Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Arlene Foster becomes DUP leader: full statement

Arlene Foster has been formally elected as first female party leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. Ms Foster's acceptance speech in full is below.

"The very first thing I want to say is thank you.

"Thank you for the confidence you have shown in me, thank you for the opportunity you have given me and thank you for entrusting the leadership of this party to me. It is an enormous honour and an even greater responsibility to take up this role.

"It is truly humbling to follow in the footsteps of political giants like Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson.

"For much of the last forty years this party toiled in the political wilderness but today we stand tall as the largest unionist party and the party of Northern Ireland. That is down to the hard work and efforts of those who have gone before me.

"And as a result of that labour this role is not just as leader of the DUP but the leader of unionism.

"I want to build on the firm foundations that have been laid and take this party from strength to strength.

"It is not a word of exaggeration to say that none of this would have been possible but for the work of Peter.

"There will be other opportunities to make our tributes and to place on the public record our appreciation but I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying just a few words.

"We all know and history will undoubtedly record the role that Peter has played in building this party and building this Province.

"He was never stronger than when times were tough and never better than when there was a political crisis.

"Put simply we would not have government at Stormont today if it were not for Peter Robinson.

"We owe him a debt of gratitude that words cannot adequately express.

"He was instrumental in bringing me and others like me into the DUP and in consolidating our political dominance.

"Little did I think that when I joined this party eleven years ago that I would be standing here today.

"From the very first day I was welcomed with open arms and made feel at home.

"It is the strength of this party that we welcome all those who share our values and our vision.

"That is why we grow and that is why we succeed. In this room we all know that there is not an old DUP and a new DUP, there is only one Democratic Unionist Party and for as long as I am leader that will always be the case.

"Tonight you do me the great honour of electing me as your leader.  From tomorrow it will be my job to repay the faith you have shown in me.

"The style of leadership may change but the fundamental values of this party will not.

"I want to take our cause and our case to every part of the Province.

"I want to make the case for the Union to every class and creed.

"I want us to help make the lives of our people better.

"I want us to make Northern Ireland a more harmonious society.

"And I want us to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our people.

"None of this I can do alone but only with the support of you all.  I know in the times to come I will rely on your trust, your support and your counsel. We are starting a new phase of our journey but we do so confident about the future.

"Many of us can remember what it was like just 20 or 30 years ago.  Northern Ireland was a very different place. A place full of great people but not much hope.

"But throughout the worst of the Troubles we never lost our belief that we would pull through.  That terrorism and tyranny would be defeated and that peace and democracy would triumph.

"It was a long hard road.  Too many didn't make it.

"We will never, ever forget their sacrifice.  Nor will we allow others to rewrite our history.  Sullying the memory of those that stood up for freedom and democracy in a feeble attempt to justify murder and mayhem.

"The Troubles have scarred Northern Ireland's history but we must not let them shape our future. We have an opportunity to build the best legacy possible to those who lost their lives during the Troubles - a prosperous Northern Ireland, confident, outward looking and at peace with itself.

"We are on the cusp of Northern Ireland's second century.  Just think about that for a moment.  In six short years, Northern Ireland will celebrate its 100th birthday.

"Can any of us imagine what it must have been like for our founding fathers back in the early 20s? Building a new state from scratch.  One that was under threat from the very start.

"No one thought Northern Ireland would last. Terrorist campaigns and less than loyal governments sought to deprive us of our birthright.  Yet the people of Northern Ireland 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.

"It is a sign of our success that our political discourse is no longer dominated by disagreements about the constitution.  That our efforts have settled an issue many thought insoluble.

"The best way for us to cement the Union for this and future generations is to do something that our enemies did their best to prevent.  And that's to make Northern Ireland work.

"How do we do that?  By focusing on ideas and not ideologies. The people of Northern Ireland don't want to hear their politicians squabbling about issues that seem unconnected to their daily lives.

"People who get up early in the morning, get their kids to school, go and do a hard day’s work and come home tired, don't want to turn their TVs on and hear us sound completely and utterly out of touch with real life, arguing over things that don't matter to them or their family.

"They want to know that when they work hard and pay their taxes that their government is doing its best to ensure that their children get a good education, that their parents will get the healthcare they need when they need it and that they will be supported if times get tough.

"If we are to continue to keep unionism ahead then this party must become the party of ideas.  I want us to convince people to vote DUP on the merits of our case not just because we are the biggest or because they've always voted for our Party.  I want to win because we have the best ideas.

"Ideas that appeal to those who are DUP to the core. And ideas that appeal to people of every creed, colour and class. An excellent education system. World class health and social care. A strong, innovative economy. These aren't sectional or sectarian. They are for everyone.

"We will never resile from our belief that Northern Ireland is best served being part of the Union.  But unionism is about all of us and not anyone alone.  It is about everyone working together as one, for the greater good, to build a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.

"I want people to support the DUP because we are the best defenders of the Union that is so important to the success of Northern Ireland.

"But I also want people of all religious persuasions, from all social backgrounds to make this Party their home because we are the ones who can create a growing economy, who can best reform our NHS and who can tackle educational underachievement in our working class communities.

"Sometimes it can be hard in the here and now to appreciate how far we've come.  How much progress we've made.  How improved things are. But be in no doubt. These are better days.

"Better days than we'd ever have imagined possible or dared to dream about back in the deepest, darkest days of the Troubles. Dark days that cast shadows over far too many homes in Northern Ireland.  Mine included.

They are experiences that will live with me forever. I could have been overcome forever by the anger or animosity that experiences like that can understandably create.  But I didn’t.  If anything, those experiences have served only to strengthen my determination to do absolutely everything I can to ensure my children and another generation don’t have to endure what we did.

"A generation is growing up with no understanding of what it was like to live in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.  For many, it’s just something they learn about in history at school.  It’s an echo from our past.  Thankfully it isn’t something they have to live through today.  And that’s how I want things to remain.  I want our children and those that come after them to live in better days than we did.

"There will always be the sneerers and the snarlers who will talk down the progress this Party has made.  But be in no doubt the DUP has helped deliver better days for Northern Ireland. And better not just because we have a degree of peace and political stability that seemed so far from our grasp for many years.

"But better because we are beginning to build a Northern Ireland that is realising the potential that we know that this wee place we love possesses in abundance.

"Better because we are attracting more inward investment than at any time in our history. Better because our children achieve the best GCSE results in the whole of the United Kingdom.

"These are better days. But we can have better still. A few weeks ago, Peter helped to unveil a portrait in Parliament Buildings of one of Northern Ireland’s literary giants – CS Lewis.

The portrait includes some of the great man’s own words.  A quote that reads “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

"Aspiring to far, far better things is not something we have been familiar with in this part of the world.  Hoping for better than we have has been hampered by a past that deprived us of our dreams.

"But we have moved on and we can go further. As far as we have come in recent times we know we have further to go.  The Northern Ireland of 2015 is an infinitely better place than the one of the 1970s or 1980s but we have not yet reached our full potential.

"We’ve made massive progress but the absence of violence is not in itself enough. I want to see us achieve much more.

"Some like to talk this place down.  They say we are too small.  We are stuck on the edge of Europe.  We can never compete against others.

"The same was probably said a century ago when this part of the world was an economic powerhouse.  A global player.  An engine in our Kingdom's economy.

"Why did we fight so hard to reduce corporation tax after others gave up? Why do we endeavour to attract inward investment? Why do we focus so much on growing our economy? Not simply because of the benefits it brings business.  But because of the benefits it brings our whole society.

"And it also creates the chance to usher in an era of opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland.  To create a Northern Ireland in a new century that is as good as we know it can be. A Northern Ireland which offers its citizens a good start in life. A good working life. A good family life. A good place to grow old. And a good place to do business.

"Northern Ireland should no longer be somewhere where second best will suffice.  We aren’t held back by the Troubles.  Or the inability to shape our own destiny.  We don’t need to look to anyone else for help.  Or point the finger of blame in another direction.  Our future is in our own hands.

"Alongside that portrait of CS Lewis is another of someone from a very different background – the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.  The quotation on his painting reads, “Believe that a further shore is reachable from here”.

"A further, better shore may not always be the clearest to see or seem the easiest to reach.  But it is there.  And it is not beyond us.

"Better days do indeed lie ahead for Northern Ireland.  But they are only possible if we begin to believe.

"Begin to believe that we can transform our economy. Believe that we can have the best schools and hospitals. And believe that we can build a united community.  Our job in the weeks and months and years ahead will be to instil that same belief that better days are yet to come in the people of Northern Ireland.  That we are the ones who will help this country be the best that it can be.  That the DUP – and the DUP alone – leads the way to better days.

"Tonight with humility and hope for the future I accept your nomination and endorsement to lead this party.  Tomorrow the next phase of our journey begins. Together let us work to make sure that we strengthen the Union and to make Northern Ireland a place in which we can all be proud."

Online Editors

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph