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Stormont election 'will decide direction of Northern Ireland for next decade'


First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

The forthcoming Stormont Assembly poll will be Northern Ireland's most important election in a decade, the First Minister has said.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said the outcome of May's vote would "decide the direction" the region takes for the next 10 years.

Mrs Foster made her remarks in an address to the Newry and Armagh DUP Association at an event in Tandragee.

"Dr Paisley used to say 'the next election was the most important election'. He was right," the DUP leader told party supporters.

"In just 69 days our friends and neighbours will make a choice on their ballot paper which will decide the direction of Northern Ireland for the next decade.

"I want to see a Northern Ireland where we play a full part in the United Kingdom, where everyone can take pride in our country, where we change the way we do politics, where every child has the opportunity to succeed, where economic prosperity is achieved and shared across Northern Ireland, where we value people from every background, where paramilitaries are gone for good, where the victims of terrorism have access to get justice, where no one is permitted to rewrite the past and where we make unionism stronger by bringing us together."

She added: "In the coming weeks we face a great challenge so we can translate our pride in Northern Ireland into success for Northern Ireland.

"This is the most important election in over a decade. The 2003 Assembly election was the one that changed the direction of politics in Northern Ireland. This one will determine its fate for the next decade."

Mrs Foster predicted some rivals would focus entirely on attacking her party in the campaign.

"Such infighting and navel-gazing will not move this country forward," she said.

"However, I will be asking for a mandate to implement my plan to make Northern Ireland a better place."

During the speech, Mrs Foster also referred to the 18-month jail term handed to alleged former IRA chief Thomas "Slab" Murphy for tax evasion.

She noted Gerry Adams's recent comment that Murphy was a "good republican".

Murphy, 66, of Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, was sentenced in Dublin's Special Criminal Court on Friday.

"Whilst some people refer to Murphy as a 'good republican', the people of this area know him to be a criminal," said Mrs Foster.

"Setting aside the length of the sentence, this man who evaded prosecution for so long has at long last been put behind bars. Most people will celebrate seeing justice done. If you break our laws, regardless of who you are, expect to go to jail."