Addressing Party Members he said,
"It’s fair to say that a few things have happened since we last met at a gathering like this!
I imagine when Dr Paisley and the first members met half a century ago the notion of a DUP First Minister who had not yet been born, was probably as remote a notion as zoom calls, face masks and hand sanitiser to fight a pandemic!
Tonight, we pause to reflect and to celebrate the first fifty years of this party and to look with renewed optimism to the future.
You will be relieved that this is not an occasion for lengthy political speeches, but I hope you will forgive me for saying just a few words about the past, the present and the future.
Let me assure you I don’t intend to re-live all the ups and downs of the last fifty years – or even to invite the chairman to do so himself! - but as leader of the DUP I want to mark this historic occasion by acknowledging all those who have helped build this party to what it is today.
When I became leader of the DUP just a few months ago I paid tribute to those who had held this office before me.
Dr Paisley, Peter Robinson, Arlene Foster and Edwin Poots all served this party at different times and in different ways and we are what we are because of them.
But the real success of this party is not just down to those who have held positions of leadership, but to all those who have knocked on doors, put-up posters, attended events, offered encouragement or who have helped in so many diverse ways over many years.
The success of this party is your success and the fact that the DUP has prospered for so long is down to your hard work and commitment.
As someone who has still only been leader of this party for fewer than 100 days, I am aware of the long history that has gone before and the heavy responsibility that now rests upon my shoulders.
When Dr Paisley founded the DUP half a century ago, I doubt that even he could have foreseen the success that the party would enjoy in the decades to come.
The pathway from protest to power was not always smooth nor easy: politics never is.
But the progress that we have made is unmistakeable and Northern Ireland is better for it.
We should not forget that it took over thirty years of hard work for the party to secure its position as Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party – a position we have retained in every single election since 2003.
For the record, that’s five Westminster elections, four elections to the European Parliament, four local government elections and five elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
That’s not bad for a party that was written off in 1998 and has been many times since!
And let me assure you, despite what our critics might suggest, we are not done yet!
I don’t pretend that this has been an easy year for this party, and I do not claim that we have always got everything right, but Northern Ireland is a better place today because of our leadership over these last twenty years.
After a difficult start to this year, I believe that we have turned a corner and are once again moving in the right direction.
When I speak to our members, I sense that unity of purpose and determination to succeed has been restored.
Mr Chairman, we are moving forward once again.
But my goal is not just to win elections – though I’ll admit that’s pretty important – it is to do something with the power that we win.
That is why this evening I will make you three promises.
Firstly, I will do everything in my power to remove the Irish Sea border and restore Northern Ireland’s economic and constitutional position as a full part of the United Kingdom.
Secondly, I will work tirelessly to give us the strength to defend the union by retaining the DUP’s position as Northern Ireland’s largest party at the next Assembly election.
And thirdly I will be prepared to take the steps which will make sure that this party not only celebrates its century in fifty years' time, but that Northern Ireland can celebrate its second hundred years in 2121!
Though this is our fiftieth anniversary dinner, it is not just a time to look back on how far the party has come, but forward to the future.
We have two great challenges ahead: to remove the Irish Sea border and to lay the foundations for Northern Ireland’s success in the future.
They are, to coin a phrase, interlocking and interdependent.
Unless and until the issues around the protocol are resolved Northern Ireland’s economic success is going to be inhibited and our constitutional position undermined.
And unless we can ensure a substantial and enduring majority for Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, any success that we have in addressing the issues with the protocol will have been a pyric victory.
There are those who would focus on one of these objectives but not the other.
But as Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party we must ensure that both are delivered.
That is why we have set out our stall against an Irish Sea border and have also set out a vision for unionism for decades to come.
When I was first elected as DUP leader, I said that I wanted to build the broadest coalition of support for the Union.
And I meant it.
Over the past twenty odd years this party has expanded its base in terms of elected representatives, members and voters and we are much the stronger because of it.
It is that coalition of support that has ensured election victory after election victory and our ability to influence our own future.
I myself am a product of that expansion and I know that many of you in this room are as well.
Those of us who have joined from other parties have successfully fused together with those who began the journey half a century ago and make the party what it is today.
But we must not rest on our laurels; we must go even further to attract those who share our vision of a modern and positive union.
As Lord Carson said in February 1921 - 100 years ago,
“And I so I say, from the start be tolerant of all and, while maintaining to the last your own traditions and your own citizenship, take care that similar rights are preserved for those who differ from us”.
And we must work alongside other unionists to help deliver a better future for our country.
Earlier this week, along with Doug Beattie, Jim Allister and Billy Hutchinson, I was delighted to sign the unionist declaration on the Northern Ireland protocol.
This was important, not just because it reaffirmed our opposition to the protocol, but because it demonstrated a unity of purpose across all of unionism.
And, if the protocol is still in place come the next election, I want to see this united opposition combining to win a majority of votes and seats in the Assembly.
And yes, I do also want to make sure that Sinn Fein are deprived of claiming a boost for their campaign to hold a divisive border poll, by making sure the DUP is returned as Northern Ireland’s largest party.
On the evidence of recent election results unionists winning a majority of Assembly seats is no small challenge, but there remains an enormous reservoir of untapped unionist voters who have sat at home in recent elections - though notably turned out in the Brexit and Belfast Agreement referendums.
I do not know what the next few weeks will hold, but let me be clear if there are difficult decisions to be taken in the time ahead, I will be prepared to take them.
I am not in the business of quick fixes or plastering over fundamental problems but I want to find long term solutions that work for all our people.
As a party that has been around for half a century, we must judge our decisions with the perspective of years and not simply weeks or months.
The Government’s Command paper in July demonstrates that it now fully understands the economic and constitutional impact of the protocol and has repeatedly made it clear that the preconditions for triggering Article 16 have already been satisfied.
The EU too appear to be moving, though it is not yet clear whether this will be far enough or fast enough.
Even those who were cheerleaders for the “rigorous implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol,” have fallen silent as they realise the danger it was doing to our economy and our people.
As I said at the beginning of September, while the issues around the protocol remain unresolved it cannot and will not be business as usual.
But the next election, whenever it comes, will be critical for Northern Ireland and for unionism.
Despite what has been implied in some of the reporting on the subject, I have neither asked any other party to stand aside in any constituencies in the next Assembly election, nor do I intend to do so.
I expect others to seek a mandate for their own parties and policies, just as I will seek such a mandate for the DUP.
But I do see a real value in unionist parties working together to seek to increase turnout at the polls and to encourage transfers to other parties which oppose the protocol.
Unionist party political opponents do not need to be enemies.
I like and respect both Jim Allister and Doug Beattie.
Jim has taken a strong and consistent line on the protocol and Doug has sought to expand support for the union to those who have not voted for unionist parties in recent elections.
I want to make sure the DUP is in the market for the voters who are looking for either or preferably both these attributes at the next Assembly election.
That’s why on 1 July I not only made it clear that I wanted to remove the Irish Sea border’s pernicious impact on our trading and constitutional position, but that I also wanted to broaden and deepen the support for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
I have little doubt that the next few months will be challenging and difficult.
Decisions will have to be taken, though we have never shied away from a challenge in the past: and we will not do so now.
This party has been written off in the past and our political obituaries have been written many times before.
I see some are even at it again!
We have taken knocks along the way.
But we have always emerged stronger, because we held our nerve when others panicked, because we adapted to changing circumstances and because we remained united despite being assailed on all sides.
There is no doubt that we are being tested once again.
But this time it is not simply the fate of the DUP that lies in the balance, but the economic and constitutional integrity of the Union itself.
Mr Chairman, since the foundation of Northern Ireland, many unionist parties have come and gone.
But in the last fifty years only one party has gone from strength to strength.
If in the coming weeks and months we can navigate Northern Ireland’s path away from an Irish Sea border to arrangements which can stand the test of time and to a more secure Union, I trust that we will be as fondly regarded as those who we remember and pay tribute to today.
Colleagues, with your help and support I have every confidence that this will be the case.