Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI Assembly election: DUP unveils manifesto in Belfast

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Media captionArlene Foster said she wanted to implement the party's plan "as first minister on the morning of 6 May"

People who say it does not matter who wins the Northern Ireland Assembly election are wrong, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader has said.

Arlene Foster was criticised last month when she said that Martin McGuinness becoming first minister would take the region in the "wrong direction."

On Monday, she said parties claiming otherwise "could not be more wrong".

Nigel Dodds, the party's deputy leader, said the first minister post was "the public face of Northern Ireland".

They were speaking at the release of the DUP's election manifesto on the Shankill Road in west Belfast.

Influence

Mrs Foster said "every election represents a choice" and this one "is no different".

But she added: "There are those who seek to pretend otherwise.

"After the election, the party with the most votes and the most seats will have the greatest influence in shaping the next programme for government.

"The more seats we have the more departments we will hold in order to deliver on our commitments."

Race

Mr Dodds said he made "no apology for saying I want Arlene as first minister".

"[The first minister] tells the world who we are and what values we hold true," the North Belfast MP said.

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Image caption Nigel Dodds said the first minister post was "the public face of Northern Ireland"

"In that contest [for the post], the pundits and commentators agree it is a two-horse race between Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.

"Some people, for narrow political advantage, will claim it doesn't mater who wins the election and it does not matter who the first minister is.

"What world are they living in?"

Centenary

The DUP will be fighting the election on 5 May on the basis of a five-point plan that it says will:

  • prioritise health spending;
  • create more jobs;
  • protect family budgets;
  • raise standards in education;
  • and invest in infrastructure.
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Image caption The party's candidates for May's election attended the manifesto event in west Belfast

The DUP says it is committed to establishing a perinatal hospice care service or facility in Northern Ireland for women pregnant with a child that has a life-limiting condition.

And the party says it wants to give £1,000 to everyone who is 100 years old or more when Northern Ireland reaches its centenary in 2021.

Targeting

In previous years, the DUP has left its manifesto release to closer to polling day.

But Mrs Foster said the party now wanted to give voters more time to read its blueprint for the next five years.

"I want this plan to be the backbone of our campaign and our pledge to the country for the next assembly term, a plan I want to implement as first minister on the morning of 6 May," she added.

The party chose to hold its manifesto event in west Belfast as it is targeting a seat in the constituency.

Frank McCoubrey, the DUP's candidate in West Belfast, is attempting to win the first assembly seat for unionists in the constituency since 2003.

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