Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson: 'I never fought with Martin McGuinness and if he'd been healthy things could have been different'

By Gareth Cross

Former First Minister Peter Robinson has said that he and former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness never had a severe falling out with each other when they worked in government together.

The former DUP leader also said that he believed things may have been different had Mr McGuinness not been in ill-health when he resigned from his position in January 2017.

Mr Robinson, in his first major interview since his retirement told BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that he got on well with Martin McGuinness when they worked together and that the pair always remained on speaking terms, even when they disagreed.

"I don't think I ever questioned Martin McGuinness adherence to the principles of the St Andrews Agreement," he said.

"I think he was someone who wanted Stormont and the agreement to work and wanted to make progress.

"Every day we were having to negotiate in the First Ministers' office, not just on the big issues and were able to make compromises every day.

He said the pair were able to keep disagreements and discussions between themselves.

"We had disagreements of course, I can remember one occasion when I had a press conference I was speaking and he was shaking his head and he was speaking and I was shaking my head.

"Overall at that time we never had a shouting match or fell out to the point we couldn't pick up the phone and talk.

"We still held each others confidence, if those issues go public before an agreement can be reached both sides are damaged.

"The ability to keep confidence is a big loss in the current time. There has been a lot of 'he said she said' issues which have damaged the confidence the parties have in each other."

"When Martin walked away he was very frail, I think a healthy McGuinness would have taken a different position."

He said that the DUP felt able to trust Sinn Fein during his time in government.

"There was no period where we found ourselves unable to trust them with confidences until more recent times," Mr Robinson said.

"We had a testing period as part of St Andrews to ensure they had ended violence and accepted police and courts.

"Any two parties sharing power must build up trust."

Mr Robinson said he felt Sinn Fein may have resigned from government whether the RHI scandal happened or not.

"None of us know what would have happened, if Sinn Fein were determined to bring down the institutions.

"It wasn't really RHI because they've drifted to other issues and would have found another excuse to bring it down."

When asked what he would have done Mr Robinson told broadcaster Stephen Nolan compromise was essential to make Northern Ireland politics successful.

"Compromise is part of it, you don't succeed if simply looking after your own position. You have to remember that the other party has a constituency, it's not sufficient to solve your problems have to solve theirs too," he said.

"All I know is we don't have an Assembly, an Assembly a lot of people put hard graft into getting up and running and I think Northern Ireland is worse for not having an Executive and Assembly."

"I think there has to be a lot of work done to bring it back. It needs under the radar contact to try and build relationships again, there is no problem that cannot be solved."

He said that the supposed agreement reached by the parties in February did not offer enough to the unionist community.

"Any new agreement has to be more broadly based, I don't think there was an awful lot in it for the unionist community to be a good deal.

"It satisfied Sinn Fein but unionists have issues they wanted to be resolved too, you have to have a balance.

"You would think the only people who have problems at the present time are republicans, that's not the case."

Mr Robinson said he felt the media had been very hard on Arlene Foster and that her experience of IRA violence in the past had impacted her life.

"I think Arlene deserves more credit given particularly the background she had in her childhood and into adulthood," he said.

"I think everybody's present thinking is based on the experiences of life they have had but I don't think it diminishes her in any way.

"I think it gives her a wider understanding particularly to the victims of IRA terrorism."

Mr Robinson also revealed that he had voted in favour of Brexit and didn't see a hard border returning to Northern Ireland.

"I think whether good or not it's disruptive in present circumstances and has to be dealt with.

"I pondered for a long period on how to vote, there were number of issues if voting solely on economic issues I think I would have voted remain but a whole series of other issues made me vote to leave.

"Irrespective if good or bad thing and I tend to believe it's better to be out of EU but have good relationship with neighbours in Europe and the Irish Republic

"It opens us up to a range of other markets and opportunities, if clever about it can put us in pivotal position in the UK depending on the outcome of the NI-ROI-UK relationship

"There are no guarantees we would continue to get the same funding we have got before and I believe we can reach a trade agreement with the EU."

He said that he believed an agreement would be reached on a soft border.

"There is always an impasse until the moment an agreement is reached I have every confidence an agreement will be reached, the Prime Minister wants the least possible border between the whole of the UK and Europe," he said.

"It's in the interests of the whole of UK and EU to have the freest trade possible. There already is a border there are issues that are dealt with differently and we manage that without border checks, it doesn't have to change. We don't know what the end result of negotiations will be. I certainly wouldn't want hard border posts."

Mr Robinson said that the best way of preserving the union was to reach out to nationalists.

"I think the DUP needs to be reaching out to everyone, it's the job of a party to persuade and encourage people to give it support," he told Mr Nolan.

"I think the long-term preservation of the union depends on making Northern Ireland a comfortable place for people not from a protestant or unionist background.

"We need to make it a place where everyone can see the benefits of being part of the larger union with Great Britain."

He said he wouldn't consider a United Ireland.

"I wouldn't even contemplate a United Ireland. I am a unionist, I am going to convince people the union is the best thing," Mr Robinson said.

"There won't be a united Ireland people will want to remain within the United Kingdom, when they have to make those decisions they will see the massive benefits of being part of the union."

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