Good afternoon Conference,
My name is Bethany Ferris, I'm 25 years old and from County Armagh, and I'm delighted and grateful to be afforded the opportunity to join the Party Officers’ team today.
Now I'm reluctant to extend conference any longer than I have to by delivering a long address, particularly with many of the rugby fans in attendance who want to rush home and cheer on Scotland against Wales and keep Ireland's hopes alive in the Six Nations.
I'm eager to use this opportunity to introduce myself to many of you and outline my vision for what the party should aspire to achieve in the coming year.
Growing up in the village of Glenanne, I attended Newtownhamilton High School before going onto University in Belfast. I was raised and was welcomed into the Presbyterian Church where I remain a part of the congregation at Kingsmill Presbyterian Church.
Faith has always been an important guide for me, and this was my core motivation to complete my undergraduate studies in Theology at Queen's University Belfast.
Following an enjoyable and insightful time at University, I graduated in 2015 and went into employment supporting adults with learning disabilities, mental illnesses or acquired brain injuries. In my profession, I seek to allow every individual to make their own choices and feel empowered to maximise their lives.
The importance of integrating everyone into our community cannot be understated and is something which I want to work towards. My commitment to achieving this is embodied in my return to Queen's University Belfast to study for a Masters in Education in special needs education with my research focusing on the impact of children with autism facing social exclusion.
While the desire to highlight the issues affecting the most isolated in our society is a major motivation for my political activism, my desire to engage with politics can be traced back to my family.
With my father serving in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, I have a deep connection with commemorating those who offered so much in the service of their country.
I have sought to give back to those who made the ultimate sacrifice through my membership of the Royal British Legion. During my tenure, I was honoured to attend the GP90 commemorations where I had the opportunity laying a wreath on behalf of Markethill branch at the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres.
I have a firm belief that my generation has a duty to represent the courage and integrity which the Lost Generation embodied. My activism and commitment within the party has sought to carry forward the courage to stand up and fight for what our party stands for.
I am actively engaged within my constituency party in Newry and Armagh where I serve on the executive as our election officer. However, what I am truly proud of is my work in increasing youth engagement in the party.
I’ve helped to reconstitute Young Unionist associations in Newry and Armagh, and North Down and rose to the position of secretary within the Young Unionists. Promoting youth engagement and outreach within the party is my paramount objective.
Our party cannot ascend to a place where we can implement the changes the people of Northern Ireland urgently needs without our party fundamentally rethinking how we engage with young people and women.
Demonstrating that young people and women can engage with and influence the direction of our party is my primary objective as I begin my tenure as a party officer.
I possess the vision to drive the revitalisation of our party and deploy the lessons I have learned in years of engagement with young people to build a Unionism which appeals to and includes all in Northern Ireland.
I offer the perspective of a young woman who is committed to changing how our party communicates to a rapidly changing country and society.
I want to build upon the work and achievements of women within the party. In lieu of International Women’s Day yesterday, I am grateful for the trail women before me have blazed to give me confidence to put myself forward as a party officer.
We must be grateful to those who helped forge the Northern Ireland I was fortunate to grow up in. The bold leadership this party offered to deliver my generation a Northern Ireland which could look beyond the Troubles and the matters which divide us.
It is our duty to help the Ulster Unionist Party to find its courage again. We can never be afraid to boldly champion the values and merits of our Union rather than seeking to sow division between our communities.
Our party faces a clear choice.
We can follow the leadership of other parties which joyfully look back on our divided past. Or we can courageously seek to find a new path which showcases what Northern Ireland can achieve and can deliver for all we share our communities with.
I'm proud to state my unwavering belief that Ulster Unionism can be the future of Unionism in Northern Ireland once again. I hope all of you will join me in my drive to make our Union deliver for all in Northern Ireland.