Peter Robinson criticised by DUP's Sammy Wilson over ‘dangerous’ words on united Ireland
Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has come under attack from one of the party's MPs over a speech in which he urged unionists to prepare for a possible united Ireland.
Sammy Wilson branded the remarks "disturbing, dangerous" and "out of kilter" with the mindset of most unionists.
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In a speech in Donegal on Friday night, Mr Robinson said he did not think Northern Ireland would vote to leave the UK, but people should prepare for that possibility and accept the result.
"I don't expect my own house to burn down but I still insure it," he said.
But his comments at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, in which he expanded on views expressed in a lecture at Queen's University recently, drew criticism from former party colleagues yesterday.
East Antrim MP Mr Wilson said that Mr Robinson's speech would have been better if it had promoted the benefits of Northern Ireland remaining within the UK.
He said: "Peter is entitled to whatever views he holds. He is taking on his new role of professor and he thinks he has to provoke debate, which is fine in the world of academia, but it is dangerous in the world of politics.
"This speech to the MacGill Summer School is rather similar to the speech Peter gave at Queen's but he went a bit further this time, which I think is disturbing.
"The increasing sectarianism of Sinn Fein and the blatant Brit-bashing of (Leo) Varadkar and (Simon) Coveney has convinced unionists that there would be no safe place for them in a united Ireland."
Mr Wilson added: "The point that Peter made which worries me even more is that we need to prepare ourselves for a united Ireland as a kind of insurance policy.
"The immediate analogy that struck me is that you only prepare yourself for something if you think it is going to happen.
"Talking about preparing ourselves for a united Ireland almost gives the impression that it is inevitable, but I don't believe in the inevitability of a united Ireland."
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said that while Mr Robinson's point about taking out an insurance policy against the possibility of something happening is right, he rejected the necessity.
"There is no concept of Britishness in the Irish Republic, so there is just no possibility of a united Ireland happening. It is out of the question," Mr Campbell said.
East Londonderry MLA Maurice Bradley accused Mr Robinson of being "out of touch" with grassroots unionism.
"Peter Robinson is entitled to his own opinion as a member of the public but I think he is out of touch with unionist on the ground, certainly the unionist people in my constituency would not share Peter Robinson's views," he said.
The Donegal speech also drew criticism from the wider unionist family.
Lord Empey, the former leader of the Ulster Unionists, accused him of becoming a "Sinn Fein echo chamber".
"This is not strategic thinking, rather it's the latest in a long line of proposals from Peter Robinson that are detrimental to Northern Ireland," he claimed.
TUV leader Jim Allister described Mr Robinson as "yesterday's man" and called on Arlene Foster to clarify her position.
He added: "You'd wait a long time for Sinn Fein to advise preparing for direct rule, but here we have the former leader of unionism urging preparation for fulfilment of the republican dream."
In his speech on Friday night, Mr Robinson said that he believed unionists would accept the results of any border poll that led to a united Ireland.
"As soon as that decision is taken every democrat will have to accept that decision," he said.
Earlier this month Mr Robinson, who served as DUP leader from 2008 to the end of 2015, said that border polls should be held at fixed dates to avoid destabilising Northern Ireland politics.
Those comments also drew criticism from some in the DUP, who branded them "divisive and unsettling".