DUP leader Arlene Foster has told voters May’s Assembly election boils down to whether she or Martin McGuinness will be Northern Ireland’s first minister.
Addressing the party faithful at the DUP’s spring conference in Limavady on Saturday, the current First Minister insisted she and the Sinn Fein veteran had “very different visions” for the future of the region.
At the heart of this election is an important choice for the community,” she said.
“108 MLAs will be elected but in reality the next first minister will either be me or Martin McGuinness. Your vote will decide. It’s that simple.”
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, who took over from the retiring Peter Robinson last year, outlined her party’s main priorities for the coming Assembly term.
She said the DUP would focus on job creation, protection of family budgets, prioritising spending on the health service, raising standards in education and investing in infrastructure.
But the battle with Sinn Fein for the first minister’s job was the major theme of her speech.
“I may not be on the ballot across the Province but a vote for our DUP candidates all across the country will return a unionist first minister,” she said.
“A swing of only two votes in every hundred from the DUP to Sinn Fein would see Martin McGuinness become the next first minister.
“Their (Sinn Fein’s) real agenda in the May election is to shred and split unionist votes.
“They didn’t make the breakthrough they wanted in the South and will do all they can to take Northern Ireland.
“They will seek to capitalise on a new and untested leader of the SDLP and on the complacency of some unionists.
“That would be bad for unionism and bad for Northern Ireland.
“It would take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction and send out the wrong message at this crucial time.
“For many, including myself, power sharing with Sinn Fein is difficult but it is a price worth paying to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.
“But if you think it is difficult now just imagine what it would be like with a Sinn Fein first minister and the Executive dominated by republicans.
“That’s why we must stand our ground and fight for every vote.
“And it’s not just to stop a Sinn Fein first minister, I want the mandate to promote my positive agenda for the future.
“But we can only deliver it if we get the support of the people at the ballot box.
“The next two months will determine the fate and fortunes of this party and of this country for decades to come.”