Launch of 2024 General Election Campaign

Speaking in Lisburn to launch the 2024 General Election campaign, DUP Leader Gavin Robinson said,

By Gavin Robinson Candidate

Belfast East

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Good evening; thank you for joining us here in Lisburn, to launch our General Election Campaign and to unveil our strong team of Democratic Unionist candidates who will fight the election across Northern Ireland.

At the outset, I want to thank you for your support and loyalty over the last number of weeks as I took on the role of leading the Democratic Unionist Party.

This evening, our MLAs and our outgoing Members of Parliament have bestowed upon me the great honour, and responsibility, of unanimously electing me as your Leader and the Party Executive have unanimously ratified that election.

It is with honour, humility and commitment that I look forward to leading our party into the future.

I thank the Party Executive, the Officers and all the input from local members to facilitate the ratification of our team of candidates. I am pleased to announce the following DUP candidates;

Gregory Campbell, East Londonderry, Sammy Wilson, East Antrim, Jim Shannon, Strangford, Ian Paisley, North Antrim, Gavin Robinson, East Belfast, Paul Girvan, South Antrim, Carla Lockhart, Upper Bann, Jonathan Buckley, Lagan Valley, Philip Brett, North Belfast, Tracy Kelly, South Belfast and Mid Down, Frank McCoubrey, West Belfast, Gary Middleton, Foyle, Tom Buchannan, West Tyrone, Keith Buchanan, Mid-Ulster, Diane Forsyth, South Down and Gareth Wilson, Newry and Armagh.

With energy and purpose, I will lead our Democratic Unionist team into this election campaign and I know that we have a team of candidates that blends the aspiration of colleagues taking on the mantle of fighting a General Election for the first time alongside a depth of unrivalled experience across the Province.

Our candidates are involved in politics because they want to make Northern Ireland a better place.

Northern Ireland of 2024 is a different place than the Northern Ireland of 1984 when I was born.

In 1984 parents were focused on keeping their children away from paramilitaries and getting as far away from the Troubles as they could.

Today, parents are worried about childcare costs and keeping their children safe online.

Today, people are returning to our shores rather than leaving.

They’re coming home.

The beauty of Northern Ireland in 2024 is that there are people who are British and proudly Northern Irish.

There are people who are Irish and proudly Northern Irish.

There are people who are just Northern Irish.

Our challenge as the Party for Northern Ireland is to make sure everyone feels at home here.

It is the job of this party to provide leadership to those who believe in the Union and take pride in Northern Ireland.

It is also our job to not only make the case made for the Union but to take the lead in making Northern Ireland work and building a future that delivers prosperity for its people.

Polling Day will be five weeks tomorrow and we are ready to take our campaign all across Northern Ireland.

During the next thirty-five days we will take a consistent message to the people of Northern Ireland as we fight to return a strong team of Democratic Unionists to Parliament.

This evening, I want to set out the basis of our campaign and our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.

1. Promoting the Union.

The DUP will always work to promote and strengthen the case for the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. In Parliament and as we have demonstrated in previous elections, we also stand ready to work in co-operation with other Unionists.

By supporting your local DUP candidate, you can be sure you are using your vote in a way that will maximise the return of Unionists to Westminster. Right across Northern Ireland, I meet fellow Unionists who want to cast their ‘X” for the unionist candidate that can win.

Undoubtedly in Lagan Valley, Upper Bann, North Antrim, South Antrim, East Antrim, East Londonderry, Strangford, East Belfast, South Belfast and Mid Down and North Belfast the DUP candidate is best placed Unionist to win the seat and make the case for Northern Ireland in Parliament.

In Foyle, West Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast the DUP is the largest Unionist party in those constituencies and we will again run strong, hard-working local representatives who have a track record of delivering locally and who play a vital role in giving unionists an opportunity to cast their support for the Union in the overall NI-wide vote share.

2. Putting You, the People First.

Again, in this campaign, Democratic Unionists will put the people of Northern Ireland first, by working with other parties in Parliament to ensure Northern Ireland’s case is always spotlighted.

In particular we will focus on the just cause of a long-term fair and equitable funding model for Northern Ireland’s needs. Some years ago, I spearheaded the campaign to change the funding formula for Northern Ireland. Where we lead, others followed, and we secured progress, through the recent financial discussions, but it will be important to push home the case in the new spending review in the next Parliament.

3. Removing Barriers Within the United Kingdom.

Importantly I want to set out our commitment on where Northern Ireland stands in the aftermath of the Protocol, the Windsor Framework and then latterly the Government’s Command Paper, “Safeguarding the Union”.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was imposed over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland and without support from any unionist elected representative.

It wrecked the settled political balance within Northern Ireland and led directly to a loss of unionist confidence. This party voted against the imposition of the NI Protocol in both our national Parliament and the European Parliament but it was passed by Boris Johnson and the Conservative Government following the 2019 General Election.

Equally this Party, whilst recognising some progress had been secured did not support the Windsor Framework, negotiated by Rishi Sunak, and spent a further year in various discussions with the UK Government about what further progress could be achieved.

Northern Ireland was cast aside by the so-called Conservative and Unionist Party and some of the greatest harm inflicted on Northern Ireland has been as a consequence of choices made by the Conservative Party; endorsed by our National Parliament.

The truth is that as the leaders of Unionism, we were left to pick up the pieces and make the difficult decisions as to what is the best long-term interests of Northern Ireland. We could have complained, but done little else, leaving power in the hands of those who delivered so much harm.

Or we could act, in the interests of the Northern Ireland, step by step, to right the wrongs.

Following many months of discussions with the Government, it was clear by mid-January that we had to make a judgement as to whether we had secured sufficient progress to allow us to participate in a re-established Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following the ending of those talks by the Government.

On balance, we judged that it was right to return to Stormont in the interests of seeing local decisions being made for the benefit of all our citizens. Even in the first 100 days, our Ministers have played a key role in providing leadership and taking decisions that have benefitted everyone – from childcare to grassroots football provision- decisions that would not have been taken by direct rule Conservative Ministers.

We returned on the basis of the roadmap set out in the Government’s Command Paper. That paper did not secure all of our negotiating objectives and did not remedy a number of the long-term problems born out of the Protocol. It did however contain some important gains which were worthy of banking.

It is important to recognise that both within our party and across wider Unionism there were deeply held, legitimate views as to the best way to proceed. Those who took the view that the Command Paper did not contain enough to remedy our ills were entitled to that view.

Equally however, personal name calling, particularly by those based outside Northern Ireland who called into question our unionism or our commitment to doing what is best for Northern Ireland should not have happened and ought never to be repeated or defended.

Going forward, where within wider Unionism we differ, we should all do so respectfully and well rather than in narrow and hurtful terms and we should certainly never call into question the bona fides of fellow unionists.

I want to acknowledge that whilst the Government moved to implement elements of the package, other significant aspects have yet to be implemented and any new Government will have much work to do.

Some of the claims made in defence of the paper when published were based on significant further work that had yet to be completed and again, it would have been preferable had the debate been grounded in a greater degree of cautious realism about what was achievable when dealing with a Conservative Government more wedded to the European Union. Progress made, grounded in principle, with more still to do.

Our clear message going forward is that we are campaigning to send a strong message to a new Government, whether Labour or Conservative, that building on the progress to date, we will continue to fight to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, including removing the application of EU law in our country and the internal Irish Sea Border it creates.

We will continue to argue the case for the full primacy of the United Kingdom internal market and we will resist all attempts to undermine its integrity.

You will recall that the Stormont Brake mechanism was not part of the original Protocol and the fact that Members of the Assembly now have this mechanism is because we pushed for it and secured it. Amending the Protocol to remove dynamic alignment and injecting democratic control was a significant step forward and we will use it to full affect.

Come October, we will not hesitate to vote against the continued application and, drawing upon the new mechanisms at our disposal, we will continue our quest through the inbuilt review.

4. Protecting Northern Ireland Against Illegal Immigration.

This party recognises the valuable contribution made by many from diverse backgrounds who come to Northern Ireland legally, make it their home and contribute to our society.

The national concern about Illegal Immigration however is an emerging and growing issue in Northern Ireland. We warned the outgoing Government that they needed to act in a decisive way to ensure Northern Ireland was part of a UK-wide immigration policy that worked. In the next Parliament we will campaign and argue that the Government must act, through legislation, to ensure Northern Ireland is fully protected against illegal immigration.

5. Elect members of Parliament who will deliver for their constituencies.

As we have proved time and again DUP MPs and indeed MLAs and Cllrs make service to their communities their main priority. We again commit that the issues that matter will be championed and a dedicated constituency service will be provided where DUP MPs are elected.

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Finally, I want to set out our position on co-operating with other unionists.

Yesterday I met separately with Doug Beattie, Jim Allister and Alex Easton to discuss how we can best work together in the interests of the Union.

We have our different views and different attitudes on the best tactics to employ but for my part I recognise that Doug, Jim and Alex are all genuine fellow unionists who believe as passionately in the Union as I do.

The Democratic Unionist Party not only talks the talk of unionist co-operation but also has demonstrated at previous General Elections in particular that we have been prepared to sacrifice our party interest in the best interests of Northern Ireland’s cause within the Union.

In truth the DUP is the largest unionist party in North Down and Fermanagh South Tyrone having outpolled other parties in both the Assembly and local Government elections in 2022 and 2023.

We recognise that in the interests of working collectively to secure Pro-Union Members of Parliament we want to lead by example and as the leaders of Unionism we are unilaterally announcing the following:

In North Down we will not field a Democratic Unionist and we endorse Alex Easton, who is in our view a candidate with a strong and dedicated zeal for North Down, and who has a track record of being best placed to unite pro-union voters in the cause of winning in North Down.

In Fermanagh/South Tyrone whilst again we are the first choice of unionist voters in the area, we have not fielded a candidate at a General Election since 2005.

We previously supported the non-party aligned campaign of Rodney Connor and we supported, campaigned and helped elect Tom Elliot in 2015 and supported his re-election campaign in 2017 and subsequent attempt in 2019.

It is our strong view that the best chance of maximising the election of a Pro-Union candidate to give Parliamentary representation to the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom would have been through a process of agreement between the unionist parties. For our part we were engaged in such a process last year.

However, the Ulster Unionist Party selected Erne North Councillor Diana Armstrong as their candidate and they have made clear that they do not intend to withdraw their candidate from the election.

On that basis and in the interests of trying to win the seat for a Unionist candidate we have decided not to field a DUP candidate for this election only and we would encourage all Unionists in the constituency to set aside internal unionist debate and vote for the Ulster Unionist candidate in the interests of returning a Pro-Union Member of Parliament.

I want to publicly thank our DUP Associations in North Down and Fermanagh/South for their wise counsel on these issues and to acknowledge their readiness at this election to agree to wider Pro-Union co-operation.

We leave our campaign launch this evening with a strong platform to campaign upon, with a strong, united and determined team, a mix of experience and youth and a determination to fight for every vote.

Across Northern Ireland voters will face a clear choice.

Do they want to elect those who will go to Parliament and unashamedly make the case for Northern Ireland within the Union, wanting to promote it and do the best for it or will they be represented by people who won’t go or who will spend their time talking Northern Ireland down?

Northern Ireland needs a strong DUP team in Westminster who will take their seats on the opposition benches and speak up for Northern Ireland.

As we proved before, more seats mean more influence which means more for Northern Ireland.

Let us focus on working together to ensure our children inherit Northern Ireland in better shape than when we found it.

That must be our goal.

Let us go forward and prove that on 4th July it is the Democratic Unionist Party that will be the leading voice for Northern Ireland.

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