Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster addresses PinkNews event [Full Speech]

Parliament Buildings hosts a range of functions and I am particularly pleased that right across Northern Ireland people are able to come here and avail of this wonderful facility.

I was in London recently and one Minister remarked that we had the best devolved building, we just needed a functioning Assembly.

There has been much media interest in my presence here this evening and in some respects I can understand the reasons for that. 

But from my perspective - I look forward to a time when such attendance will be unremarkable.

First of all, by way of introduction, this date – June twenty-eighth is no ordinary day for me.

Its difficult. 

Shortly after 8am this morning, I paused to reflect and remember. 

It was thirty years ago today that I featured on the evening news for the first time in my life. It was for all the wrong reasons. 

The IRA had detonated a bomb on our school bus. 

As a busy mother of three with a fairly demanding job, some years the anniversary comes and goes without much notice by the wider world or even those at home.  But for those of us on the bus that morning, its never far from our minds. 

Thirty years on I can still see the injured. 

I can still smell the burning. 

I can still hear the silence.

I can still feel the debris as I climbed out.

And yes, I can still sense the fear.

As I pause from time to time and think about that morning, I am struck over and over how life could have been so much different.

This week, I have read the newspaper stories from the others who were on the bus.  We have one event in common that undoubtedly was a life-shaping moment for us all.

You see, that morning we were all children on a bus. 

As the ambulance and fire brigade arrived, our religion, race or sexuality did not matter.

To the emergency services, we were people in need.

To our mums and dads, we were their children

And to society, we were young people with our lives ahead of us. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening, I look out on this gathering and I don’t define anyone on the basis of their religion, race or sexuality.

I look at you as my neighbours and my fellow citizens.

It should not only be in our worst moments, such as the bus bomb, that we are reminded that we are all equal.

When Bill Mills from the Citi group sent me the invitation a few weeks ago asking me to be his guest, the anniversary date jumped out at me but I still wanted to accept.

I wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens. 

I wanted to recognise that some of our brightest and best in this country are part of the LGBT community. 

I wanted to send a clear message from this event, that we are all someone’s child and we are all a valued part of this wonderful place we call home.

I wanted to use this platform to encourage meaningful engagement rather than megaphone diplomacy.

As a mature democracy, we must all enter into a new spirit of respectfulness and understand that we will not always agree but we will always try to treat each other with good manners and grace.

For my part, I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in relation to the definition of marriage, whilst respecting the diversity across our society.

In Northern Ireland we have a very strong faith community. 

And People of faith contribute in many different ways to society here including to our business community; they should be free to do so without having to abandon their faith.

We need to be in a space where we accept each other for who we are and we respect people’s conscientious position.

Sexuality is for each individual. The value of each of us should not be based on whether we are heterosexual or homosexual.

Just as thirty years ago, all the children on that bus were equal so too is everyone in this Great Hall this evening. 

Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I don’t value the LGBT community. It is not a zero sum game.

All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected if not agreed with.

Whilst we disagree, this does not prevent us from finding common values to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

My party was founded in 1971 on the principle that everyone is equal under the law and equally subject to the law.

If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, then we must respectfully engage and listen to each other’s viewpoints. 

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the reception.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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