Belfast Telegraph

Union is secure, says Robinson

Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson has said unionists need to realise that the union is secure.

Senior loyalists have accused republicans of fighting a cultural war to eradicate Britishness. They cite restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast city hall and conditions imposed on loyal order parades as examples.

But the Democratic Unionist leader insisted unionists had come out of the 30-year conflict having achieved their aim of preventing a united Ireland.

He told a television documentary maker: "Unionists are capable of extracting a defeat from the jaws of victory."

Veteran broadcaster Peter Taylor produced a BBC programme to air soon asking who won the war in Northern Ireland. He carried out a series of interviews with key figures to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic IRA and loyalist ceasefires in 1994.

The on-off cessation of violence led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which enshrined powersharing at Stormont and paved the way for paramilitary arms decommissioning and the disbandment of the IRA.

Mr Robinson said the dream of a united Ireland held by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and others was over.

"Unquestionably we have come out with our objectives intact but that is not always the way it is seen on the ground and unionists are capable of extracting defeat from the jaws of victory and nationalists and republicans are capable of gaining victory from the jaws of defeat."

Loyalists have been protesting for many months at a north Belfast "civil rights camp" after a contentious loyal order parade was barred from the Ardoyne area largely inhabited by nationalists. Past years have seen serious violence at the sectarian interface.

Some Protestants also hold grievances over the December 2012 decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies from Belfast city hall, once a citadel of unionism. Their backlash injured dozens of police officers amid angry street demonstrations but produced no reversal of the restrictions.

Senior loyalist Billy Hutchinson, who was imprisoned for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) murder of two Catholics in 1974 but supported the peace process and now leads the fringe Progressive Unionist Party, said the paramilitaries had prevented a united Ireland.

He claimed republicans were fighting a cultural battle to eradicate Britishness.

"The war has changed in how it is fought but it is still a war."

Mr Robinson's partner in the powersharing administration, Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, said: "The IRA were fighting to bring about equality and the reunification of Ireland. I am still fighting for that but I am fighting for that politically."

He said that after joining the IRA in 1970 his mother found a black beret in the house and was traumatised by it.

"It was a moment in time and she was obviously annoyed at the prospect that all of our lives were changing and maybe mine more dramatically than anybody else's."

Bloody Sunday, when the army shot dead 13 innocent civil rights protesters in Derry in January 1972 , was one of the seminal events of the troubles and many republicans have said it provided impetus to the IRA's nascent campaign.

Mr Taylor interviewed a soldier present at Bloody Sunday who said: "If I had to do the same thing again I would do it, no regrets."

In Who Won The War on Monday 29 September on BBC One NI at 9pm, Mr Taylor meets again some of the key players he interviewed in the past to ask if they still agree with what they said then and how they feel about the contemporary situation.

Former prime minister Tony Blair said nobody had won the war, the British were not going to be forced out but neither were they going to win by military force.

Mr Taylor said it was clear the British and unionists won because the union was secure and the IRA was no more but nobody knew what the future held.

He pointed out that the political changes of powersharing between Sinn Fein and the DUP would at one time have been unthinkable.

"I would not be surprised if at some stage in the long years ahead a united Ireland did emerge."

Aged 12 Sean McKinley had joined the IRA's youth organisation, had IRA tattooed on his knuckles and said it was his ambition to take on the British army, to fight and die for his country. He was later imprisoned.

A ged in his 50s and badly ailing, he was interviewed again by Mr Taylor.

He said: "A lot of people thought they were fighting and dying for a country but it did not work out that way."

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