I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to our Manifesto Launch, here in Portadown, in the heart of Upper Bann.
In just seven days’ time Northern Ireland will go to the polls in one of the most important elections in our history.
Today, I want to set out our positive 5-point plan agenda for the next five years, which addresses the crucial issues that are impacting on the everyday lives of people.
Our manifesto, published this afternoon, is a plan of real action and is the basis upon which I intent to lead the DUP into the next Assembly and the basis on which we will govern Northern Ireland.
At its heart we have a very clear vision for Northern Ireland.
We want to contribute to make Northern Ireland a place of peace, stability and prosperity.
We want to ensure that the people in every district and community benefit and see their standard of living improve and their way of life become more enjoyable.
We want to normalise our institutions and political arrangements to demonstrate that democratic standards apply and fairness and equality of opportunity is the right of all.
We will strive to make Northern Ireland the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom.
From reading our manifesto you will see that it is the most comprehensive action plan that this party has ever produced.
It sets real action on the issues that matter to everyone in Northern Ireland.
We all know Northern Ireland is a great place to live, work and raise a family.
But I believe it can be even better.
We do not achieve that goal by changing everything that works but by making things better where improvement is needed.
We have a bright future to look forward to, because those who came before us believed in Northern Ireland and in the Union.
Northern Ireland’s strong place in the Union has created jobs, improved our standard of living and given us the NHS.
As we look to the future we want to see the circumstances created where there can be an early restoration of the Executive.
That’s why we are running our team of candidates in this election and we want to deliver on our manifesto promises for Northern Ireland.
That’s the best way forward for unionism and for Northern Ireland.
But if it is going to work for the people of Northern Ireland, it must be done on a credible and a sustainable basis.
I believe that this can be achieved.
As part of our plan we make clear that the Northern Ireland Protocol must be removed.
We have set out our clear and consistent position many times before and we do so again in this manifesto.
And I am pleased to say that our plan is beginning to have an impact.
The government know that for Stormont to work the Irish Sea Border needs to be removed.
It is increasingly clear that the government has accepted this analysis.
And they know that they will need to act very quickly after this election is over.
In the absence of agreement with the EU the Government knows that they must take the steps that are necessary.
But on this issue it is not words but actions we need to see and we will judge them on the basis of actions not words.
In just seven days' time Northern Ireland will go to the polls in what will be one of the most consequential elections in our history.
The choice facing the people of Northern Ireland is clear.
The people will decide whether Northern Ireland’s future is one focused on fixing our health system, tackling the cost-of-living crisis and replacing the Protocol or focused on a divisive Border Poll.
Over this campaign we have taken our positive five-point plan to every part of Northern Ireland.
Our five-point plan is a plan to build a better future for Northern Ireland, within the Union, by, fixing our National Health Service, growing our economy, helping working families, working to see the removal of the Irish Sea Border and keeping our schools world-class.
Our five-point plan is about moving Northern Ireland forward, working together and focusing on what matters.
We publish this manifesto against the background of a record of securing outcomes in Government. But we are the first to recognise there is much more to do.
Over the last number of years DUP Ministers and MLAs have been working to deliver on the policies and priorities that matter to the people of Northern Ireland.
Our Ministers have made a significant contribution in shaping the work of the wider Executive as well as leading their respective departments.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has necessarily altered and impacted the work of Ministers and their policy objectives.
In addition to the work of leading the Executive and representing Northern Ireland DUP Ministers and have delivered right across government.
Our ministers have worked to secure the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme, a new medical school in Londonderry, the signing of the £1 billion Belfast Region City Deal and commenced work on a Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
The DUP, through its Ministers, has delivered a number of key economic objectives.
Even during one of the darkest economic periods in our recent history, over 3300 new jobs were created, Northern Ireland cemented itself as a global leader in sectors such as cyber security and fintech, Belfast was named as one of the world’s leading tech cities and the local economy recovered quicker than any other region of the UK.
Our Ministers have secured £286.8million for the roll out of the Economic Recovery Action Plan including delivering the £140million High Street Scheme, providing over 1.4m people with a pre-paid £100 card to help inject an economic stimulus to our High Streets and re-orientate people back to the High Street and away from online shopping trends.
We have delivered key legislation such as the Parental Bereavement and Pay Bill to ensure working parents will be entitled to statutory paid leave following the death of a child, stillbirth or miscarriage and amended legislation to protect holiday entitlements for workers furloughed during the lockdown.
As a result of the DUP Confidence and Supply agreement we have delivered Project Stratum, Northern Ireland’s biggest infrastructure project with over £165m investment in ultrafast broadband. More houses than ever have been connected to broadband as a result of that invested negotiated by us.
When people say does politics really make a difference - I say look at that project as an example of making a real difference to everyday lives.
Our DUP Ministers have increased funding for some of our most vulnerable members of society with spend on children with Special Educational Needs rising by 77% during this mandate.
We have introduced, during this assembly term, the most progressive School Starting Age legislation within the UK.
Our Ministers introduced the first Holiday Hunger scheme in Northern Ireland and also rolled out the “period poverty” pilot for schools.
As part of the NI100 celebrations the Department of Education rolled out a specific programme to give students a better shared understanding of the last 100 years of Northern Ireland’s history and also provided funding directly to schools to allow them to mark the event.
Our Ministers distributed over £28m in Covid-19 business support to farm businesses - the most comprehensive package of support anywhere in the British Isles or Europe and a £1m Rural Halls Refurbishment Scheme.
We have worked to introduce ground-breaking Climate Change legislation with balanced protections for agriculture and published a Green Growth Strategy.
While we have delivered in difficult circumstances over the last few years we now seek the support of the people of Northern Ireland for our ambitious plan for the future.
At this election every vote in every constituency will be vital.
The DUP wants to fix our NHS and is committed to investing an extra £1 billion to cut waiting lists using a partnership with the independent sector, delivering an additional 750,000 hospital assessments and procedures, training more GPs per year, rewarding staff and ending the dependence on overpriced agency sector.
Despite the challenges, there are many positive aspects to our health and care system, and a great deal to be proud of.
The task at hand is to deliver a service that everyone can be proud of, at every stage.
The DUP will support full implementation of the ‘Systems not Structures’ report by Prof Rafael Bengoa and invest an additional £2 billion in health above baseline over the next three years and an additional £700m to tackle waiting lists over the next Assembly term.
And working with the Mental Health Champion and local communities, we will continue to prioritise and invest in mental health.
The economy continues to be a priority for the DUP and we have a plan to grow the economy.
We will support 20,000 jobs in the next 5 years, create higher paid jobs in AgriTech, Life and Health Sciences and Advanced Manufacturing, create 5000 new tech jobs, make NI 100% fibre broadband and deliver a modern career service in schools.
We will also work to expand our apprenticeship programme and make tourism a £2 billion industry.
The cost-of-living crisis is very real for many families in Northern Ireland.
In these challenging times working families need support and assistance and that’s why we will deliver 30 hours free childcare per week for 3 and 4 year olds.
We will ensure fair access to pre-school places, financially support hard-pressed families with an Energy Support Payment, deliver Energy Efficiency schemes to support better-insulated homes, and support calls for a Windfall Tax on energy firms.
Global issues are affecting the price of gas and oil and impacting and the knock-on effect is hitting consumers hard.
We are committed to supporting those most in need and ensuring measures are in place to support our community during the hard times.
We also pledge to keep our schools world-class by establishing a fair funding model for all schools and building more new schools in the next five years with a focus on better utilising technology within the classroom.
We will also modernise curriculum for the 21st century workplace and widen access to breakfast and homework clubs and introduce a cap on school uniform costs.
The cost of school uniforms can be extortionate, a problem that is increased depending on the number of children in a household.
This can cause both financial difficulties and unnecessary concern to many families across Northern Ireland.
That is why we will support a cap on school uniform costs.
We will restructure special educational needs services, support well-being and COVID recovery for our children and improve educational outcomes for our most disadvantaged students with a focus on early years.
We will also support coding in primary schools and reduce bureaucracy and administration for schools.
And at this election we again emphasise that we support parental choice and the right of schools to use academic selection if they so wish.
Other parties appear to want to continually tell parents how their children should be educated but the DUP will be a bulwark for parental choice.
The DUP will continue to deliver for our agri-food sector.
The agri-food sector continues to be the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy, with over 100,000 people employed either directly or indirectly.
We are focused on finding solutions to the practical challenges facing the industry.
Amid the challenges of the pandemic and the ongoing volatility of agri-food markets, we continued to prioritise agri-food as an integral part of our economy and the lifeblood of our rural communities, providing £75m in Covid-19 support.
As a party we are proud of where we live and we will continue to strengthen and promote Northern Ireland.
As Northern Ireland moves into its second century, we are looking towards the future of the Union and celebrating the rich cultural traditions which set this place apart.
We have worked the current institutions to the best advantage of Northern Ireland, but we want to see politics and the government at Stormont normalised.
We have had a long-term objective of seeing government established by those who can agree to govern together.
We remain convinced that a voluntary coalition represents the best long-term option for Government in Northern Ireland.
We believe this should be on the basis of a concise agreed coalition plan that can subsequently be augmented by a more comprehensive Programme for Government and supported by a weighted majority in the Assembly.
You can read about these and all of our plans in our 60-page manifesto and on our website but I want to conclude with an appeal directly to the electorate.
Next Thursday you have an important choice to make. It is a clear choice with consequences.
Do you want the next Assembly to focus on the issues that matter to you and your family or do you want the Assembly focused on a divisive border poll?
If Unionists want to see more Unionist MLAs elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly then they need to come out and vote for it.
I make no apology for saying that I want to see Unionists working together in a spirit of co-operation and with purpose.
I make no apology for encouraging unionists to vote for the DUP and then transfer their further preferences to other Pro-Union candidates.
Throughout this campaign it is clear that those who support the Union want to see a unity of purpose amongst their elected representatives.
Transfers will matter and the decisions taken next Thursday will determine the direction of Northern Ireland for years to come.
For over 50 years the DUP has been the party for Northern Ireland, ensuring we have a strong position in the Union.
In the last Assembly, with support from the people, the DUP fought for and delivered more for health services, greater investment in infrastructure, more jobs and better education all as a strong part of the Union.
I recognise there are some things we did not get right and some things could have been done differently but we can come out of COVID and post Brexit stronger, more prosperous and more unified.
But this will only happen if you vote for our policy plan, not for Sinn Fein’s plan for a divisive border poll.
Sinn Fein makes no secret of their plans for a border poll.
But this would cause months and years of arguing and fighting, rather than focus on fixing cost of living pressures, improving our health and education sectors and creating more jobs.
Now is not the time for more division and uncertainty.
A first preference vote for any other unionist party will only divide and weaken the Unionist cause, putting Sinn Fein one step closer to delivering their plans for a border poll.
Michelle O’Neill proudly says she talks about a border poll. If you vote for anyone other than the DUP next Thursday she will not only keeping talking about it, she will act on it by pushing to get a date set for it.
The Alliance Party will not stand up to Sinn Fein on a border poll. In fact they spend more time adopting Sinn Fein policies.
Let’s use this opportunity to work together to focus on the issues that really matter to you and your family.
Let’s build support for real action that matters to everyone.
The campaign over the next seven days will be as crucial as any in the recent history of Northern Ireland.
The choice is clear and the consequences are great.
The prize of a peaceful Northern Ireland, with a stable Executive and the issues around the Protocol resolved is within our grasp.
Let us make sure that we earn the votes next Thursday to make that prospect a reality.
Our support is building - and people recognise what is at stake so let’s use the next seven days to finish the job and ensure Northern Ireland heads in the right direction.
Download our Manifesto here: