Edwin Poots: Benefits of Union will keep Northern Ireland safe for another 100 years
DUP leadership candidate Edwin Poots has said he is confident Northern Ireland will survive for another 100 years because of the benefits of the Union.
Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Poots said people were aware that benefits would be lost in the event of Irish unity, with the public being hit on healthcare and in their pockets.
He was speaking during a discussion on the centenary of Northern Ireland, which was celebrated on Monday.
Mr Poots paid tribute to some of Northern Ireland’s most famous people, including Seamus Heaney, Liam Neeson, George Best and Pat Jennings.
He said he was a "proud Northern Ireland man" and that the best thing about the place was the people.
The Lagan Valley MLA said the "scourge" of the Troubles was a "disaster" for everyone.
"Not one of those bullets fired in the Troubles was justified because no one deserved to lose their lives. We can never return to that again," he said.
Mr Poots said he believed Northern Ireland could move forward in a way that everyone would see the benefits of being part of the UK.
"Doing anything different than being in this great union will ensure people have less disposable income, less access to free healthcare and so many other things," he said.
The topic was introduced by TUV leader Jim Allister as MLAs returned from the bank holiday break.
Mr Allister said Northern Ireland came into being and continued because of the "will of the people" and that its existence was a "triumph over terrorism".
He paid tribute to members of the security forces who lost their lives during the Troubles.
Mr Allister said that while Northern Ireland is thriving, "we cannot be complacent to the threat that faces us".
"Vigilance served us in the past, and vigilance will serve us in the future, along with the determination to defeat any threat that comes along, including the threat of the iniquitous protocol," the TUV leader said.
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley noted that as the Assembly’s youngest unionist member, he was "not oblivious to the threats that face the Union".
Remembering those who lost their lives in the Troubles, he said his great-uncle Bobby Crozier was killed during an IRA attack on Glenanne Army camp.
His party colleague Christopher Stalford called on people to work together for a better future.
Referencing a Sinn Fein ‘united Ireland’ sign erected at Divis Tower in Belfast, he said he found it "very disappointing that a party political banner was erected on the side of a block of flats and pointed in the direction of a unionist community...I think that was nothing more than a calculated insult".
UUP leader Steve Aiken acknowledged there were "things wrong" with Northern Ireland but said this was also the case in the Republic, Europe and the US.
"Northern Ireland, when you sit back and think of it, is not a bad place to be. We have so much opportunity," he said.
Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd said partition "created division and created a state which systematically discriminated against a large proportion of its citizens".
He said people had a better future to look forward to, regardless of their political beliefs.
"A new Ireland will be a homeplace to us all," the Upper Bann MLA said.
"A young republican said to me a number of years ago, ‘We will be the generation that lives for Ireland. No more should any generation die for Ireland’. That has to be the ambition for us all."
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said the Assembly spent too much time talking about history.
He said while he did not wish to score points, partition created a "deeply unjust state".
"What we should be about in is making the present better and building a better future," the South Belfast MLA said.
"Any of us with a constitutional preference can only do so on the basis of reconciliation, mutual respect and sharing this place."