Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Peter Robinson: 'I'm not quitting' says First Minister

The First Minister breaks the silence over his future and dismisses predictions of his demise as wide of the mark

Challenges: Peter Robinson returns after summer of unrest over flags
Challenges: Peter Robinson returns after summer of unrest over flags

Northern Ireland's people and politicians will have some big choices to make in the coming months. While MLAs gather at Stormont, the Deputy First Minister and I are in New York to continue the work of attracting further investment to Northern Ireland.

The US companies that now have a significant presence in Belfast and beyond are a testament to the success we have had, based on the political stability we have achieved and the quality and loyalty of our workforce.

In spite of all the challenges that have been faced at home, we have proved that we can successfully sell Northern Ireland to investors across the world.

Indeed, in recent weeks, the United Kingdom's trade and investment body has highlighted the remarkable success that Northern Ireland has achieved in this area.

That is a demonstration of what can be gained when politicians work together for the benefit of everyone in the place we all call home.

While there is much to be proud of, these last few months have also demonstrated the challenges that lie ahead. We have come a long way, but there is still a considerable way to go.

Both the media and politicians have characteristics – not, thankfully, found in them all – that do a disservice to the wider community.

For the Press, it is the tendency to insist on absolutes. To a section of the media, our Executive cannot face a challenge, or have to deal with a difficult situation; for them, the Executive must be in crisis, facing disaster, or plunging into the abyss. However, the reality is that there is space between harmony and extinction.

For a segment of the political class, such difficulties are opportunities to exploit, regardless of the impact on wider society and the political process of which they are a part.

For some, a situation which can benefit their party, or even themselves, outweighs the interests of the public they are sworn to serve. From my point of view, I don't like that, but I understand that's the environment I have to work in.

So, excuse me if I resist the perfunctory fulsome defence of my position, or the endless denials of claims unfounded and invented.

Let's just say applying a sensible condition is not a U-turn and I'm not quitting.

I'll be working on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland when many of those who predict my political demise, including those windbag commentators, have left the stage.

Now, can I deal with real politics – the politics that matters to people?

Northern Ireland needs to move forward, but we all must do so together. One side cannot hold out a hand of reconciliation, while continuing to wage its campaign by other means. There is no workable alternative to the political process.

While some of the events of recent months have been deeply depressing, we have, thankfully, so far avoided any loss of life and, in spite of much media hype, the political institutions remain secure.

Given where we were just a few years ago, that is a significant achievement. However, simply replacing the conflict that blighted our society with a 'cold peace', where people share the land, but little else, is not the way forward.

We are coming out of decades of conflict and division. We've passed the point where the asphalt ended and the untraveled, bumpy road lies ahead. It's the point where faint hearts question the journey, or seek to retreat to better known terrain.

The conundrum is whether there is a better destination than the one we have charted, or an easier route to get there.

There are some on the loyalist side who have no strategy, just shibboleths and an ability to identify where wrongs, or difficulties, lie, but with no concept of how, in a deeply divided society, to right those wrongs, or overcome the difficulties.

There are those on the republican side who think continuing the conflict, or revelling and grotesquely celebrating terrorist crimes from past conflicts, will further their partisan goals.

Anyone who thinks the way forward is to be found by pushing for a one-sided victory has learnt nothing from our painful past and has nothing to offer our community for a peaceful future.

There are others who just find it all so exhausting and messy; they want the outcome, but cannot bother to do the hard labour to achieve it and have been disheartened by the many glitches along the way.

Yes, the process gets ragged at times, but it is still on-track and, if viewed over an extended period, the progress has been positive; indeed, given our history, it has been staggering.

The Deputy First Minister and I see it most when we meet political leaders and business people across the globe, who have shown their confidence by directing investment and jobs to our province.

This week, in New York, we will meet companies which would not have even considered Northern Ireland as a location a decade ago. Yet now we have succeeded in bringing proportionately more jobs and investment into Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK.

So people have to decide which team they are on. Are they among those who talk our process down – the spoilers, who seek to profit from snags and complications? Or are they among those who know that the road will be rough and the journey uncomfortable, but the stable and peaceful society that can be gained worth every exertion and sacrifice?

I can't tell you that political representatives will get everything right, or that there won't be disagreements and problems along the way. But you can be sure that I will be doing all in my power to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

In the remainder of this Assembly term, we must complete the reorganisation of local government and the Review of Public Administration. We must complete the reform of the bureaucratic education structures.

We must modernise our health service and make it fit for the future demands that will be placed upon it. We must do all in our power to ensure that the Government agrees to devolve the powers to reduce corporation tax to the Assembly and we must finalise welfare reform in a manner that removes the Coalition's sharp edges.

I have talked about the characteristics of some others, but what about myself? I keep my ear to the ground. I know there are some in the Press who consider me abrasive and obstinate.

My political opponents (and even some of my own colleagues) find me confrontational and inflexible. Perhaps they are right. Others are much less complimentary.

Yet those "deficiencies" are the ingredients that fashion an unqualified determination to secure my objectives and I am resolved that we shall complete the process we are engaged in.

I am convinced that, within the unionist community, there is a desire for peace and stability and I judge that the nationalist people share this outlook.

I will not be pushed or played into allowing the process to be anything other than balanced and fair. The denial of the expression of any identity or legitimate political viewpoint flies in the face of what we want to achieve.

A peaceful future can only be built on mutual respect, tolerance and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law and the democratic process. No section of our community can be excluded from that shared future.

Politics is about accommodating difference and about resolving issues in an entirely peaceful and democratic way. No-one can say that it has been easy to be involved in Northern Ireland politics for most of the last 40 years.

We have lived through the worst period in the province's history. So we must see to it that everyone living here can enjoy the fruits of peace.

This new Assembly term offers the opportunity to find ways of solving problems, rather than apportioning blame. If others also choose to take that path, then my party will not be found wanting in the months and years ahead.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk