This weekend the DUP will be meeting for our party conference in Armagh City. We are extremely cognisant of the very difficult world economic circumstances which form the backdrop to our gathering. That is why the party has taken as its theme ‘strong leadership in challenging times’.
I believe that the DUP is uniquely qualified among the political parties in Northern Ireland to provide the kind of strong leadership that people want to see from their elected representatives at this time.
As I travel around our country I encounter people who are finding life really difficult at the moment.
It has become harder to make ends meet. Rising food costs and utility bills mean that many people face a very bleak Christmas.
Our elderly population is worried about the value of their pensions and how they are going to heat their homes through the winter, whilst our younger people are rightly concerned at the impact which the ongoing global financial catastrophe is going to have on their future employment prospects.
They ask me what I, as First Minister, and my party, as the largest in the Assembly, are going to do to make life better for them. They are right to do so. If devolution means anything at all it means using the additional powers that we have to improve the day and daily lives of the people of Northern Ireland.
The DUP can point to many sterling achievements achieved in government during the 18 months or so that we have had devolution.
When I was the Finance Minister, I made it the number one priority of the devolved government to expand Northern Ireland's economy. A successful economy, with good, highly paid jobs, is the cornerstone of a peaceful and secure society.
To that end, I introduced Industrial de-rating, enabling our vulnerable manufacturing sector to persevere and grow in these difficult times.
Northern Ireland's first budget, crafted by the DUP, also contained an £18bn plan for expanding our infrastructure to facilitate greater economic development.
Through the budget we have delivered record investment in Health: investment which produced the announcement of the abolition of prescription charging. We have helped older people by delivering £1.8m in savings on rates bills for lone pensioners, introduced free public transport for the over-60s and are progressing plans for an Older Persons Commissioner.
I have sought to help our hard-pressed families by freezing the Regional Rate for the next three years and deferring the introduction of water charges.
As Northern Ireland moves forward into the future, we must never forget the past. That is why in government, the DUP has ensured that the victims of the violence here are getting the recognition that they deserve and were denied during previous periods of devolution. The victims sector budget has been doubled to £36m.
The DUP has used government to provide leadership in these challenging times, but we believe that much more can be achieved through fully functioning devolution that is responsive to the needs of the people of our country.
That is why the current block to the Executive meeting being adopted by Sinn Fein needs to be ended immediately.
The DUP stands ready and willing to make government work in the fullest possible sense. On that front I believe we are joined by the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.
There is only one party, Sinn Fein, that is preventing devolution from fulfilling its full potential.
This weekend the DUP will be outlining to the people of Northern Ireland how we intend to address the issues that are of real and pressing concern to them into the future.
This mirrors the approach we have taken in government — dealing with the issues that matter to everyone in our province rather than irrelevant pet projects. That is the type of leadership people want to see.