage and competence to negotiate a successful agreement with political opponents.

All of this was achieved because we held our nerve and kept firm to our course. The route wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty and let’s be honest to get there we had to take unpopular tactical decisions along the way. But as a result we have given hope to the people of Northern Ireland that there can be a better future.

Where would we have been had we listened to the siren voices of doom and despair?

As the UUP consigned itself to the wilderness and rendered itself impotent one Talks wag summed it up best. He asked –
“How many Ulster Unionists does it take to change a light bulb?”
The answer is – “None, the Ulster Unionist Party can’t change anything!”

The truth is that when they left the Executive “principle” and “conviction” were characteristics they never consulted or exercised. This was a base and squalid act of electoral convenience. It was political chicanery at the cost of people’s hopes and future. It was both a short-term and short-sighted political ruse.

It would have been rather more convincing if within weeks they hadn’t started to plot a route to sneak back into the Executive after the election is over!

Carping and criticising from the sidelines is easy. The real challenge is to take the responsibility of putting things right.

I hope that this agreement will pave the way to better politics in Northern Ireland.

If you take a step back you can see how much has been achieved in recent years and how far we have all come together.

It is always a signal you have got it right when the criticism is not about what is in the deal but about what is not in the deal. That means our opponents have to make bricks without straw. So let us look at the issue that was not included – the legacy issue.

The DUP along with all the other parties in a Stormont implementation committee had progressed these matters and in the Talks we tidied up the loose ends in a sizable section that was to form part of the agreement. The Government prepared the Bill on these legacy matters so that it could be introduced in the House of Commons. The DUP approved both the legacy section and the Bill. If there are arguments about the issue not being dealt with – they are not with us. When there was deadlock between nationalists and the government we supported the proposition that all the material that had been developed should be included in the agreement so that the victims sector could make its own assessment and provide advice to the parties.

We also wanted the government to publish its Bill so that there would be an informed and mature debate on these matters. I still think that a consultation process of this kind is the way forward. What has anyone to fear about letting victims and survivors consider all the material and give their advice on how to take the matter forward? If those who are most directly impacted can reach a consensus on the way forward who are we to stand in their way?

Mr Chairman, let’s be clear the agreement we have reached does not mean that politics has come to an end.

However it does mean that there can be a fresh start on solid foundations.

I look back with pride at all that we together have achieved.
If you look around you will see that Northern Ireland is a place transformed.

No matter how difficult politics has been, it has allowed Northern Ireland to prosper.

Devolution laid the foundations for peace and prosperity.
It allowed us to change the image of Northern Ireland from a place known for conflict to one that has so much to offer.

It once was a place where talented people had to leave in order to realise their full potential but now is somewhere that people are returning to once again. It’s a location that investors and tourists are increasingly finding attractive.

We have brought in more jobs than ever before. We are the UK leaders in attracting Foreign Direct Investment. We have the best education results in the UK. Many of the world’s leading health professionals practice in our hospitals and in financial services technology we are the global leaders.

That has only happened because of those who have the commitment to make it happen.

During this recovery from a worldwide economic recession along with our local trying circumstances as we emerge from centuries of conflict and division it’s easy to become dejected and dispirited but in politics there are no short cuts or easy answers. Yet I can see an end to the gloom and darkness. The sun is breaking through.

For all of its faults there isn’t a better solution than Stormont.

Last May I informed our Party Officers that it was not my intention to contest the next Assembly election and earlier this week I publicly announced my intention to retire. The Party Officers have asked me to provide time for the foundations of the new Agreement to be put in place and to allow for a smooth leadership transition.
We are all agreed that it is important this is done in a manner and in a timeframe that allows a new leader to settle in before the Assembly election.

There will also be a need for the new leader to appoint a new First Minister. I have been First Minister of Northern Ireland for seven and a half years, that’s longer than I had planned and, indeed, longer than anyone has held the top Stormont post since the days of Viscount Brookeborough.

So my work is almost done, and now it is time for the next generation to step forward.

I wanted to make sure that I was handing over the reins of a political process that was stable and secure for the long term.

After a seemingly endless process I am delighted that we have finally reached agreement on the way forward. We have resolved all those toxic issues that threatened the continuation of devolution.

So as I prepare to bow out I do so in the knowledge that the Province is on safe ground and this party is in good shape to take Northern Ireland forward.

In councils up and down the Province, at Westminster, in the Assembly and in Europe we are the voice of unionism and the party for Northern Ireland.

I have been exceedingly honoured to lead this party it has been a significant part of my life. I have lived in the DUP from the day of its birth. I recall the endless hours shaping its structure and message. I remember my nomadic existence in the party’s early years as I travelled the highways and byways to build up its branches and membership. I still have memories of manoeuvring up narrow and dark laneways to the most remote and unlikely of meeting places in which any political party has ever gathered.

When it all began for me several political lifetimes ago the DUP was but an irritant to the political establishment, now we are the largest party of government in Northern Ireland.

And back then the decades-long terrorist campaign had just begun whereas now we are slowly but surely emerging from conflict.

Then decisions were taken over our heads and behind our backs but now we have a firm hand on the steering wheel and a foot on the break.

Nowhere was this clearer that with the Anglo Irish Agreement that was signed 30 years ago last weekend. Unionism was excluded and kept in the dark while others decided our future.

As a result we were moved, as I then described it, onto the window-ledge of the Union and had our fate determined by others.

Yet there are still those who would seek to destroy devolution and place our destiny once again in the hands of others – to be settled elsewhere by those who showed little concern for our anxieties in the past and do not have an inborn vested interest in our future.

If devolution has achieve one thing it is that it is now the people of Northern Ireland who take the decisions and it is we who will decide our future.

This is not the moment to reflect on past battles and past glories; there will be time enough for that.

And there is not enough time to thank all of those who have played a part in our success but I could not go without paying particular tribute to the deputy leader of this party and the leader of our parliamentary group, Nigel Dodds. Nigel has been faithful, loyal and wise and always willing to share counsel. You don’t just see him when the cameras role – he’s there to do his portion of the unappealing drudgery that also must be done.

And my thanks to Arlene Foster our Finance Minister who has effectively deputised for me at Stormont. Arlene never refuses to help when asked and is always first to offer support. Hard work doesn’t frighten her and her abilities are recognised in every post she has held.

I count myself fortunate to have had both Nigel and Arlene, not just as party colleagues, but as friends.

In thanking Ministers I want also to include all those who served in past months and years. Conference will forgive me if I single out one former Minister – Jim Wells. Jim, I know I speak for the whole conference when I tell you that you, Grace and your family have constantly been in our prayers. You have faced more adversity than any man warrants.

We all trust that Grace will continue to make progress and I personally want you to know that I have been heartened to see that those who conspired against you are being exposed and I hope justice will be done. I wish you and your family well for the future.
There is one other group of people I absolutely must include in my expression of thanks. Some refer to them as the staff – or Officials – or advisors – I have always seen them as just being part of the leadership team. I could not have functioned without them. Half the time they propped me up – the rest of the time they carried me completely. Nobody will mind if I single out Richard and Tim who have put up with me longer than most and whose judgement I always respected and valued. They all have been an indispensible part of this party’s success.

We know that to everything there is a season. For me this political journey is coming to an end.

In the coming period of time the party will choose a new leader.
I know how difficult a job this will be but I also know how rewarding it is to be able to change things for the better. My successor will face the sometimes ferocious rigour of high office. It is not a task for the faint-hearted. There will be long dark nights but believe me, morning does come.

Whoever the party chooses I will give them my wholehearted and unqualified support.

I will offer them advice in private and nothing other than support in public. That’s what fidelity and dignity require and what solidarity and friendship deserves.

They will need your support too, in good times and in bad.

Leadership means taking difficult decisions, it means making unpopular choices as well as easy ones.

I am absolutely sure that if this party is to continue to prosper we must view outcomes through a long-term lens.

People will be voting at the Assembly elections next May who were not even born at the time of the Belfast Agreement and who were still in primary school at the time of St Andrews.

If we are to retain our position in the leadership of unionism we must connect with the next generation. To do that we need to look forward to the future and not backwards to the past.

In just over five year’s time Northern Ireland will celebrate its centenary. Every poll and every survey suggests that the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is more secure than ever.

But our aspirations must go beyond the politics of the border poll.
Nor do I want this party to look back on our achievement of 38 seats in the Assembly elections in 2011 as the high point of DUP success. It must be seen as a launching pad for future triumphs.

Because of all that we have now achieved, we are the authors of our own destiny.

Let our legacy not be remembered simply in the history books, but in the lives of our people.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Iris and my whole family who have carried with me the exigencies of my political roles. They have always sacrificed to give me the space to perform my public duties. I trust the Lord will give me strength and time to make up for the price they each have had to pay.

I thank the people of East Belfast who I have been proud to represent for almost forty years and who are special and wonderful people. I leave them in the charge of Gavin and my Assembly colleagues Robin and Sammy. They are in good hands.

Today, I am filled with appreciation to each of you for the opportunity to serve this party and for the honour, bestowed on me, through the DUP, of serving as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

When faced with menace and peril we stood our ground – side by side.

When challenges emerged we all rose to meet them.

When hardship descended we faced it – together.

And above all, I thank the people of Northern Ireland for the privilege of serving them and for the prayers that raised my spirits and placed a shield around me.

My race is nearly run; advancing years and failing health bring with them a sense of mortality and counsel me that in time – though I hope not too soon – I must pass beyond the reach of earthly powers. I thank God that He planted me in this corner of his creation. I thank God that he allowed me to live a life of purpose and service to the people I love. I thank God He placed in my heart a love for my country, its traditions and way of life – and a passion to defend them. I thank God He bound me, in this cause and in this party, to like souls who felt that same conviction and devotion.

Mr Chairman, I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for the constant and unwavering loyalty, support and kindness I have received from friends and colleagues throughout the party.

Expressly I have cherished the friendship and companionship of my senior colleagues who have stood by me – with equal vigor – in the deep valleys as on the mountaintops.

I bid each of you a fond and affectionate farewell.

May God bless you all.