DUP Deputy leader Nigel Dodds spoke at length to those attending the conference.
Here is an extract from his speech.
“This year has truly been a year to remember for so many reasons. But this year has been a seminal year for us as unionists.
In September we marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant and its sister document, the Declaration. The Covenant is rightly considered one of the great political statements of the 20th century. It inspired hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women to stand up for the Union and ultimately led to the creation of Northern Ireland.
And today survey after survey shows more support than ever for the maintenance of the Union.
I see Gerry Adams is running around, even going to America, calling for support for a united Ireland and demanding a border poll. Talk about being out of touch! Poor old Gerry is so self deluded that he’s the only one left who still thinks he wasn’t in the IRA!
Ladies and Gentlemen, 100 years on from the Covenant we, the descendants of that great and glorious generation of Ulstermen and women, can confidently say – the Union is here to stay.
And that Union is as important for us today as it was for our forefathers 100 years ago.
It is with sadness then, that we watch the nationalists in Scotland seek to undo the bonds of Union which bound us through history. But just as we have advocated the Union here in Northern Ireland, so we will be the advocates for the Union in the midst of a Scottish referendum. Just as we have been proved right here, so, I believe, the people of Scotland will see that we are better together, better when we are united as one.
This party believes strongly that together the United Kingdom has significant influence in the world. The breakup of the Union would be financially, culturally and politically devastating for all of the British people. As unionists we oppose any action that would erode the shared cohesion of the constituent parts which make up this Kingdom.
We have a shared past, we have strength together in the present and when the people of Scotland finally vote against independence, so we will see our Union flourish into the future.
Strength for the future is found in unity.
Sometimes a vision for the future and respect for the past can find themselves in conflict. But for us as unionists, the past is our inspiration for our future.
A century ago Ulster led the global market. We built the greatest ships which sailed the world. We led the way in linen production and engineering. People flocked to Belfast for work. But while the global market has changed, our vision of the future draws on the past.
Our economic vision for Northern Ireland is this: We must build a future where Northern Ireland is once again a global player, not in linen and shipbuilding, but rather a global leader in new technology and finance.
What we learn from the past is this - A Northern Ireland that earns its living in the global market will provide opportunity for all of its people. We have a highly skilled and motivated work force. We need to build an economy and a platform for economic growth which allows our people to succeed.
People ask how do we motivate more young people, how do we get more people involved in politics, how do we increase turnout at elections?
By making a difference for individuals and families, by engaging with communities directly and personally at local level, and providing a voice for those who need to be heard.
That is why we are delighted to welcome another new member to our Party as an addition to our DUP Group in Belfast City Hall – Shankill Councillor Frank McCoubrey.
On joining us Frank said: “It is because of the record of delivery for areas such as my own that I have joined the Democratic Unionist Party and because of the leadership the party has shown in not just highlighting these but in achieving outcomes.”
But it’s not just elected representatives. Our record will only stand up to scrutiny because of each one of you, because of your hard work, each and every day, working and supporting local communities to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.
Thank-you for your service to the party and to your community.
In Westminster our influence is growing and is being felt. The attendance of the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers MP and the Shadow Secretary of State, Vernon Coaker MP here at our conference, only serves to highlight our ever growing status in Parliament. We are no bit part players being pushed around; we play a key and pivotal role. From scrutinising the government, to proactively setting forth our agenda, we are working tirelessly for the people of Northern Ireland.
While we are taking our seats to represent the people of Northern Ireland, others are allowed to absent themselves while still claiming expenses and costs. Sinn Fein has a choice, take their seats and engage on the issues or face the prospect of losing money from Westminster. No longer can they be allowed to have it both ways. They cannot be allowed to have one foot inside Westminster, going to Parliament periodically, mob-handed, to allow Declan Kearney to spout sectarian speeches and pick up their expenses payments, while doing nothing for the people they purport to represent. It is time for Parliament to act and deal with this situation once and for all.
Where there is injustice we will not be afraid to speak out.
Indeed just this past week we tabled debates in Parliament not just on security in Northern Ireland but also on the issue of the Armed Forces Covenant. In Northern Ireland we know only too well the cost of conflict and standing up to tyranny.
This year on Remembrance Day the bravery of our young soldiers hit home once again. The funeral of Corporal Channing Day reminded us of the sacrifice of so many. She served with honour and distinction; a young woman from these shores who left her home to tend those injured on the battlefield. Her sacrifice for freedom, and that of the other heroes from Ulster who likewise have given their all, will always be remembered and will always be honoured.
The Armed Forces Covenant must be fully implemented across the whole of the UK for the benefit of our servicemen and women. Just as we have pursued this issue in Westminster, special mention needs to be made of Brenda Hale in the Assembly. Brenda knows the importance of this issue far better and far more deeply than anyone else; and her tenacity in the Assembly, and even before she was elected, shows how we are united at all levels of this party in making a difference for our Armed Forces.
Make no mistake we will continue to fight for justice for our troops.
People say that this society is changing, but the real mark of progress will come as people start to reach across the community divide. My own constituency of North Belfast is a place which has shown glimpses of the future, but unfortunately has been affected badly by the mindsets of the past.
Just this summer we have once again been subjected to the irrational and inconsistent decisions of the Parades Commission.
Instead of solving problems the Commission has become the tool to entrench division in our society.
We must never have another summer like last summer and the work for change starts now. That change starts with finding an alternative to the chaotic mess created by the Parades Commission.
But that is just the beginning.
Sinn Fein need to make up their mind, do they want to be part of the new future in Northern Ireland? Or do they want to be simply the voice of opposition and protest? Do they want to support justice or simply stand and protest outside police headquarters? Sinn Fein need to decide if they are going to stop looking over one shoulder at the SDLP and over the other shoulder at dissidents and start to change their focus and look ahead.
No problem is insurmountable.
If people come to a problem with a will to make lasting change then real change is achievable. North Belfast proves that if the will exists transformation can be made. In North Belfast progress was made on the Girdwood site when we all worked together. Girdwood stands as a beacon to what can be achieved in the future. But Girdwood cannot simply be a one off, it must be the norm.
We have many problems to face in the coming days. While we have often been good in the past at simply pointing out the faults in others, we need to realise that problems will not be solved, and the future will not be built, unless we are willing to engage seriously ourselves in the hard work that needs doing.”