Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Robinson must be wary of right wing

The First Minister Peter Robinson received widespread media coverage for his claim that most Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland want to remain in the UK.

The remark was made in the heady atmosphere of a successful DUP party conference, amid cheering members waving Union flags.

This may be seen as a retort to the Sinn Fein demand for a referendum on the Union, but even if allowances are made for a degree of propagandising, the DUP is the major player within unionism, and it remains on track concerning power-sharing at Stormont. However, a poll of members taken by this newspaper at the conference shows that the DUP still retains a significant minority on the party's right wing.

For example, 40% of those polled supported the idea that members should ignore the determinations of the Parades Commission if they do not agree with them.

Such an attitude, if more widespread, could lead to mayhem on our streets.

Equally disturbing is the poll finding that 42% of the DUP believe that a woman made pregnant through rape and incest is not entitled to an abortion. Such support for these medieval attitudes in a governing party is worrying.

The DUP has always had its backwoods men and women whose attitudes and beliefs belong to a bygone age. It should also be remembered, however, that while our poll is not scientific, it is proof that there is a large minority within DUP which does not agree with the leadership on a number of important issues.

It is incumbent on Peter Robinson and close allies to keep control of this highly-conservative but sizeable DUP group who, if left unchecked, could cause serious political damage to those who are leading the party to a more centrist position.

There is no doubt, however, that Peter Robinson remains in total control of the party. He is an adept survivor who has shown remarkable political skills, and he has still much to contribute.

However, he must continue to keep a wary eye on his ultra-conservative henchmen.