PLATFORM: NI Conservatives are "here to stay"

THE spinners were hard at it recently demanding the disbandment of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. Apart from being a little premature and ill-considered, they have made their move in a landmark year.

This year has marked the 21st anniversary of the acceptance of this region to become an integral part of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Party is a national organisation with a membership that could only be dreamed of here. It is a party that is inclusive, non-sectarian and believes in the rights of the individual to conduct his or her own business free of state interference. These are values that do not necessarily sit easily with those in a leadership role in other parties here.

The Conservative Party, whilst having had its policy differences over the years, is a broad coalition of views and individual regional needs. Whether we live in Brighton or Belfast, Bangor in Wales or Bangor in North Down we stand shoulder to shoulder, strong in a common purpose. We unite around a leadership that is committed to its party wherever in the UK we happen to be.

We have a seat at the top table, access to our leader who is now Prime Minister. David Cameron has shown an unprecedented level of interest in both Northern Ireland and the Party here.

We hold regular meetings with the party co-chairman, Lord Feldman, free to express our views openly and in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.

It was not always so. During the 1980s, a period in which so many lives were blighted by the scourge of paramilitaries, a campaign was fought for acceptance by the party nationally.

There was a long and determined struggle around a campaign for equal citizenship. This convinced the overwhelming majority of grass roots of the party across the United Kingdom that we in Northern Ireland have as much right as anyone else to be Conservatives.

Acceptance was gained in October 1989 and we have just celebrated our 21st birthday!

As an integral part of the national party, we were partners in the discussions to form an electoral pact with our friends in the Ulster Unionist Party and actively campaigned for the election of Jim Nicholson as our MEP. We worked together to fight for the election of all Conservative and Unionist candidates in the General Election regardless of which party they came from.

Today, the Conservative Party has a membership of several hundred, is growing and we are establishing new constituency associations rapidly.

We are able to raise funds by convincing the business community of our connection with the top echelons of the party and at the very least will build our electoral base next year by contesting council seats throughout Northern Ireland.

We are very much open for business, have a vision for the future and are focused on making northern Ireland a better place in the 21 years to come.