Belfast Telegraph

Robinson calls for talks as McGuinness portrait is unveiled

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Stormont leaders will have to return to the negotiating table if a solution to the current crisis is to be found, former First Minister Peter Robinson has said.

The retired DUP leader was speaking as a portrait of his former power-sharing government partner Martin McGuinness was unveiled at Parliament Buildings.

Mr Robinson also warned that the political progress made in Northern Ireland must not lost.

He said: "I think the atmosphere has been soured over recent weeks and the 'he said, she said' doesn't help us in that process. I think there is a period required for everybody to calm down somewhat, but ultimately we are going to have to get back round the table again. That's where solutions are found."

He added: "There is a need for us to move forward as a society. We cannot allow all that has been built up over the past years to be lost and I think it is incumbent upon politicians of that generation to give that hope to especially young people today."

The Executive collapsed in January 2017 amid a row over the botched RHI green energy scheme.

Since then issues have widened to include the same-sex marriage ban, dealing with the toxic legacy of the past and Irish language rights. Earlier, Mr McGuinness's successor urged politicians here to choose hope over fear as she unveiled the portrait of the former Deputy First Minister.

As Mr McGuinness's widow Bernie and four children looked on, Michelle O'Neill urged Northern Ireland's leaders to collectively turn a corner away from their recent political difficulties and create a new era.

The portrait by Belfast artist Tony Bell was unveiled in Parliament Buildings in Belfast just over a year since the former IRA commander-turned-Stormont leader died.

It will now hang in the same corridors as a painting of the late Ian Paisley - the man Mr McGuinness struck up an unlikely friendship with as they led Northern Ireland together.

Mrs O'Neill, who succeeded Mr McGuinness as Sinn Fein's Stormont leader, said he was an ordinary man who helped transform society during the peace process.

"It is with a broken heart but a heart bursting with pride that we remember Martin one year on," she told a packed audience in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings.

She added: "In his last public appeal Martin urged people to choose hope over fear, to put equality and respect for all of our people at the heart of power-sharing.

"And therein lies the challenge for each and every one of us.

"How do we create the conditions where all of our people choose hope over fear, how do we achieve reconciliation together, how do we build bridges between our communities together, how do we govern on the basis of equal partnership together? We need to turn a corner and we need to enter a new era together."

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