Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

'Most Catholics want to stay in UK'

DUP leader Peter Robinson was giving a standing ovation at the party's annual conference in Belfast
DUP leader Peter Robinson was giving a standing ovation at the party's annual conference in Belfast

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has said a majority of Catholics and Protestants now wish to remain within the United Kingdom.

Addressing his party's annual conference, the Democratic Unionist Party leader said they were standing on the verge of a defining period for unionism, adding: "The siege has lifted, the Troubles as we knew them are over, and the constitutional debate has been won."

Mr Robinson, 63, said a majority across both communities in Northern Ireland now support the constitutional position within the UK.

"They know they are better off with Britain," he said. Dismissing calls for a referendum on the Irish border, Mr Robinson said it would not be the right thing to do despite his confidence of the outcome.

Mr Robinson, who took over the party reins from founder Ian Paisley five years ago, warned members that the DUP had to be relevant to the modern world and must move with the times.

Insisting he would drive change where needed, he urged more than 700 delegates to look outward and beyond their normal horizons, saying: "My goal as leader is to lay the groundwork that will cement our place within the Union. If that means taking tough decisions or abandoning out-dated dogmas, then I'll do it."

The main themes of the keynote address at the two-day gathering were the Union, jobs and reconciliation. Mr Robinson said he wanted to focus on a vision of hope, of progress, optimism and accomplishment for the future.

While the current economic difficulties are tough, they would pass in time and Northern Ireland would emerge stronger than ever, he said.

To achieve this, he said unionists had to accept power sharing with Sinn Fein has increased support for the constitutional status quo in Northern Ireland.

"Some people still wonder, after all that has happened, how we can work with Sinn Fein" he added. "The answer's simple: it's really not about us; it's about making life better for the people we represent. It's not always easy, but it's absolutely the right thing to do."

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