The DUP were in election mode at their annual conference this year. Gone was any outreach to soft unionist voters. Faced with a first-past-the-post election in May 2015, the DUP reverted to core values for core voters.
Attendance in the main hall of La Mon Hotel for Peter Robinson’s address was a little down on the previous couple of years: the seats were all taken but there were fewer people standing at the back. New members I’d noticed a few years ago were absent. The DUP meant business today and those attending looked like party workers and the more active members who were exhorted by several speakers to get out and spread the DUP message in the run up to the Westminster poll. They certainly knew how to clap and cheer and wave the provided Union flags.
Oh, and La Mon’s wifi held up all day. That’s a first for them at a DUP conference, and a welcome change from the Ramada’s outages at UUP and SDLP conferences earlier in the season.
There were plenty of “curry my yoghurt” jokes peppering speeches throughout the day. As the conference finished, one group seemed to pose for a photograph up near the stage replacing “say cheese” with “say curry my yoghurt” to get everyone to smile. [For once the press were fed soup and sandwiches at lunchtime rather than the usual curry and rice.]
Cup cakes from Ashers Bakery were on sale (£2 each). A video to support Ashers was shown just before the leader’s speech and buckets were held by stewards at the hall’s exits to take up an offering at the end of Peter Robinson’s speech as delegates headed out to lunch, to be split between Ashers legal fund and a forces’ charity.
Sammy Wilson took up the culinary theme in his
speech on “Taking Responsible Decisions” late in the afternoon: comedy slot
I don’t know whether they’re called tea cakes, cup cakes, fairy cakes or what kind of cakes they are. But I tell you one thing, I’ve a whole box of them. (cheers) Somebody said to me “given the size of you you’re nearly as big as Stephen Nolan – how can you possibly justify having a box of cupcakes?” Let me tell you every bite every crumb I will be striking a blow for democracy, for freedom of thought. And every bite I take I’ll be thinking and a good big bite out of the budget of the Equality Commission will be even better. (cheers) …
You may well be aware but not only are Ashers great bakers, but we have got our own master chef in this party. He started it off with a comment in the Assembly and people have wondered “what are the ingredients of a curried yoghurt?” (cheer) The whole country was talking about it and in fact we now have The Great Assembly Bakeoff as a result of it.
Sinn Féin came in and said “we will make something we are best at making – a chocolate bombe”. (laughs) Ice cream, Swiss roll, liqueur, white chocolate, you name it, it’s all in it. The taste is explosive, and I’ll tell you this and [in cookery books] one of the points it made was this: very delicate, and you’ve got to be careful how you handle it for it can go off very, very easily. I’d like to see it go off in some of the hands … (voice drops).
Of course, the Ulster Unionists were going to put one in as well. But every recipe they had was a recipe for disaster so they never even bothered. [Onto desserts] Jim Allister put in for very hot cross buns. (laughs) Told him that wasn’t a dessert, so he says a bitter lemon tart will do them won’t it. And of course, NI21 – or NI only 1 as they are now – McCallister wanted a strawberry split, the other boy wanted a banana spilt. They couldn’t agree so they just split. [emphasis added]
Peter Robinson referred to the death of Dr Paisley, his predecessor as DUP leader, while some other speakers also made their own tributes in passing. Ian Paisley Jnr mentioned his father in his own speech late in the afternoon. Opening the Saturday session of the conference, party chairman Lord Morrow noted:
Since our last conference a great man has left this scene of time and gone to his reward. Ian Paisley was a great man who lived a life devoted to God and Ulster. He founded our party; led us to some great and momentous victories and laid the foundation stones for Northern Ireland’s second century inside the United Kingdom … Ian Paisley was a great man because he was a servant of the people. I, along with tens of thousands of people throughout Northern Ireland am proud to have called him my friend.
Earlier in the morning, Gregory Campbell – MP and MLA – paid tribute to the party’s “founding father” Dr Paisley.
Much has been said, and written about Dr Paisley’s passing. Much of it does little justice to the great man he was and the great vision he had for our country.
Gregory went on to describe Sinn Féin’s United Ireland Project as being “in tatters” and “their dream of a 2016 united Ireland” as “now nothing short of an embarrassment”. On the current talks process be belittled Sinn Féin’s desires:
We have no doubt that Sinn Féin would love to get agreement to its republican wish list. They would love nothing more than to lull unionists into agreeing to costly projects such as a Bill of Rights, and their long demanded Irish language Act.
Sometimes you have to spell things out for the slow learners in Sinn Féin. Now some of us do it regularly and do it often. But we’re going to keep doing it. On behalf of this party we’ll say it sloooowly so you understand Caitriona [Ruane] and Gerry [Adams]. We will never agree to your Irish language Act. Do you understand? The paper that your wish list is written on, well, we just regard it as toilet paper.
You better get used to it because we are going to confront your agenda if you decide to try and further that agenda in the face of the majority community in this province.
The sound bite from Peter Robinson that I expect we’ll hear again and again over the coming months in the run up to the Westminster election and Gavin Robinson’s battle with Naomi Long will be his one sentence summation of all the DUP see as wrong with Alliance:
… the pro-Union opposition to the flag lowering, parade stopping, gay marriage supporting, pro water charging, holier than thou Alliance Party.
References to “respect and tolerance” were disappointingly empty and one-sided. The leading party doesn’t have the discipline to show leadership and act decently when there’s an election around the corner.
Perhaps the only exception that I can find to this conclusion is Jeffrey Donaldson’s address to conference, delivered before I arrived. In a speech entitled “Looking Forward, Looking Back”, the Lagan Valley MP marked the contribution of Ulster soldiers during WW1 in local regiments, as well as the Navy and RAF. He didn’t forget the role of women …
… who served with great courage, often in the most dangerous of circumstances. Women who tended to the wounded and dying; women who worked tirelessly on the home front to supply the armed forces with clothing, food, munitions and so much more. Women who held families together whilst the menfolk were off at the front and who bravely coped with the devastation that came when that fateful telegram arrived bringing news of the loss of husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.
Jeffrey also highlighted the contribution towards the war effort fro right across the island.
Whilst our focus today is on standing up for Northern Ireland, in the context of the first world war, we must also stand up for the men and women from the other provinces and counties on this island whose service and sacrifice was just as valiant. Men from the Dublin Fusiliers, The Leinster Regiment, The South Irish Horse, The Munster Fusiliers, The Royal Irish Regiment and the Connaught Rangers. Irish Volunteers from every corner of this island, many of them fervent nationalists who answered John Redmond’s call to arms and donned the uniform of the crown to serve in common cause with the Ulster Volunteers. Today we also salute their memory.
He noted that “people who might have differed greatly in their view of the future of this island put their shoulders to the same wheel in pursuit of a common cause”. The WW1 centenaries offer an opportunity to continue for shared remembrance. He listed artistic venues like “The Mac, the Braid, the Millennium Forum, the Lyric, countless community arts engagements, the wonderful Ulster Orchestra” calling them “essential and indispensable parts of our contemporary life” and places for overcoming discord in which “we can share and must learn about all the traditions, the well established and the newly emerging”.
If only the party leader had stolen a couple of pages from Jeffrey’s printer …
– – –
Peter Robinson shook hands and embraced party members in the audience as he entered the hall to strains of The Call / Let the Day Begin (his consistent conference anthem since 2011). His three piece blue suit made him look old-fashioned and chilly, with only a little of his blue and red tie and white shirt peeking out at the top. Like last year’s speech, gone were previous references to liberal legacy issues of sharing and reconciliation.
Of all the NI party leaders, Peter Robinson is the one who can read a script confidently off an autocue (with only a few fluffs), and deliver a well pitched speech, working the audience and timing each phrase and pause.
These are historic times. After decades on the fringes and in opposition, this party leads unionism and it leads the administration at Stormont and in six months’ time we could be critical to the formation of the national government as well.
It is only once in a generation that events and electoral arithmetic conspire to put unionists at the centre of politics, not just here in Northern Ireland, but the United Kingdom as a whole. Mr Chairman, we may be on the verge of just such a moment.
If I am sure of anything in politics, it is that this party is the only party to lead Northern Ireland through the challenges that lie ahead. In the past ten years, only this party has had the measure of dealing with the government, as well as dealing with nationalists and republicans.
There is no other party with the strength, the experience and the political acumen to succeed. We can all remember what it used to be like when republicans ran rings round the Ulster Unionist Party, but that’s all changed: the DUP’s in charge and we are here to stay.
The DUP leader promised a speech that would “explain why every vote and every seat will matter next May”. But first he congratulated “all those who were elected to the new super councils last May”.
Even though our poll-topping Assembly Members and MPs who had previously stood in council elections weren’t permitted to stand this time we came through the elections with more councillors than any other party and we remain Northern Ireland’s largest party in local government.
On the same day in the European election Diane Dodds secured a tremendous result. In May she was rewarded for her hard work with over 40,000 more votes than in 2009. Importantly, Diane also increased her percentage share of the vote as well. Diane came through a crowded field and emerged as the leading unionist candidate by a considerable margin. So, on behalf of this conference and our party let me say, well done Diane!
He said that “the issue that unites us above all others is our belief in the integrity of the United Kingdom”.
Who would have believed a few decades ago that the real threat to the break-up of the United Kingdom would come from Scotland and not from Northern Ireland? We very warmly welcome the democratic decision of the people of Scotland to maintain the Union and secure the United Kingdom for future generations …
Just a few years ago Sinn Fein’s President boasted there would be a united Ireland by 2016, but instead support for the Union is now even greater. Gerry, your day won’t come! [ad-libbing] Gregory will give you an Irish interpretation of that later.
Peter Robinson spoke about the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great War and “the heroism of our troops, not just in the past but in the present as well”.
He described elections as “a choice … making a decision about which party and which candidate can help make life better”.
Sometimes politics can seem distant and remote. That’s not the case in Northern Ireland. Making politics work means ensuring the peace we have is sustained. It means tapping into the potential for prosperity that has been building up for years. It means trying to achieve reconciliation between our communities.
Oddly not asserting “It means achieving reconciliation” but the more passive “It means trying to achieve reconciliation”.
It means creating a shared society where the culture of every tradition is treated and respected and given tolerance.
Though this cultural respect seemed one-sided – particularly when you read Gregory Campbell’s comments on a possible Irish Language Act – and didn’t seem to extend to the use of Irish.
It means providing life opportunities that ensure that our children don’t have to leave our shores to make their lives or raise their families. It means protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of all sections of our society and it means people being liberated from the fears and perils that blighted the lives of so many for so long.
Northern Ireland is a better place than it was ten or twenty years ago and – I tell you – it will be a better place still in ten years’ time. I’m proud of what we have achieved. Although we have more to do, the quality of life here has vastly improved. We are attracting global investment and international events in a way never contemplated before.
I want to see us building on that progress. Stormont has achieved much but it is not delivering on its full potential and it needs to be improved. Coming out of St Andrews we recognised that these arrangements could only be temporary and would need to be upgraded. We are involved in that process at present.
In September I said what everyone knew: the present institutions are no longer fit for purpose. We were not prepared to sleepwalk into financial catastrophe, but we wanted to face up to the real challenges that existed. That’s why we asked the government to convene talks so that these key issues could be settled. We set the agenda and others followed.
The primary and most essential function of government is to use available funds to provide the best possible services and facilities to the public while at the same time boosting employment and growing the economy. This must be done in the context of balancing the books. And there is no party better than the DUP at doing this. However, too often we are inhibited by other parties from achieving the very best of outcomes.
Under DUP leadership Northern Ireland has reduced its unemployment level to 6% and the claimant count has reduced for 22 consecutive months. Our “jobs created” totals are at an all-time high and not equalled anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Just look at the record we have at attracting Foreign Direct Investment. Just look at the number of jobs that have been created in recent times.
Our policies and strategy are working – recovery is underway. But, sadly people are not yet experiencing this recovery because at the same time we have a diminishing budget due to the spending cuts which are being imposed by the Treasury. Those reductions are likely to continue right up to and including 2020.
He spoke about rebalancing the economy:
To balance the books, while still protecting vital services, we need to reduce the size of our 212,000 strong public sector. And we are not talking about any compulsory redundancies. We are offering a voluntary exit scheme. However, in order to maintain and hopefully increase overall employment it becomes necessary, at the same time, to grow the private sector. And the only realistic way to do this is to reduce our level of Corporation Tax, encourage investment in the private sector with the consequent employment lift that you will get.
This process is known as rebalancing the economy. It’s what countless economists and politicians have, for years, been advising for the Northern Ireland economy. It’s our policy and it’s the only one that makes sense for the future.
So, whether, it is in relation to Corporation Tax, agreeing a Budget, or the talks process, the DUP is the party that is providing the solutions. In a few weeks’ time I hope that the Government will finally announce that we will be given the power to set our own rate of Corporation Tax. This would revolutionise our economy, it would create perhaps as much as 50,000 jobs and build prosperity for years to come.
The devolution of Corporation Tax was also supported by other parties when the process commenced. But as time passed, one by one, they gave up and fell by the wayside. Not because they didn’t want it to happen, but because they lacked the faith and resolve to make sure that it would. Oh yes! They have all returned to the fold now that positive movement can be seen, but only this party stuck with the campaign and refused to give up the cause.
When others lost their will and lost their way – the DUP kept going. When some said the powers wouldn’t be devolved or urged us to move to plan B we pressed on. It’s called DUP grit and determination!
There was a sideways reference to the TUV …
Mr Chairman, let’s take on the unionist begrudgers, those ones who tell you that we would be better off under Direct Rule. Just ask them, do they want to pay water charges, face 10% annual hikes in their Rate Bill and stand helpless while Direct Rule Ministers remove all the other financial advantages that Stormont has provided and Westminster does not.
And Mr Chairman, remind them that it was not one, but two Direct Rule administrations that were prepared to operate the scandalous OTR scheme behind our backs. And if they ever tell you we would be better off with Direct Rule Ministers, remind them how in the past it was those same Direct Rule Ministers who almost on a daily basis were making concessions to republicans.
That’s why it’s essential that devolution remains in place, but it has to be able to deliver for the people. We are also setting the agenda with the reform of Stormont structures. At a time when public services are being squeezed because of Westminster cuts, it is the view of this party that politicians should give a lead by downsizing the political structures as well.
For over a decade we have led calls for fewer government departments, fewer Assembly members, provision of an official opposition and new arrangements for the Executive and Assembly. Others have come late to these positions; some are even posing as if they had invented the policy.
I want to see a more normalised form of government at Stormont. The present devolved arrangements make decision-taking difficult and cumbersome and slow. We need to improve the mechanisms for decision-taking and remove blocking processes in order to allow the Assembly the ability to decide issues rather than having them vetoed in the Executive. At the end of the talks process we want to see a slimmed-down, lower-cost, smoother-operating, delivery-orientated and more democratic Stormont.
There was nearly a moment of déjà vu as the script returned to a previous point … before it was turned inward to talk about flags and parading.
At the core of past agreements was the central requirement that everyone respect and show tolerance for the culture and traditions of others. The violation of that central principle by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party when they tore down the Union Flag at City Hall triggered a slump in working relations at Stormont. That breach was compounded by the failure of republicans to accept the right of Orangemen to complete a five minute walk to their own hall after a Twelfth of July parade. The DUP is bound together with other unionists in seeking to re-establish the right of assembly and procession for the Ligoniel and other Orangemen.
As we move forward the imperative must be to restore that essential, ‘respect and tolerance’ principle. There will be no resolution of the parading issue on any other basis.
Today, the DUP is the only party setting the political agenda in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein’s focus is on the South. The SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party are focussed on survival. That’s why the DUP must set the pace. In the Assembly, in terms of Private Member’s Bills, it is our Assembly Members who are making the running.
A section of the speech addressing equality was frequently interrupted by applause.
I have become increasingly alarmed at the uneven pitch upon which rights and equality issues are played out. More and more the balance is tipped against people of faith. This has been recently demonstrated by the treatment meted out to the Ashers Baking Company.
I believe in freedom of conscience. There will often be competing rights and freedoms but, nobody should be compelled or coerced into supporting, sanctioning or promoting views or opinions which conflict with their strongly held religious convictions.
The publicly funded Equality Commission has launched an unjustified attack on a small Christian family business. This is simply bullying. I contend that the Equality Commission is seeking to use the Ashers case to add a further layer of restrictions on Christian behaviour and practice. Ashers are in the front line of this combat. We mustn’t leave them there to stand alone.
That’s why I am asking that a special collection be lifted at this conference to help them with their legal costs. Those who believe in freedom of conscience must stand strong and the must stand together. Now I’m not going to tell you much you have to put into the basket [Ed – buckets!] but when you fold your money it will be greatly appreciated in the legal battle ahead.
Our colleague Paul Givan will shortly be launching a consultation on a proposal to provide for a conscience clause in relation to aspects of equality legislation for those who have strongly held religious beliefs. As a general principle, I believe that people should be protected by law from discrimination, but that cannot mean that the sincerely held beliefs of Christians get trampled under-foot by everyone else. For that too is discrimination.
Party chairman Lord Morrow was thanked for “his herculean efforts” in the “mammoth task” of “bringing forward legislation on Human Trafficking and Exploitation” which “puts Northern Ireland at the forefront of the battle against modern slavery”.
I have absolutely no doubt that in the months and years to come there will be many who will owe their life and freedom to Maurice’s determination to see this Bill through. This Bill is not only testimony to Maurice’s ability to bring together a wide range of interests to support a common cause, and his preparedness to work for the greater good, but it demonstrates the Assembly working as it should and working at its best. It’s not every politician that is able to make a mark that will stand the test of time, but in bringing forward this Bill, Lord Morrow has secured his place in history.
We have also proposed a Bill, to introduce a pension for severely disabled victims of the terrorist campaign. These brave individuals and their families have suffered, and still continue to suffer, the dreadful legacy of violence. They did not have the same opportunities to work and contribute to pensions or National Insurance. This has placed many of them in financial hardship in their later years. The consultation on that Bill has finished and we are moving forward to introduce the legislation. It will provide a special pension for those who are most deserving of help. But conference, this Bill will explicitly exclude terrorists from receiving this pension support.
Petition of concern, anyone?
And then a section of the speech that emphasises the necessity of cooperation and compromise.
In recent times we have managed to approve a draft budget, advance the reform of local government and agree new structures for education. Here too, we have an example of political parties working together at Stormont, cutting deals and compromising in the best interests of the community as a whole. I believe if we could get the structures of government right then so much more could be achieved. That means being prepared to reach out in the spirit of compromise. It means taking the long view and seeing the bigger picture. It also means taking difficult decisions.
Those within unionism, who oppose the path upon which we have embarked, have nothing to offer. They complain more delivery is required from Stormont and at the very same time they argue that we shouldn’t co-operate with Sinn Fein. They seem incapable of recognising that the mathematics – never mind the structures at Stormont – means that there is no delivery unless such co-operation takes place. Of course we will oppose Sinn Fein when unionist interests require it. We have shown that we are tough and we are determined, but we will work with them and others when it’s in the interests of the community that we do so.
Even after difficult and contentious political times I want to build bridges. I want to build those bridges with political opponents for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, but I can’t build bridges from both sides.
[There was a bit of a debate in the press room over the civil engineering nuances of this last statement. I still reckon a drawbridge can be built from just one side …]
There can be no one-sided deals. There needs to be a serious willingness from republicans to engage and to compromise. If that exists, this party will not be found wanting. But we will never betray our principles or sign up to deals out of political expediency. That’s why we said “no” to the Haass proposals. They weren’t in the interests of unionism, nor where they weren’t in the interests of Northern Ireland.
Peter Robinson outlined how the DUP might use its power in Westminster after the 2015 General Election:
Mr Chairman, next year at the Westminster election, the question will be simple, “who can get the best deal for you and for Northern Ireland?” Sinn Féin talks tough but they don’t even take their seats at Westminster so they won’t be players when the national government is being formed.
The SDLP, because of its link to the Labour Party, have no cards to play. Their votes are already in Labour’s column without extracting any price. As for the Ulster Unionist Party, well, they’re not even on the Westminster radar!
However, the DUP’s record of getting the best deal regardless of who is in government is second to none. We worked with the last Labour government and we have worked with the present coalition in the interests of Northern Ireland. That’s real delivery. Delivery that helps the people, and not the interests of politicians.
That’s where we differ from our political opponents.
Five years ago the Ulster Unionist Party link with the Conservative Party was roundly rejected, leaving the Ulster Unionists without a single seat in Parliament. Yet, they had believed that that link would be the panacea to all their ills and would lead them back to Westminster in greater numbers.
How quickly they discarded the Tories after the election! Whereas once they lauded their relationship with the Conservative Party, today they prefer to pretend that it was all just an illusion. Well, they may want to forget it but I suspect there will be some of us who will make sure when any Ulster Unionist complains about cuts to public services they will be reminded that these are the cuts that they advocated during the last Westminster election campaign.
Their Minister, Danny Kennedy, has the barefaced effrontery to complain about the impact of the very budget cuts that he, as a Ulster Unionist Party candidate advocated in his party’s 2010 manifesto. He stands embarrassed – in the dark with the grass growing up to his knees – the victim of his own appalling judgement.
The Democratic Unionist Party got it right. But we are all in Northern Ireland paying the penalty for the Ulster Unionist Party getting it wrong.
A senior political commentator recently speculated that after the Westminster election the DUP could be in a powerful position. Listen to what he said, “They would exact a high price, but they could provide a pathway to power.”
The commentator was Mike Smithson who is a former Liberal Democrat politician, polling analyst and founder of the politicalbetting.com website where you’ll find the original comment in a post from 12 November.
There would be no DUP MPs looking for cabinet seats in a future coalition government.
So what test would we apply? Unlike the UUP four years’ ago, it’s not places in the Cabinet that we would seek. We ask for nothing for ourselves. We want outcomes that would benefit all of our people. We are not seeking to be part of any Government coalition, but, with an open mind, we are willing to sustain in office, a Government that offers policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland in particular, and the United Kingdom as a whole. We will be responsible in our approach, and we will use our influence wisely.
It’s still almost six months until the election and there is growing uncertainty about the outcome at a national level, but it is looking increasingly likely that no single party will be able to form an administration. Indeed it’s not even clear if any two parties could form a government. If that’s right, then every seat will count. A seat here or there could be the difference between providing a clear majority and falling just short. It could be just that close.
That’s why it is so important to not only retain our existing seats, but also seek an increase in our representation. This isn’t just an opportunity for the DUP, but for unionism as a whole. It would be a real tragedy if unionism lost out because of split votes and spoiler candidates.
It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – I want to see all eight of our serving MPs re-elected and returned to Westminster.
And it will come as absolutely no surprise if I tell you that our number one target is to gain East Belfast. I want to see East Belfast back in the unionist column at Westminster. And there is only one unionist candidate who can win the seat and that’s my friend and colleague, Gavin Robinson.
Gavin’s a former Lord Mayor of the great city of Belfast, he has a proven track record of successfully delivering for the people of East Belfast. He is an outstanding, he is an exceptional candidate.
Now, everybody knows this election will be a simple choice in East Belfast between the Alliance Party and Gavin standing in the interests of unionism. That’s a decision the people of East Belfast will have to make. There may be other unionists in the field, but they would only serve to divide the pro-Union opposition to the flag lowering, parade stopping, gay marriage supporting, pro water charging, holier than thou Alliance Party.
Well that’s the election really started now!
But our ambitions will extend beyond East Belfast for gains. And I’m not opposed to extracting and entering into issues with other parties. I want to have an electoral pact in the interests of unionism and in order to maximise unionist representation at Westminster.
This party has a long and proud history of being prepared to put the interest of unionism ahead of its party ambitions. Across the Province we will have candidates asking for your support and your vote. The choice is clear. If you want a party that will stand up for Northern Ireland, if you want a party that will stand up for unionism, if you want a party that can deliver for you and your family then the DUP is the best option.
The prize at a Westminster election has never been greater. The DUP is not just the right choice to represent Northern Ireland; we are the only real choice. We are the best team. We have the strongest candidates. With a history of delivery and achievement as well as the experience and ability to succeed, the DUP is best placed to serve your interests. We will always put Northern Ireland first.
Just fourteen years ago this party had two Members of Parliament, today we have eight and after the election I want us to have even more. We didn’t get to where we are by sitting back and taking people for granted, but by working for every single vote. That’s what we must continue to do and always remember that every single vote does count.
Don’t forget that in 2010, Michelle Gildernew was elected to Westminster by just four votes. So when the canvass comes and you’re tired and you feel like packing up for the night, just knock one more door, or do one more street, because it could be the difference between victory and defeat and the difference between success and failure. It could be the difference between the DUP holding the balance of power at Westminster and narrowly missing out. The stakes couldn’t be higher; the opportunities couldn’t be greater. And as we go out from this conference let’s focus on the pivotal role that this party can play.
You can be sure that nationalists in Scotland will be doing all that they can to serve the interests of independence and of Scotland. We must do all that we can to make sure that the interests of unionism and Northern Ireland are served at Westminster. But we can only do that with a mandate from the people.
Peter Robinson made a single reference to the recently deceased former leader of the party.
The journey that this party started all those years ago continues. The greatest tribute we can pay to Ian, who set this course, is to complete the journey. The DUP grows from strength to strength. None of us could have foreseen what we’ve already achieved. The size and strength of this party was unimaginable a generation ago. But we are not done yet; the job isn’t finished. There is so much more to do and to achieve.
We will face unforeseen hurdles, and challenges, but we have the people and we have the talent to face the future with confidence. So next May with your help, let’s write the next chapter in our history. Let’s build on what we have already achieved, let’s strive to go even further. Let’s not only win, but deserve to win. And let’s send back to Westminster a team that will truly be standing up for Northern Ireland.
The speech ended, and after three cheers led by William McCrea and congratulations from elected representatives on the platform, Peter Robinson sat down in a chair and remained on stage while the hall emptied talking to a handful of people. One SDLP visitor down for the day from Derry even managed to get a selfie.
The DUP leader cut a withdrawn and nearly lonely figure, applauded by an audience of party members many of whom don’t expect to see Peter Robinson delivering the leader’s speech next November.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.