Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

How the DUP will triumph over apathy of the armchair

The party is on course to be the voters' choice for unionism's next century, says Nigel Dodds

In 1912, hundreds of thousands of unionists, in an unprecedented act of defiance, signed the Ulster Covenant. The event and document was definitive. It helped define the first century of modern unionism.

The creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 was the ultimate consequence of the covenant and the supreme sacrifice made on the battlefields of the Great War.

As we approach the centenary of this event, there is an opportunity for unionism to look to the future.

We need to ask what must be done in the next Assembly term to secure and build Northern Ireland's second century.

That is why the theme for the DUP's party conference is 'let's keep Northern Ireland moving forward'.

I know things aren't perfect. There is still too much bickering and arguing at Stormont, but we have made a start and we are moving in the right direction.

It was not so long ago that Sinn Fein leaders would claim we were headed to Irish unity by 2016. Even before recent events this talk had ceased, but the events had demonstrated just how much such talk was fantasy. That future is dead.

This places an even greater responsibility on unionism not to be complacent at these developments, but to press forward.

The initiative lies with us and we must seize it and create the momentum to a better future.

Since the DUP became entrusted with leading unionism and Northern Ireland we have confounded our critics. Under the party's strong leadership there has been clear, steady and identifiable progress.

How do we achieve this when others had repeatedly failed? We succeed because of our inner strength; the strength to say no when we have to; the strength to say yes when it is right to.

What drives this inner strength? This strength is derived from our conviction that the future can be better. This strength and conviction means we believe we can meet any challenge, whether it was negotiating a new Agreement, or now tackling the economic downturn.

As we advance we must draw the best of the first century of unionism and bind it with the new approaches needed for the next century.

As we move into our second century the priority will be to move beyond a tortuous peace process and develop a politics that is responsive and relevant to the everyday lives of people here.

The DUP will seek to be the engine of change to create the Northern Ireland of 2021 and beyond.

We have set the agenda on the size of government in the province, cutting departments, quangos and MLAs. We have set the agenda on the future of our education system with the call for a commission to plan a single system.

We have set the agenda on moving Stormont towards a voluntary coalition.

On voluntary coalition I add this: there are fears of what that would mean. We should not dismiss these concerns, but address them.

Why does unionism need to develop? We need to move unionism forward to compete in the 2011 Assembly election and beyond.

Our true competitor is not the UUP, TUV, Alliance, SDLP or Sinn Fein. It is a silent competitor. It is a tempting competitor. This competitor is the comfy armchair and television.

The DUP knows, whether it is on the streets of Belfast or the lanes of Tyrone, the day when votes could be expected has passed. Every vote must be earned.

We must give people the reasons to vote, to get out of the armchair and away from the television.

Our electoral task for 2011 and beyond is to ensure democracy overwhelms apathy.

Through this the DUP will keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

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