As I look out over conference it makes me immensely proud.
Proud to stand before some of Ulster’s finest, many of whom have supported this party for decades.
It’s also great to see new faces and people who are now putting their shoulder to the wheel.
Many in this great gathering will have had a similar life experience as me.
Politics is in your blood. You were born and raised knowing what you were about.
You do what you do for the cause, for the Union and for the love of this wee place we call home.
In truth we do it because we want to leave this place on a secure and solid foundation for our children, grandchildren and all future generations.
There’s a lot written about the DUP by people who know very little about us but this conference is a clear and visible sign that there is a unity of purpose, a strong, resolute determination to stand up for our people and to deliver a better Northern Ireland for all.
This party has never shirked away from the big decisions.
Indeed it was this party that delivered stable Government in Northern Ireland for over 10 years. We ensured that Sinn Fein signed up to policing and the rule of law when others said it was impossible.
We know when not to blink. The message from this conference today to His Majesty’s Government is that this party is still as steely as ever. It has as much grit and determination as it did back then and it is certainly “not for turning.”
We will hold out until we get what the people and businesses of Northern Ireland deserve.
Our stance has not always been popular – especially among the chattering classes, but we stick to our principles because it’s the right thing to do.
I believe we owe our intrinsic values, our ethics, to our founders - Dr Paisley and Peter Robinson – Doc lead with courage and Peter strategized like no other. In doing so they laid the foundation for this party and that foundation is still rock solid.
The term ‘Paisleyite’ was used by some as a term of derision. But you know I still wear it with pride.
I grew up in a ‘Paisleyite’ family. For us, it meant standing firmly by your beliefs and doing your best for the ordinary man or woman regardless of colour or creed.
That is good advice for any of us in this room who are privileged to hold elected office and bear the burden of public representation.
Do what’s right and do your best. For everyone.
Most importantly connect with people, engage with them.
Stopping even for that brief chat allows you have your finger on the pulse as to where the community are really at.
We don’t live in a political bubble. We don’t talk in echo chambers. This party is about real people and doing right by them.
And Conference as I speak to elected representatives I also speak to our grassroot supporters.
You are the backbone of this party, you are the power house and it’s time for us all to get out there and take the message to every hill and dale that the DUP politically is the first and last line of defence in this great battle for Northern Ireland’s continued place within our precious Union – the DUP is the only show in town.
Mr Chairman, Our first task is to get things right on the Windsor Framework because folks, nationalists would never have accepted the sort of arrangements north-south that we were asked to accept east-west.
Of course, the ‘rigorous implementers’ in the Alliance Party would accept anything and told us the Protocol was on tablets of stone and was unamendable.
We proved them wrong – but folks we have more work to do on this and I have every confidence that our leadership team of Sir Jeffrey and Gavin will do what’s right for the Union and do what is right for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
Jeffrey, Gavin, we know the pressure others are trying to put upon you. But I know I speak for everyone in this room in saying we are standing with you, and you have our full and unwavering support.
But, Make no mistake about it every one of us has a role to play.
It will not be nationalists who defeat DUP candidates at the polls next year.
It will be Unionists who sit at home and don’t bother to vote or waste their vote on candidates who can’t win.
Whilst some get carried away with the nationalist vote, let’s remember the combined Sinn Fein and SDLP vote was around 40% in 1998 and its still around 40%.
Mr Chairman as the undisputed voice of Unionism, this Party has a duty to chart a course ahead which builds a broad coalition of support for the people who want to make Northern Ireland work.
A movement of people who share our ambitions for this wee Province.
By doing so, we will deliver the Northern Ireland I want for my family, and yours.
What a prize that is.
However we need to energise and unite the Unionist family.
For as we have seen in recent elections, division and infighting is costing unionism votes, costing unionism seats, and costing unionism influence.
There is nothing more frustrating, or demoralising, than standing outside a polling station in a supposed unionist/loyalist heartland watching dribs and drabs of voters entering the polling station.
Despite the hard work that this party puts into serving and delivering for our communities and we do deliver for these communities - not enough people feel exercised enough to vote.
Delegates, we need to ask why this is?
I believe at the root of the problem is the ongoing, damaging, and destructive divisions within Unionism.
Divided unionism demoralises our people, who want to see co-operation, and who crave unity. As a result they stay at home.
They are fed up, as I am, of intra-unionist infighting and attacks. Is there anything more pointless than Reg Empey’s latest diatribe against this party. He’s like a broken record.
Faced with a constitutional enemy that is coalescing around Sinn Fein, the message from grassroots unionism is clear – work together and get our voters out!
Mr Chairman this is the challenge that this party must embrace, and in it we must succeed.
For the cost of failure is too great.
Apathy and divided unionism helped Sinn Fein to become the largest Party in Stormont. Apathy and divided unionism helped Sinn Fein become the largest party in local Government.
Conference, we simply cannot allow apathy and divided Unionism to aid Sinn Fein, or their wee helpers in the Alliance Party, in the forthcoming Westminster election.
Its too important – more absentee Sinn Fein MPs who take the expenses but not their seats and more Stephen Farrys. Please no.
Friends, we have talked about unionist cooperation for long enough. Further delay is simply unacceptable. We do not have the luxury of time.
My message to the other Unionist leaders today, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is clear – Doug, Jim, please work with us to deliver what our people want. The DUP are the party that can at Westminster ensure the Shinner Bots are given the reality check they need.
The reward will be more seats for unionism and more influence for unionism and more for Northern Ireland.
The journey will not be easy. But when I look out at the support in this room I am confident that no matter what opponents throw at us, no matter how hard the Secretary of State tries to bully and cajole us, we will stay the course. We will hold the line.
Conference the time to rise up is now.
Northern Ireland is at a crossroads.
The decisions taken in the coming days will determine the direction of Northern Ireland for future generations.
The time for Unionism to stand together is now.
The time for Unionism to speak with one voice is now
The prize is a Northern Ireland secure and more prosperous within this great United Kingdom.
So let’s grasp that opportunity.
When history of this period is written, let it record that when the Union was tested, this Party was not found wanting.
Together we will overcome.
Together we will endure.
And together, we will succeed.