In full: Arlene Foster’s speech to businesses in Fermanagh

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster addressed a number of local businesses at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, this morning, where she reaffirmed her belief in devolution despite the ongoing political uncertainty.

She also raised the prospect of a “strengthened Sinn Féin pushing even harder for a united Ireland”.

Arlene Foster said: “Thank you very much for the introduction and for the invitation to be here today. It is especially good to be back at the Lough Erne and to see so many businesses represented here at the breakfast. I believe that our recent electoral success was as a result of directly engaging with, and listening to, people from all backgrounds.

“If someone had said then that less than 10 months later we would be once again going to the polls, I doubt anyone would have fully believed them.

“But as Harold Macmillan famously remarked when asked what the most difficult part of his job was ‘events, dear boy, events’.

“While others rushed to grab media headlines and scrambled for political opportunism over the RHI issue, we were working hard to solve the problem and drastically reduce any projected cost.

“I recognise the frustration of people across Northern Ireland that we are facing another election rather than getting on with the job. I recognise the wider frustration with politics here.

“Politics is too slow, too divided, too often focused only on the past rather than on our future. I share those frustrations. Our politics can and should be better.

“However, I believe in devolution. It is far from perfect and we must do better.

“But I believe it is the best system for Northern Ireland to allow us to work in partnership with those from across our community.

“This is why I am committed to getting the Assembly back, committed to working with the representatives of other parties to get it working and getting it to deliver for you.

“In May, we offered you our vision for Northern Ireland and the plan to advance it:

More for our health service.

More and better jobs.

Raise educational standards for everyone.

Build the new schools, hospitals and roads we need.

Keep your taxes low.

“In the months since the election we had made a start with a strong team. In the years ahead we have much more to do for you.

“This is an election that will decide the future direction of Northern Ireland.

“This is an election with an important choice facing us all. The choice between keeping Northern Ireland moving forward to a strong, prosperous future, secure in the UK or taking the wrong direction with a strengthened Sinn Fein pushing even harder for a united Ireland.

“That is a choice that will have profound implications for our country, our communities and for you and your family’s future.

“We have come a long way in the last 20 years. Yes, progress has been too slow at times; there have been distractions, bumps in the road and moments of intense frustration. I have felt them too.

“But we are moving forward. Jobs, investment, major events, visitors are all coming to Northern Ireland. But it is just the beginning. We can achieve much more.

“I want devolution to work because it has delivered for Northern Ireland. We have laid strong foundations in terms of job creation, investment, tourism and infrastructure improvements.

“In the face of challenges that lie ahead, not least the issue of Brexit, it has never been more important that we have the political stability needed to continue to build our economy.

“I have always listened to the business community because I want to hear first hand about the challenges and the opportunities that exist and what we can do to help. The foundation for economic growth and success in any country is political stability.

“We have achieved a level of peace that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago and, as ironic as it may seem given recent events, we have also seen the political process beginning to mature with the creation of an official opposition at Stormont.

“My key objective has always been to work hard to make a real difference in people’s lives. My message to all my Ministers after the May election was to implement the commitments we made during the election and to work on the issues that matter to the lives of the people of Northern Ireland.

“After the election there will be a very challenging round of negotiations. I very much hope that we will be able to overcome those challenges and establish an Executive on a sustainable basis so that we are able to get the best possible results for Northern Ireland.

“Because we have seen great results, right across Northern Ireland and locally too.

“But I am not complacent.

“Improving economic competitiveness can only be achieved by working in partnership with the business community.

“Northern Ireland is home to many world-class small businesses and I want to continue to help them grow through export success and innovation.

“Our small businesses are alive with ability, with expertise and innovative thinking. These are much sought-after qualities – and it makes our home-grown products and services hugely attractive to international buyers.

“And while we are entering unchartered waters in terms of Brexit, there has never been a better time to set out our stall on the world stage.

“We must become more forward thinking and outward looking as we look to seize and to maximise the opportunities presented by the UK exiting the European Union.

“Northern Ireland has a proven track record when it comes to attracting inward investment. Now I believe it is time to move to the next level and that includes putting a renewed focus on expanding our exports.

“By concentrating on developing new trade opportunities we are building on solid foundations.

“We must work closely with our nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, so that we work to the benefit of one another.

“Devolution works and it delivers for Northern Ireland. I firmly believe in devolution because I want Northern Ireland to work. I want us play our part as one of the world’s most innovative and competitive advanced economies.

“When I was elected last May, I said I was humbled and considered it a huge privilege to be Northern Ireland’s First Minister and to work for everyone.

“I want to be able to complete the job I was given by the people and I am seeking that opportunity.

“Over the next number of weeks we have much to do but there is no greater privilege than serving the people across our great Province and striving, despite the challenges, to build a stronger Northern Ireland where all our people have the opportunity to succeed.”