Hold your nerve, North's leaders told

The North's political leaders were today urged to hold their nerve and leave their constituents the legacy of a fully-functioning devolved Assembly.

The North's political leaders were today urged to hold their nerve and leave their constituents the legacy of a fully-functioning devolved Assembly.

In her maiden speech to Northern Ireland Assembly members, Progressive Unionist leader Dawn Purvis stressed that the people of the province wanted devolved government.

And she also paid an affectionate tribute to David Ervine, who she replaced as PUP leader and also as Assembly member for East Belfast.

Ms Purvis, who will have the shortest term of any Assembly member, with Stormont due to dissolve at midnight, in preparation for a possible Assembly election, said: "I would appeal to all political leaders today, the ones that have it within their gift to bring us the accountable democracy that we all crave.

"We have had debates around the programme for government and around implementation but I appeal to people that we are tantalisingly close to giving our society what our society needs - peace and stability.

"I would appeal to you all to hold your nerve and leave us a legacy and remember those who have gone before."

Ms Purvis, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, was chosen by her party's executive to be its new leader, following Mr Ervine's unexpected death three weeks ago.

She has also been chosen to defend his seat in East Belfast in the election currently pencilled in for March 7.

The new PUP leader officially became an Assembly member by signing the register, declaring she was a unionist.

She recalled her close colleague and predecessor had been a strong advocate for the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged during Assembly debates.

"The tributes that poured in after his death were from those socially-excluded groups but David was about much more than that," she said.

"He was a man who took great risks for peace and I remember on many occasions he was called a traitor, a lundy, a sell-out merchant, but that did not deter him from his vision and his pursuit of that vision for a better society for all Irish citizens."

Ms Purvis said his decision, along with others, to remain in the talks in September, 1997 which led to the Good Friday Agreement to fight unionism's corner despite being called a traitor was particularly important, she said.

"I believe many of us would not be sitting in this chamber today, had those steps not been taken," she said.

Ms Purvis agreed with one tribute paid to her friend, that he was an energetic and committed politician, who was eager to better the lives of his constituents.

She commented: "That is a fitting tribute to a dedicated East Belfast man."

The PUP leader said that she would continue to articulate the cause of the marginalised and she highlighted the issues of homelessness, poverty, inequality in health, education and gender.

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