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DUP to get big sell on Stormont successes

By David Gordon

The DUP starts its annual conference today, talking up the benefits of devolution to Northern Ireland as the Assembly election draws closer.

It is highlighting policies that have been criticised in some quarters as overly generous — free prescriptions, free public transport for over 60s and no water charges.

There have been calls from some commentators for these measures to be reviewed in light of the public spending squeeze.

In a paid-for insert in today's Belfast Telegraph and on advertising billboards, the DUP again pushes its General Election slogan: “Let's keep Northern Ireland moving forward”.

The insert also states: “We know that Stormont isn't perfect, but we've started to deliver.”

The party's conference will run over two days at the La Mon Hotel. First Minister Peter Robinson will deliver his leader's speech tomorrow when he is expected to promote policy achievements.

Meanwhile, the DUP has a big call to make on what department it would prioritise if it is returned as largest Stormont party next year.

Finance and education are the leading options as first choices for the party following the Assembly election in May.

Finance, which it holds, is a key department within the Executive. But a pledge to take Education first could prove a vote winner given the controversies surrounding the policies of its current Sinn Fein Minister Caitriona Ruane.

Asked about the potential choice, Mr Robinson this week said: “It depends first of all as to whether there is any reform of the number of government departments that we have.”

Nigel Dodds: How DUP will triumph over apathy of the armchair, Page 40

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