Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: I'm proud to be First Minister and want to go on making a difference in next five years

The choice is stark, says Arlene Foster. If you want her to return as leader of the NI Executive, vote for the DUP tomorrow; if you are prepared to risk Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister, vote for any of the other parties.

Five weeks ago I launched our election campaign and published my five-point plan for a stronger and safer Northern Ireland. Almost 15,000 miles of travelling later, I have been to every part of Northern Ireland to take my message to the people and to hear what they have to say.

In these last few weeks I have been warmly welcomed everywhere I have gone. More than ever, I believe that we have enormous potential for the future.

Last November’s Fresh Start Agreement has transformed the political situation in Northern Ireland and has paved the way for a period of stable devolution, where we can concentrate on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that I am well-placed to do that.

My entire political life has been spent in seeking to preserve and protect the United Kingdom and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. I am proud to say that, when others sought to talk Northern Ireland down, I have been working to make this a better place for everyone who lives here.

Over these last nine years I have served the people of Northern Ireland as Minister for the Environment, Minister for the Economy and, more recently, Finance Minister. In this time I believe that I have been able to make Northern Ireland a better place by attracting jobs, tourists and world-class events to our shores.

I am so proud to have been First Minister and want the opportunity to make a real difference in the next five years.

I know that not everyone will agree with me on every issue, but I promise to be true to my word. I will not blow with the wind, but will stand up for what I believe in.

What has been clear is that the day-to-day issues which matter to people right across Northern Ireland are the same — regardless of their backgrounds. I believe that my five-point plan is the basis for a stronger and safer Northern Ireland.

  • I want us to create more jobs and to raise incomes.
  • I want to protect family budgets.
  • I want to prioritise spending on the health service;
  • I want to raise standards in education for everyone in Northern Ireland.
  • I want to invest in infrastructure for the future.

If I am elected as First Minister tomorrow I will take personal responsibility to see that these commitments are delivered upon. I want a mandate — not just to negotiate for my plan, but to deliver it in full.

As someone who understands government and the fiscal challenges that we face, I will ensure that we prioritise what really matters. My plan is not a wish-list, but a carefully crafted agenda for the next five years.

No other party understands the challenges that we face, or has a plan to keep Northern Ireland moving forward. During this campaign it has been the DUP that has been setting the political and policy agenda.

I hoped that plan for Northern Ireland would command support from the general public. I have been even more pleased that it is already winning support from other political parties.

This augers well for the Assembly term to come and should mean that it is easier to reach agreement across a whole range of issues.

There will, however, continue to be a range of issues where there are stark and substantial differences between the parties. I will stand up for what I believe in.

This campaign is almost over. It is now time for the people to decide. There are some who say that this election is a foregone conclusion. Such complacency would be a real danger for unionism.

In two of the last three province-wide elections, because the unionist vote has been split, Sinn Fein has won more votes than any other party.

In a PR election the margins between victory and defeat can be very narrow. Every vote — every transfer — matters.

Where we are fielding more than one candidate in a constituency we have divided up the area to give us the best chance to get all of our candidates elected.

That is why, if you want to support my candidates, we are asking you to vote as advised on our election literature in your area before transferring to other unionists.

Sinn Fein has been deliberately downplaying expectations in order to lull unionists into a false sense of security. But you can be sure that, in this the 100th anniversary of the Easter rebellion, its goal is to win this election.

There are others who claim that it does not matter who wins the election and becomes Northern Ireland’s First Minister. If this were the case, you would wonder why they are even contesting the election.

The role of First Minister has huge symbolic significance at home and abroad. You can be certain that, were Martin McGuinness to become First Minister, this would be headline news — not just in Northern Ireland, but right around the world.

Of course, in our system of government, we need to work with other parties to get things done, but it is essential that we can negotiate with them from a position of strength.

The largest party will also get the first choice of  departments and most seats around the Executive table. Indeed, a Sinn Fein First Minister would almost certainly mean that unionists would be in a minority in the Executive. In the polling booth tomorrow every person is equal. The future direction of Northern Ireland is in your hands. You will have heard and read what all the parties have had to say.

The simple choice is this: if you want me as the First Minister of Northern Ireland and for me to deliver my plan for a stronger and safer Northern Ireland, I am asking you to vote for my DUP candidates.

However, if you are prepared to risk Martin McGuinness, with his vision for the future of Northern Ireland, becoming First Minister, then you can vote for any of the other parties.

  • Arlene Foster is leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

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