Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

First Minister Peter Robinson bullish over DUP successes

Peter Robinson with Nigel Dodds (right) at the DUP annual conference at the La Mon Hotel
Peter Robinson with Nigel Dodds (right) at the DUP annual conference at the La Mon Hotel

"Unionism is at its best when it is open and inviting, not narrow and exclusive" – those were the words of Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, in a party conference speech which radiated pre-election confidence and positivity.

"In short, we are not simply the largest unionist party, we are the only unionist party capable of leading unionism forward," he said.

Mr Robinson accentuated the achievements of the DUP in government – leaflets were handed round listing the gains, and played down any difficulties along the way. There was no mention of the Maze/Long Kesh Peace Centre.

"Devolution at Stormont has underpinned peace, it has cemented constitutional stability, it has strengthened support for the union, it has been the bedrock for the jobs and international investment that we have attracted and it gives unionists a leading role, denied them under Direct Rule, in determining the future of Northern Ireland," he argued.

He focused most his fire on two of the smaller partners in government, particularly the UUP, but also the SDLP, who he portrayed as less responsible.

"It's bad enough that Gerry Adams claims never to have been in the IRA; now we have two parties that pretend they're not in the Executive," he said.

Last year he advised Sinn Fein not to be too influenced by the SDLP. This year he warned them off appeasing hardliners.

"Does anyone believe that Sinn Fein adds to its support base by its glorification and commemoration of terrorism?" he said.

"Just as Sinn Fein will inhibit its own growth, so too will this party if we allow our agenda to be dominated by those who would wish us to re-fight battles we have already won."

He described last winter's flags protests as "a good cause", but condemned violence against the police.