Today’s Spring Conference of the Ulster Unionist Party at Templepatrick will inevitably ramp up our party’s campaign for May’s elections.
For over a year now, we have been listening to an electorate who tell us traditional voting patterns are about to change. Old alliances are breaking up. Trust is broken, confidence shattered, hope replaced by disillusionment.
People tell us they want change, for the better. It adds up to an opportunity for people to turn again to the party that does what’s right for Northern Ireland.
Ulster Unionism always seeks to represent the best interests of Northern Ireland and its people.
In May, we are determined to once again offer the people candidates who can be trusted to do the right thing.
None more so than Jim Nicholson, who has an unmatched record of success and influence as a Member of the European Parliament.
Jim’s experience on the European scene has never been more important to Northern Ireland, as the EU emerges from a prolonged Eurozone crisis, only to enter a period of uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.
The challenge for an MEP is to get known. The system in Brussels is all about networking and knowing your way around the corridors of power.
Few have been as effective in this approach as Jim Nicholson. Quite simply, Jim knows Brussels and, more importantly for the people of Northern Ireland, Brussels knows and values Jim Nicholson.
Europe means much more to Northern Ireland than support for agriculture. It impacts on business and the economy, health, education, fisheries, tourism and community issues.
Yes, Europe makes mistakes, like agreeing to fund the terrorist shrine at the Maze, but Jim was there to blow the whistle that brought that project to a grinding halt.
As a committed and passionate unionist, Jim Nicholson stands four-square for the Union, with all of its political, economic, social and cultural benefits for all our citizens, including all whose identity is not British.
May 22 will also see local government elections to 11 enlarged regional councils.
The Ulster Unionist Party senses the public is much more interested in seeing first class service delivery than in how local government is organised.
The exception is among those who, like us, have seen how the new boundaries will ensure nationalists are in the majority in Belfast, our capital city. We opposed that change, but others, holding the biggest unionist mandate, voted otherwise.
We understand the concerns on the ground concerning rates, anti-social behaviour, the cost of leisure centres, the lack of social housing.
These are not all matters for local government, but voters want joined up government and this year we offer a team of candidates with a fine blend of experience and youth, with a professionalism, integrity and understanding of local issues and direct links all the way from our local MLAs to our MEP.
Voters want elected representatives they can trust to do what’s right for Northern Ireland. That is the Ulster Unionist pledge.