Good morning, everybody,
I am delighted to be able to welcome you all to the Crowne Plaza hotel for our Annual Conference.
It is wonderful to see you all again after the hardships of the last few years. It is hard to believe that this is our first conference since 2019. I would like to say at the outset how sorry I was to learn of the passing of a number of colleagues, from across the country, during this time and I today we remember their contributions and our thoughts and prayers are with their families.
Last September the Democratic Unionist Party marked its 50th anniversary - a major milestone in the history of our Party. These celebrations allowed us to reflect on past achievements and remember fondly those who served our cause with distinction down through the years.
So today we look forward. This conference gives us an opportunity to meet and enjoy fellowship with friends and colleagues, to welcome new members and to go away re-energised ahead of the Local Government elections in May next year as well as the political battles that lie ahead.
I am delighted to see many new faces that have joined our Party. As Chairman I regularly have the joy of interviewing candidates seeking elected office and on each occasion it is clear that we have members coming forward who are keen to serve.
New blood is essential if we are to grow and thrive. I want to extend a special welcome to those who are joining us here for the first time today. I trust you will enjoy your first experience of the DUP conference.
Over the course of the day we will hear from DUP elected representatives at each level of government. This will include a vibrant mix of youth and experience. We also look forward to hearing from our external panellists who are most welcome as they join with us
You will see from the programme that we have several policy sessions lined up for later in the day, and I would encourage you to go along and listen to the panels. There is an opportunity to input and I know my colleagues in the policy unit would appreciate hearing your views and opinions.
We will also hear from local councillors this morning and as we look forward to the elections next year, I would ask that you listen carefully and those of you who are thinking of putting your name forward this is your chance to hear directly what is involved from those who already serve.
I would like to express my appreciation to all those who are engaged in the battle against the Protocol at this time. It is a heinous imposition on the people of Northern Ireland and we will be standing strong for our cause. Let me make it clear unless the Protocol is replaced there will be no prospect of this Party taking up places in a Stormont Executive. We will judge the Government on actions not words and we will not be following any timeline set by those who do not have Northern Ireland’s interests at their heart.
We will open this morning with a video presentation to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, followed by a minute’s silence for both Her Majesty and those friends and colleagues no longer with us.
This will be followed by our opening session, a panel discussion in the main hall on the issue of childcare and early years. This is one of the most important issues facing us at present and I look forward to hearing our contributors.
Following this session Michelle McIlveen MLA, our Education Minister, will speak.
I would also encourage you to support our conference charity this year, the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice. You will all know of the fantastic work the Hospice does and I know everyone here will give generously.
Finally let me put on record our thanks to the hotel management and staff for all their help, both last night and today. It is very much appreciated.
I trust you will have an enjoyable conference