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Arlene Foster: Sinn Fein victory would be biggest blow to unionism since creation of the State

It would be a disaster if the furore over RHI empowered republicans to undermine Northern Ireland, writes DUP leader Arlene Foster

This is the most important election in a generation and may well be the most dangerous one for unionism since the creation of Northern Ireland. By lunchtime on Saturday we will know the result of the election. Every political commentator, analyst or pundit accepts that either the DUP or Sinn Fein will win the most seats.

The other parties aren't even running enough candidates to compete for the top spot - and in any event the polls suggest that they lag well behind the DUP and Sinn Fein, who are running neck and neck.

It is too close to call.

The only way you can ensure that Sinn Fein do not emerge as the largest party at the election is to vote DUP.

A vote for any other unionist party will simply split the vote and allow Sinn Fein to come out ahead. Indeed, with the UUP there is a real danger that first preference unionist votes will end up electing nationalists ahead of other unionists!

Every vote will matter. Your vote will decide the future direction of Northern Ireland. How you cast your vote in the polling booth on Thursday will determine not just the make-up of any new Assembly and Executive, it will determine what kind of country we will live in.

An Assembly election is a choice, not a referendum. Some people have sought to make this a referendum on the RHI. It is not. People are understandably angry about the RHI, and undoubtedly mistakes were made, but a full public inquiry has been established that will take all of the evidence and reach conclusions. Since December we have been working to put right the flaws in the scheme and to limit the cost to the budget.

It would be a disaster for unionism if the handling of a renewable energy scheme was allowed to be used as a catalyst to undermine the Union. This would be particularly unnecessary in advance of any findings of wrongdoing by the public inquiry; and given the fact that I have made a commitment to accept the outcome of whatever the inquiry concludes.

In every election the issues are complex and complicated, with many different perspectives, but when the moment comes to mark your ballot paper the choice is actually very simple.

Do you want a DUP-led administration at Stormont working for everyone or do you want Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein given a mandate to set the agenda for your future?

What matters on Thursday is the future direction of Northern Ireland. That will be determined by the party that has the most seats. I want the DUP to have the most seats so that we can stand up for unionism and deliver on our plans for more jobs and a better health service. I want the DUP to have the most seats so that we can negotiate the best Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. I want us to get back to delivering for the people who elected us.

However, the consequence of us not winning the election will be that Gerry Adams will be in a position to push his radical republican agenda. Some people say it doesn't matter who wins the election. They could not be more wrong.

If Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein win the election it would give republicans a massive mandate for their demands with the British Government. They would use an election victory as a justification for a border poll, which would be divisive and destabilising.

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein would use an election victory for vindication of their position that the border between the UK and the EU should be the Irish Sea - not the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein would take an election victory for republicans as a mandate to pursue their strategy of putting our soldiers and security forces in the dock and of rewriting history.

By vindicating the decisions to force an election, it would not only make devolution harder to restore, but would reward those who caused the crisis and make devolution permanently unstable. Make no mistake, it is not the DUP, but the British Government that Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein want to be dealing with.

It would threaten our economic recovery by undermining the prospects for a reduction in corporation tax and make the needs of the Northern Ireland economy subservient to the narrow party political interests of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein.

If, as Sinn Fein has sought, the Justice Department is selected by d'Hondt, it would allow a Sinn Fein Justice Minister for the first time in history, while the PSNI and security services state that the IRA Army Council still exists, and some believe that it continues to control Sinn Fein.

It would lead to the sort of sectarian abuse of power that has been seen wherever Sinn Fein have been able to do so - from the removal of the Union flag at City Hall to the glorification of convicted terrorists, to the ministerial abuse of office which has been adjudicated upon by the courts.

It would likely give Sinn Fein the power to run the most government departments in Northern Ireland with the ability to shape policy consistent with Gerry Adams' all-Ireland agenda in a thousand different ways.

It would give Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein a hugely significant world-wide propaganda boost just months after nationalism's worst election since 1993 and would undermine the unionist confidence which is being rebuilt after so many years in decline. And finally, it would of course give Sinn Fein the right to nominate a First Minister.

I don't agree with everything that unionist commentator Alex Kane has to say, but I did agree with his comment last week that: "It is quite possible that Sinn Fein could win the most seats on March 2: and it is also quite possible that unionists, for the first time ever, would not represent a majority in a Northern Ireland Parliament or Assembly… Not having an overall unionist majority … would I believe have a huge psychological impact across unionism."

That is not the sort of future that I want to see for Northern Ireland. That's why on Thursday I am asking you to turn out to vote DUP and then to transfer to other unionists.

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