Robin Swann became the Ulster Unionist Leader yesterday. He candidacy was unopposed.
He delivered his first speech as leader to the few hundred delegates gathered at the party’s AGM in South Belfast.
On a single Unionist Party;
So to those who seek a single unionist party, I ask them to consider carefully the consequences of such an outcome.
A single unionist party would limit choice, stifle debate and quickly result in the depletion of Unionist votes at the ballot box.
I am in the Ulster Unionist Party – we are in the Ulster Unionist Party – because we believe in its vision, its policies and its priorities.
No other Party comes close to representing the brand of Unionism that we have and I believe in.
And if there is anyone out there still not convinced think on this.
It would also run the risk of driving those who consider themselves unionists, but only with a small U, into the arms of a Party which is at best agnostic to the union and it would leave many others with no one to vote for at all.
Members I say to you do not under estimate yourselves, your ability, or your value. Northern Ireland and unionism, needs a strong Ulster Unionist Party.
This party has a fantastic amount to offer and part of our role is making that union attractive to everybody in Northern Ireland.
It’s about promoting a positive unionism, a confident unionism and an embracing unionism.
Members, we are moderate people, we are willing to embrace different traditions, whilst remaining unapologetic about our own historic culture while retaining a firm belief in civil and religious liberty for all.
In recent times much is being made of the Irish language. Can I remind members of the work completed by Michael McGimpsey as Northern Ireland’s first Culture Minister and what he delivered in challenging times, against vocal opposition?
My brand of unionism, which may be traditional for those who find a need to pigeon hole me, is generous enough to accommodate others.
In this hall today, I don’t see traditional unionists or liberal unionists, I see Ulster Unionists united in a bond which is this Party, united in a single quest and that is to do what is right for Northern Ireland.
On the last election and the future
Whilst we can cite our vote increasing to 103,314, we did not turn those extra votes into seats. I want to pay tribute to my colleagues who didn’t come back to represent the party in the Assembly and I wish to thank them for their service and their continued involvement and support of this party, their party, and I also wish to thank all those candidates who put themselves forward and stood.
Who knows in the next few weeks we may be dusting down the posters and walking shoes again, but we must be able to channel the hurt and frustration we feel today into a positive energy that drives us forward and transfers into the strength and determination that will turn results around.
However, I am a straight forward individual and I ask each and every one of you to look into yourself and ask the question could I have done more? Was I fully committed?
My challenge to you is to consider the part you will play in the next election!
With a huge effort other constituencies can emulate the feat that John Stewart performed in East Antrim, by taking a seat away from Sinn Fein, and it is this Party, that is most likely to and is best placed to take further seats off Sinn Fein, in places like West Tyrone and Newry and Armagh, and I have my eye on a few other seats as well…
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs