The man most likely to succeed Peter Robinson as DUP leader warned his party that if it moved backwards it would be returning to an age when it was “powerless and impotent”.
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds told delegates at the party conference on Saturday that unionism at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement 30 years ago had been “shouting from the side lines. Powerless and impotent”.
He warned that some of the DUP’s critics would bring unionism back to a “wasteland of despair and stalemate”.
Much of Mr Dodds’s speech dealt with national issues with which he has been involved in Parliament.
But a considerable section praised Mr Robinson.
He said: “We were in the wilderness 30 years ago. Wronged and risking defeat.
“Now we’re in the heart of government, with our fate in our own hands. That’s wasn’t an easy thing to achieve, it wasn’t a certain thing.”
The most likely DUP MLA to become First Minister, Arlene Foster, said that she took “particular pleasure” at seeing “my friend and colleague Nigel Dodds” elected MP again in May.
And DUP chairman Lord Morrow, a veteran of the party under Ian Paisley, praised Mrs Foster, saying she “is one of us”.
There was a knowing ripple of laughter when Lord Morrow said of Mr Dodds “he’s a man I think we’ll be hearing more of”.
Mr Dodds introduced Peter Robinson by saying that it was he more than anyone else who was responsible for the party’s rise.