Thank You Very Much Mr Chairman
I am delighted to be addressing Conference this morning.
It’s great to have our Conference back for the first time in three years and to share this weekend with friends and colleagues from across our country and beyond.
The Democratic Unionist Party has an unrivalled record of representation – one that each of us can be proud of.
For more than five decades, this Party has been the heart and soul of grassroots Unionism across our Province.
During this time, it has often been said that our motto is service ever, surrender never.
Service first and foremost to the people and communities that we represent and to the cause of our precious Union.
This vision has passed from one generation to the next. It is what drives me in frontline politics.
It is why I am a member of the DUP, and it is why I am proud to play my part in building a better Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom –
- A Northern Ireland that works for all.
As someone who served as a local Councillor for almost ten years, and more recently as an MLA, I am honoured to be following in the footsteps of my late father.
Gordon, as you will all know, proudly served this party as an elected representative for almost forty years. Like him,
I know the importance of local representation.
I will always do my best for those I am privileged to represent, just like he did.
Day and daily, not just in North Down, but throughout our network of DUP Advice Centres across Northern Ireland, this Party is on the ground, listening, engaging and seeking to improve the lives of those who need our help the most.
Whether it be the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, helping the most vulnerable access vital services and everything in between, this Party is best placed and more determined than any other to get the best deal for our constituents.
Conference, since we were last here, we celebrated the centenary of Northern Ireland, and this Party marked a milestone of its own – our 50th Anniversary.
As we reflect on these events, we have cause for optimism.
Only this Party has the strength and the determination to defend Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.
Only the DUP has the vision to deliver a Northern Ireland where every child gets a fair start, where businesses are able to grow and invest, and where young people want to live, work and raise a family.
Friends, we can be confident for the future because we have done it before, and we will do it again.
And God-willing we can look forward to many more anniversaries in the years ahead.
Conference, we have been blessed to live under the reign of our much-missed monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (the second).
Her life was defined by many years of faithful, steadfast and selfless service to our nation and the Commonwealth.
Whilst we mourn her loss, we know that with God’s help and guidance, our nation will continue to prosper in the years ahead, under our new Head of State King Charles III (the third).
These events, whilst difficult, highlighted once again that we are stronger together.
Friends, I do not need to convince you of the merits of Northern Ireland’s membership of the United Kingdom.
Being an integral part of the fifth largest global economy brings unparalleled benefits for businesses and consumers.
And we all benefit from a National Health Service that is revered around the world.
And even now, as our households face soaring bills, it is our national government at Westminster that is best placed to provide that much-needed safety net and protect the most vulnerable.
We will not, therefore, be distracted or derailed in our vision for Northern Ireland by the fanciful agenda of a so-called United Ireland.
That does not mean the future is without its challenges.
Securing and strengthening the Union for generations means dealing with the border in the Irish Sea.
The Protocol demonstrates the greatest single threat to our place in the United Kingdom in a generation.
It was an act of economic and constitutional self-harm by the Government.
Every day East-West checks are adding cost to businesses and reducing choice for consumers.
Don’t believe those who say it is not contributing to the cost of living. It is.
The decision to foist these arrangements without the consent of any unionist elected representative has upset the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland.
25 years of progress in Northern Ireland was built on cross-community consent.
The Protocol has attacked that principle, and the very foundations of devolution now hang by a thread.
This Party has a mandate for the action it has taken.
Yes, we are committed to devolution. Yes, we believe it is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and the Union. And yes, we want to see a fully-functioning Executive.
However, for that to happen the Protocol needs to be replaced with arrangements that command the support of Unionists as well as nationalists.
The Alliance Party would re-write the Belfast Agreement to exclude Unionists rather than recognise their concerns. Shame on them.
Let me be clear - we will not be silenced. Unionism will not be side-lined.
The politics of exclusion is a road to nowhere.
Our mandate must be respected and if necessary, we will not hesitate to take our message to the electorate and have that mandate renewed.
Conference, we will only be successful in this cause if we move forward as one.
The Assembly election in May, was a reminder of the dangers of a divided unionism.
and time again, on the doors in North Down and right across Northern
Ireland, we heard the message loud and clear from Unionists, that there
were too many Unionist candidates.
Unfortunately, despite our many warnings, some Unionists sought to exploit problems for their own electoral gain, perpetuating the myth that voters could not split the vote.
Regrettably Unionism suffered as a result. Unionist representation was lost in North Antrim, East Antrim and Strangford.
If we are to take new ground for the Union this cannot go on.
Now is not the time for ‘vanity projects’ or ‘one-man bands’.
It is not the time for one-upmanship within the Unionist family.
If those around us truly believe in United unionism, then their actions must reflect that.
I invite them to work together with the largest Unionist party to maintain and promote the strength of the Union.
We ARE best placed to defend the Union and deliver a brighter future for the next generation.
Our shared values such as freedom of expression, encouraging business and entrepreneurship, protecting our environment whilst supporting our farmers is a vision which we all should be proud of.
Recently I have been encouraged that many young people share this vision too. They are informed enough to make their own political judgments that Unionism works.
However….. there is room for improvement.
We need to be more effective in selling our message. Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of hosting young people on work experience.
They have a real enthusiasm, hunger and confidence to make Northern Ireland a better place for both themselves, and their children.
They want to play an active role in Moving Forward Together.
need to help them to do so. It is our duty to work with the next
generation, to retain their skills within Northern Ireland, and build
confidence within, promoting the fact that the Union is best.
Friends, one of the greatest ever Britons, Sir Winston Churchill said this: ‘‘You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.’’
My pledge to you this morning is that I will keep on giving so that the lives of the people that I represent can be improved and enriched within the United Kingdom.
I owe this to those that have gone before and to those waiting in the wings to lead the charge for this Party and the Union.
Thank you very much