As we stand at the threshold of 2024, I want to wish you, your family and friends a Happy New Year. As we leave the last few days of 2023 behind and think about the future it is an opportunity to reflect and to set goals and resolutions for what lies ahead. Often, in the first few weeks of a new year we stride to work towards our resolutions but as we get further into the year they can often be downgraded or forgotten as our busy daily lives again take over!
2024 is likely to be another hectic year. This is the year we want to see our negotiations successfully concluded and the UK Government implement actions that will see Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom restored and the harm caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol erased so that we can move forward together. This means safeguarding our place in the U.K. internal market both now and for the future, whilst retaining our access to the EU single market. These objectives are not mutually exclusive, nor do they lead to the creation of an all-island economy. Our clear mission remains to uphold the integrity of the Union, within which we can make Northern Ireland prosper and succeed. The Government knows what needs to be done to right the wrongs of what was imposed upon Northern Ireland without consent.
Restoring Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market is a key objective for us as we embark on this New Year. Our decision to withdraw the First Minister on 3rd February 2022 came because our repeated warning had not resulted in real or decisive action by the Government to deal with the Protocol.
In our long and justified campaign we have made progress and whilst the process has taken longer than anyone wished, nevertheless, we have not lost our focus or desire to secure long-term solutions, measured against the tests in our manifesto which work for Northern Ireland and our place within the United Kingdom. As I have said repeatedly, we will be led by securing the necessary conditions for long-term stability rather than a quick and rushed fix that would quickly fall apart.
Securing that stable outcome will see local accountable decisions again be taken at Stormont on the basis of cross-community consensus. It is in the best interests of Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom to have fully functioning devolved government, with locally elected representatives taking those decisions.
The challenges we face are not insignificant, but they are no greater than many we have successfully surmounted in the past. We want to ensure that action is taken to drive down waiting lists and fix our National Health Service. We are pledged to help working families, particularly those facing crippling childcare bills. We want to invest in our education system, building new schools and modernise the curriculum for the 21st Century workplace.
We look forward to campaigning in the forthcoming General Election and we will do so, whenever the Prime Minister decides to call it, confident that we have fought hard for Northern Ireland at Westminster, and we have a solid record of delivery that we can campaign on.
I want to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the last twelve months and I wish you every blessing and success as you contemplate and plan for the year ahead