'We must welcome all... I want to show hand of friendship'
The speech in full ...
On the Party
Our party was founded with three key objectives in mind:
- To secure, uphold and maintain Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom;
- To impose and maintain the rule of law in all areas of Northern Ireland so that all citizens are not only equal under the law but are equally subject to the law;
- To devise and promote policies which are for the betterment of equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland.
In the coming period we need to once again focus our minds on our core objectives and how best to secure them. Our principle aim is to secure and promote the Union.
In villages, towns and cities throughout Northern Ireland, people want to hear the merits of the Union being presented. We must re-engage and re-energise our people, and yes we must take our message to places that perhaps may not be traditional to our cause. For we have nothing to fear in doing so for our cause is just and our case is strong.
In my recent speech in London I said citizenship and rights are essentially unionist issues. I meant that then and I mean it now.
They are issues we should set out to reclaim. We must promote our belief that all citizens are equal under the law and equally subject to the law.
Unionism stands for pluralism and multiculturalism. We must be inclusive and welcome all, recognising they bring added value to a broader and greater overall sum. I want to genuinely reach out to our minority communities and show them the hand of friendship, recognising they have made Northern Ireland their home.
If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, then we must respectfully engage and reach out to those who perhaps have not always been respectful of our position. We do so from a position of strength.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by one of our largest inward investors to attend an event to be held in Stormont at the end of this month. The event is to recognise the contribution of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland.
I intend to accept that invitation to demonstrate my acknowledgement of that contribution and to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens.
For me I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in reality to the definition of marriage, while respecting the diversity across our society and recognising that sexuality is a matter for the individual. All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected and not the subject of the vilest of abuse as has sometimes been the case by a small minority.
And before what I have just said is misinterpreted, we are not changing our policy on marriage but I am reaching out to acknowledge the contribution made by a section of our community. Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I can't say that we value those who are LGBT in our society and they should not be the subject of hate because of their sexuality. Remember, everyone is equal under the law and equally subject to the law.
And it would be closing our eyes to the truth if we didn't acknowledge that people who traditionally didn't vote for this party are now doing so - Roman Catholics, Irish speakers and yes those who are gay and lesbian - I know because I have met people from all of these groups who vote DUP.
Unionism needs to be welcoming
Being Irish in the United Kingdom must be as valid an identity as being Scottish or Welsh, or Indian or Latvian. We have everything to gain from respecting cultural difference and we must set an example.
It is clearly in unionism's interests for those from all backgrounds to feel comfortable in a Northern Ireland at peace with itself. Poll after poll, survey after survey, demonstrate that many who support nationalist parties would not contemplate voting to leave the Union. The surest way to cement the Union is for Northern Ireland to be a warm home for everyone.
We have a reputation for being the kindest and most welcoming people in the world. Yet, sometimes not always to those who live in the next street.
I want to be a leader who reaches out to promote the value - and the values - of the Union.
Lessons for unionism
There are times we allow our opponents to paint us into a corner or portray us in a way that is simply not reflective of who we are or what we stand for. Many times in the last year I have felt that the perception of our position has not been the reality of where we stand. We cannot allow that to continue, and given the strength of our position, we have the opportunity to shape the future with a generosity of spirit that recognises the diversity of our country and all our people.
I am a unionist by birth and by conviction. I've said many times that representing the people of Northern Ireland overseas has been the greatest privilege of my life. Being able to promote our economy and our people alongside those such as the late Deputy First Minister, who I believe also wanted to grow our economy and boost the well-being of our people, delivered economic rewards for us.
The devolution years were good for Northern Ireland but more remains to be done by all of us.
I accept that for our part we can only govern if we are able to reach agreement with the representatives of the nationalist and republican community.
Sinn Fein also have to accept that partnership government can only operate by accepting and working with unionists and we will only reach agreement when it is a fair and balanced package. We want, and are willing to work in partnership but it cannot be on the basis of stop start government.