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Peter Robinson hits out at 'border poll deniers' urging unionists to prepare for referendum

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Former DUP leader Peter Robinson. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Kevin Scott

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Former First Minister Peter Robinson has said unionists must prepare for the "predictable showdown" of a border poll on Irish unity.

Writing in the News Letter Mr Robinson acknowledged the current issues facing politicians, including coronavirus and Brexit, but warned a looming border poll could not be ignored.

The former DUP leader said "border poll denies" who think the vote will never take place are engaged in "complacement and dangerous thinking".

On Thursday Taoiseach Micheal Martin set out his vision for a shared island, after his Government set up a dedicated unit in his department.

However, Mr Martin said a border poll was not on his Government's agenda for at least five years.

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Sinn Fein has repeatedly called for a border poll throughout the Brexit process.

The party's impressive performance in last year's Irish General Election also led to increased discussion on Irish unity.

Mr Robinson said previous efforts from unionist parties to work together to protect the union had "never lasted long, and it has never worked particularly well".

He called for the establishment of an independent body to provide the blueprint for an anti-unity campaign.

"The think tank or working group would be permanent. It would carry out research and provide material proclaiming the benefits of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland," he said

"It would pass its research to pro Union political parties and politicians to augment their arguments for the maintenance of the Union and it would offer campaign advice, when needed, confidentially, to the political leadership."

Mr Robinson said the group should bring the wider unionist community together and "not be packed with safe hands from the parties’ ranks".

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Rev Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson at a press conference with their 'Ulster Says No' poster.  Pacemaker Press Intl. 19/11/85

Rev Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson at a press conference with their 'Ulster Says No' poster. Pacemaker Press Intl. 19/11/85

Rev Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson at a press conference with their 'Ulster Says No' poster. Pacemaker Press Intl. 19/11/85

The long-time number two to former DUP leader Ian Paisley said the group's work would "prepare an evidence-based case for the Union in the event of a border poll".

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary can call a border poll if he feels a majority would favour of Irish unity.

The former First Minister said the case for the Union is "compelling and logical", but warned against complacency.

"Success at a border poll will be down to a steady and consistent espousal of the real value of United Kingdom membership not a three-week splash," Mr Robinson said

"It will depend as much on those who are pro Union but do not vote for a party with unionist in its title and those who do not normally vote at all. It will depend on people from all backgrounds and minorities realising the Union is the best option.

"That will not be accomplished in a few weeks or months; it is a long-term task that needs to be commenced in the short-term."

Mr Robinson said everyone in Northern Ireland would have a "heavy price to pay" if unionists do not focus on preparations for a border poll.

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Arlene Foster is congratulated after being named leader of the DUP in 2015

Arlene Foster is congratulated after being named leader of the DUP in 2015

Arlene Foster is congratulated after being named leader of the DUP in 2015

The former DUP leader said he couldn't agree more with his successor Arlene Foster when she said in 2017: "Make no mistake, this is a time of threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom and it is a time for care and vigilance.”

"Above all she proffered the advice that we must make the Union more appealing to everyone in our society," Mr Robinson said

"That seems a sound programme of work and a goal worthy of support."


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