Writing in todays News Letter, DUP Leader Edwin Poots said,
To become leader of the Democratic Unionist Party is an honour and a privilege.
I recognise the huge sacrifices and dedicated service of all those who held this post before me and I pay tribute to them. The shared aim of everyone in the DUP is to see Northern Ireland prosper within the United Kingdom. As every adult here is now eligible to receive their Covid vaccine, we can see one of the many, many benefits being within the UK brings.
The challenges of politics today are different to those faced when I got involved in politics. The response too must therefore be different, but the objectives remain the same.
The damage of the Northern Ireland Protocol simply cannot be ignored. The Protocol not only damages our economy but has increased community tensions. The economic barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain harm every business and every consumer. This should not just be of concern to unionists, but unfortunately some who championed the Protocol's "rigorous implementation" were happy to drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The DUP will not be found wanting in efforts to remove the Protocol, but it is through a joined-up approach, we can achieve our aims more effectively. I have already had discussions across the broader unionist community and will work with business leaders to highlight its impact on every single member of our society.
The Irish Government too have a role to play. Having campaigned for the Protocol, they have a responsibility to help undo its damage. As a Minister who brought forward cross-border children’s heart surgery I have no objection to practical co-operation. However, there must be a recognition of the East-West ties which bind Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is only when that totality of relationships is properly respected that we will make progress.
Northern Ireland should not have been used as a bargaining chip to punish the UK for leaving the European Union. Similarly, devolved government in Northern Ireland should not be used as a bargaining chip. Progress can and must be made here but threatening devolution is not a victimless crime. It is the most vulnerable who suffer when decisions are not taken.
When I left office as Health Minister in 2014 there were around 135,000 people on waiting lists. Everyone wanted to see continued action to drive those numbers down. However today there are around 330,000 people waiting for vital treatment from our NHS.
The DUP only exists to champion a better Northern Ireland and a stronger United Kingdom. Delivering the world-class NHS our country deserves is integral to that vision, as is building a future where people choose to stay and make their lives here instead of looking elsewhere.
In pursuit of that better future I will not turn my back on the difficult issues and challenges which face us. I want to champion and promote the Union, but will always stand strong and defend the Union when that is necessary also.