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Robinson stakes a claim as Carson’s heir with appeal to Catholics

By Liam Clarke

Peter Robinson has spoken of his ambition to build Catholic support for unionism in a keynote speech in Dublin. The DUP leader also laid claim to the liberal unionist legacy of Sir Edward Carson in a speech broadcast live on RTE.

Noting a recent opinion poll which indicated only 16% of people in Northern Ireland — and 33% of Catholics — were in favour of Irish reunification, the First Minister said he didn’t suspect that the survey results pointed to an imminent avalanche of Catholics voting DUP.

Instead, he said it indicated “a wider acceptance of the present constitutional position of Northern Ireland and, as importantly, their place in it”.

Sir Edward Carson, a Dubliner, was the founder of both the UUP and the original UVF.

In a speech at Iveagh House, near Carson's birth place, hosted by Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, Mr Robinson said he was a Northern Ireland unionist — not an Irish unionist like Carson.

He added: “Unionism must reach far beyond its traditional base if it is to maximise its potential. That means forming a pro-Union consensus with people from different religious and community backgrounds.”

He quoted former SDLP leader John Hume, who “often said that the strength of unionists lay in our numbers and our geography”.

“That is of course right, but just think how our position would be strengthened if we were to reach out and draw into the ranks of the pro-Union community those who for whatever reason may have felt excluded or un

wanted in the past,” he said.

Mr Robinson read from Carson’s 1921 comments on the then new Stormont parliament: “‘You will be a parliament for the whole community. We used to say that we could not trust an Irish parliament in Dublin to do justice to the Protestant minority. Let us take care that that reproach can no longer be made against your parliament, and from the outset let them see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from a Protestant majority’.”

Mr Robinson added: “Whatever the factors were that combined to miss that opportunity in the past let modern-day unionists put it into practice now.”

The Sinn Fein sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin described it as a “reflective, subjective and at times provocative speech — new one for me.”

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