Thank you Mr Speaker.
First of all, I congratulate you on being elected, by both sides of this House, to serve as Speaker. I know you will carry out the responsibilities of your Office with great dedication.
As one of the class of 1998, you have an unrivalled experience on these benches and I look forward to working with you and the rest of the team in your Office.
I also wish the outgoing Speaker well in his retirement and thank him sincerely for his service to this House.
Michelle O’Neill and I come from very different backgrounds.
Regardless of that, for my part, I will work tirelessly to ensure that we can deliver for everyone in Northern Ireland.
I recognise that for many today, it is an historic moment with the nomination of Michelle O’Neill and myself as First Ministers. It is a day that confirms the democratic outcome of the election.
Mr Speaker, serving people in this House in any role is an honour and a privilege. It is an opportunity to shape Northern Ireland for the better and to make a meaningful difference.
I love Northern Ireland. I am deeply proud to be from this place we all call home. Despite our often troubled history and the divisions of the past, I know we have incredible potential.
As a young girl sitting in Markethill High School almost 30 years ago, I could never have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to serve in such a way.
This is a responsibility and an honour that I will never take for granted.
Each and every day I will strive to make this place the very best it can be.
I thank Sir Jeffrey and our Deputy Leader Gavin Robinson for their support by being here today, their leadership in getting us to this point, and for the great honour of being asked to step up to serve.
Mr Speaker, like so many across this chamber and throughout Northern Ireland, I grew up with conflict.
As a child of just 11, I stepped outside my Markethill home on a warm August afternoon to the absolute devastation from an IRA bomb.
Seared within my experience is the haunting wail of alarms and our emergency services, the carpet of glass and debris, the shock, the crying and the panic that shook and destroyed the place I called home.
I am thankful that our young people today do not have to face that terror that so many of us here did. As a child, I didn't understand the politics of it, - but I will never forget the fear, the hurt and the anger.
There are moments in each of our lives that shape us.
The past, with all its horror, can never be forgotten or nor will it be allowed to be rewritten.
But while we are shaped by the past, we are not defined by it.
The experience of my childhood gave me a drive and desire to make a different future, not only for myself but to do all I can to ensure a better future for us all.
Across this chamber, we have different political viewpoints and experiences - but we also know the wee mummy waiting on her cancer diagnosis is not defined as being republican or unionist.
She is defined by sleepless nights and worry that she may never see her children grow up.
The daddy fighting to get the right educational support for his child is not defined by orange or green, but by the stress and anxiety for the future of the child they love.
Let this be our inspiration for those are the issues that we can agree on.
The challenges so many families face throughout Northern Ireland are the same no matter where, or what we are or believe. It is those shared problems, that are blighting too many lives, that we can work constructively, urgently, together to improve.
We must learn the lessons of the last 7 years, whatever path we are going to take - on Health Service reform, schools reform, improving our public services and making this place a thriving and flourishing Northern Ireland it can be - we will only succeed by walking that path side by side and not by dismissing and demeaning the concerns of each other.
There can be no dominating from one to the other, but a new approach of recognising the concerns of each other and finding solutions together.
We are all born equal - and the people who look on this sitting today demand us to work together.
Michelle is an Irish republican and I am a unionist. We will never agree on those issues, but what we can is agree on is that cancer doesn’t discriminate and our hospitals need fixed.
We can agree that too many mummies and some daddies are having to give up work because childcare is too expensive.
We can agree that our teachers need supported, and equipped to teach and our public sector workers need properly paid.
We all agree that drugs destroy communities, and the police need resourced to put the dealers out of business.
And what we can all agree with is that economic prosperity is the game changer for every community.
Let us be a source of hope to those young people watching today, not one of despair.
Let us prove that difference is something that can be a strength, through recognition and respect.
That difference need not be a barrier to progress and delivery.
That is my pledge – I love this place we call home. I will work tirelessly to delivery for the people of Northern Ireland, from all and every background.
I will do so with the best of my abilities - honoured by the privilege and opportunity to do so.
Let’s do it side by side and Let’s Keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward.”