The DUP’s party conference – here’s what you need to know

The Democratic Unionist Party had their annual party conference today at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast. Here's everything you need to know.

The Democratic Unionist Party held their annual party conference on Saturday 14 October at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast.

This conference seems more important than ever due to the DUP’s boycott of Stormont at the minute.

In recent months we’ve had more and more news coming out from the leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, about the ongoing talks between the DUP and UK government. The hints have been there for a while about the possible return to the Assembly by the DUP – but this conference will not be one that gives us more insight into when the DUP plans to return to Stormont.

The Leader’s Address

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been leader of the DUP since June 2021, and seems to have brought with him a relatively calm period within the party.

Today he walked onto the stage at their party conference to applause from the attending delegates.

Sir Jeffrey’s speech started with him reinforcing his party’s support for Israel to defend itself after the attacks by Hamas last week.

This Party stands firmly with Israel in exercising its right in international law to defend its people from such acts of terrorism.

– Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader

He then gave an overview of the past year since the last DUP conference. Including the King’s coronation and the local council elections – “we established ourselves as the strongest voice of unionism in Northern Ireland”.

We do not take our position as the lead party of unionism for granted and we will continue to work hard to build for the future.

– Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader

He goes on to emphasise that at the local council elections this year, the DUP’s mandate was renewed, and pays tribute to the party’s Director of Elections, Gordon Lyons MLA, and his new deputy leader, Gavin Robinson MP.

Focus then turned to what will probably be the DUP’s next election they will be campaigning for – the general election that is thought will occur in 2024.

He thanked the current MPs in the party and also made sure to say he would work with “all those who value the union across parliament” – whether the Conservatives are returned to power or the Labour Party.

Proposal of a new East-West Council

The DUP leader said he asked the UK government to consider establishing a new East-West Council that would bring together representatives from Northern Ireland, the UK government and “others from across our nation” to discuss and collaborate on opportunities for enhanced co-operation.

“I still believe in devolved government”

The mention of the St Andrews Agreement was no accident, as Sir Jeffrey reinforces his view that he still believes in devolved government, and “having locally elected representatives that take decisions in the best interest of our people”.

“To those who argue that direct rule is a better option I say this. Time and again, Westminster has imposed laws upon us that are not in tune with the needs or wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.”

I want us to be the party of Northern Ireland and the party for Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

– Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader

You can read the DUP leader’s full address here.

Other speakers

The main speakers at the conference, other than the party leader, were Gavin Robinson MP (deputy leader), Carla Lockhart MP, and Emma Little-Pengelly MLA.

Emma Little-Pengelly was co-opted to the Assembly in May 2022 to replace Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who ran in the election, but didn’t take up his seat and remained as an MP in Westminster instead.

She has been a major face of the DUP in recent times, which has led some to believe she could be Northern Ireland’s next deputy First Minister.

It seems today that she was the most prominent MLA – being the only one to give her own speech to the delegates.

Although nobody knows who Sir Jeffrey might nominate to be deputy First Minister, there is a strong feeling that it might be Little-Pengelly.

You can read the speeches by Gavin Robinson, Carla Lockhart, and Emma Little-Pengelly on the DUP website.

Something a bit different…

The DUP are going to launch a podcast in their newly established digital hub and recording studio at their Shore Road office.

The DUP are trying to modernise, the leader mentioned in his speech earlier “my unionism is an inclusive, positive and modern one”, and this is probably one of those attempts to modernise the party.

Watch the party conference

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