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Arlene Foster: 'We must seize the opportunity to move Northern Ireland forward'

The night she became our most powerful political leader

By Lesley Houston

The DUP's new leader Arlene Foster has vowed to bring Northern Ireland towards its first century as a harmonious society led by a united party.

The party last night unanimously endorsed the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA and current Finance Minister as its first female head, welcoming the mother-of-three into the role with a two-minute standing ovation at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast.

Mrs Foster was the only candidate for the position, which she accepted last night with "humility and hope". She said: "The style of leadership may change but the fundamental values of this party will not."

The former UUP member, who defected to the DUP in 2004, takes the helm after First Minister Peter Robinson (66) announced his intention to resign as party leader and First Minister last month. It is expected she will take over the Assembly role in January.

Announcing Mrs Foster as leader, party chairman Lord Morrow said 46 representatives of its electoral college had endorsed her unanimously.

Taking the reins, Mrs Foster said she was leading NI towards its first 100 years in 2021 in a party that was capable of making "a more harmonious society".

"No one thought Northern Ireland would last," Mrs Foster added. "Terrorist campaigns and less than loyal Governments sought to deprive us of our birthright. Yet the people of stood strong and withstood whatever was thrown at them.

"Now, we stride confidently towards our second century safe in the knowledge that Northern Ireland's place within the Union is secure.

"When I was growing up many of our family and friends firmly believed that a united Ireland was inevitable. I can recall people talking about emigrating when that fateful day would come.

"But it never arrived. Something that seemed so certain for many in a generation battered by terrorism and betrayed by Governments in London they looked towards to defend them has given way to a new-found sense of certainty that Northern Ireland is here and it's here to stay.

"With the safety and security of knowing that the constitutional question has been settled, it should inspire us with the confidence to look forward into the future and transform Northern Ireland into the sort of society that was denied to so many because of the Troubles.

"Our place within the United Kingdom has been fought for and secured by the sacrifice of others. It is now up to this generation to seize the opportunity to move Northern Ireland forward.

"We must remain ever-vigilant. We can't be complacent or let our opponents use other means to erode the Union, our heritage and our culture.

"But our politics need not be consumed by the constitutional argument in the way that it once was. The Assembly debates issues every week. Our ministers answer thousands of questions. How many of those debates or questions are about the Union or the border or the constitution? Very few, if any.

"Instead, they focus on issues like health, education and the economy. Put simply, they reflect the issues that concern our citizens most."

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