Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: 'We need to be pulling together to make Northern Ireland work'

By Arlene Foster

This morning I am deeply humbled to be returning to Stormont as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

I sincerely thank all those who voted for the Democratic Unionist Party and again made us the largest party in this country. I, and my colleagues, pledge ourselves to be servants of the people as we endeavour to move our country forward.

Over these last four months I have travelled all across Northern Ireland speaking to people and listening to them about their hopes, and concerns for the future.

It has been the most demanding and yet the most rewarding campaign of my political life.

I have been encouraged and inspired and I return to Government more determined than every to make life better for the people of Northern Ireland.

Back in January, my first event as First Minister was at Pond Park Primary School in Lisburn.

As I listened to the children speak about the issues that mattered to them I was inspired and motivated. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility. These children were relying on me to build a safer and more stable Northern Ireland for them in future.

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From January I have travelled to every part of Northern Ireland as part of my election tour.

From Belfast to Ballymoney, from Lurgan to Lisburn and Rathfriland to Rathlin Island people want us to succeed in building a stronger, more prosperous Northern Ireland.

They want a party in government that will be on their side and understands their lives.

Wherever I travelled, people would hug me or shake my hand and then whisper a word of encouragement. Today I say 'thank you' to the electorate. For the first time since 2007 the DUP polled over 200,000 first preference votes at the Assembly election. We are now the largest unionist party in each of the 18 constituencies, outpolling the Ulster Unionist Party in every area.

The Ulster Unionist Party had its lowest share of the vote in its history.In Belfast we are now the largest party with eight MLAs in the new Assembly.

Yet again unionist turnout across Northern Ireland was up. The nationalist share of the overall vote has fallen to its lowest point since 1993.

Foolishly during the election some claimed that it did not matter who won the election or who was First Minister. That was always wrong and an insult to the electorate whose votes we were seeking.

It does matter. It always has.

I hope as a result of last Thursday's vote Northern Ireland can look forward to a period of political stability in the run in to our country's centenary in 2021.

Calls for a border poll have been defeated and unionism has been strengthened. As a result of this election there will be a unionist First Minister and in the new Assembly there will be fewer nationalist MLAs than at any point since the Assembly was created in 1998.

This tremendous result was a culmination of work at all levels in the party. Yes, as leader of the party I was in the TV studios and on the campaign trail but I must thank the team of candidates and scores of staff and party workers who knocked the doors and encouraged people to support my plan.

In particular, I thank my deputy leader and director of elections Nigel Dodds MP who worked night and day in planning and spearheading our campaign. His efforts and determination have paid dividends and I pay tribute to his service for our cause.

Few people, myself included, believed that we could emulate Peter Robinson's outstanding achievement of 38 seats in 2011.

I pay tribute to Peter for the foundations he laid for us, including the Fresh Start Agreement that provided a solid basis for devolved government to continue. Politics is a tough game and I want to thank all of those who make democracy work by putting themselves forward for election whether or not they succeed.

Six of my colleagues were not elected and I thank them for all that they have achieved to date and have no doubt they will continue to contribute in other ways. Having secured 38 seats across Northern Ireland, I understand that voters have entrusted us to build for the future with the vision and plan we promoted during the last five weeks.

I fought this election on the basis of my five-point plan and I intend to govern on the basis of our five-point plan.

I believe that this plan is the basis for a stronger and safer Northern Ireland.

It will be the cornerstones of my work for the next five years. I will work with other parties to get things done.

We still live in a divided society in many respects but I believe that in the coming days we can agree a Programme for Government that can deliver our priorities for everyone in Northern Ireland

Make no mistake, though it received little attention during the campaign, with the challenging public expenditure position we will face in the coming years we will all need to be pulling together to make Northern Ireland work.

When I am re-elected First Minister of this great country on Thursday afternoon my only regret is that my father will not be there to see me elected as First Minister in my own right.

I know he was proud of everything that all his children and grandchildren have done and achieved but it would have been special for him to be here to see it.

Belfast Telegraph


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