Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Robinson's thoughts on a referendum for a United Ireland is the wake-up call that unionists should take care to heed

Editor's Viewpoint

The accepted narrative in Northern Ireland is that progress towards a united Ireland is inevitable given the demographics in the province. Many also believe that what appears to be unionist refusal to face facts is hastening the day of unification, rather than preserving the Union.

Former First Minister Peter Robinson certainly caused a stir in his inaugural speech as the new Honorary Professor of Peace Studies at Queen's University. He challenged fellow unionists to tackle the prospect of eventual unity face-on, while making it clear that he did not believe it was in any way imminent.

In an approach much more cerebral than any put forward before by a unionist leader, he urged unionists not to concentrate on what a future united Ireland might look like, but rather on the process that could theoretically lead to it.

As he pertinently pointed out Brexit's simple first-past-the-post referendum was a disaster waiting to happen. People may have voted to leave but had no idea of what the exit terms would be. How much worse would be the impact of immense constitutional change like a united Ireland based simply on a one-off poll called on nothing more than a whim?

Peter Robinson was challenging republicans as well as unionists in this speech, taking them on on their own ground.

He was being pro-active, pragmatic and perceptive, virtues sadly lacking in the political discourse here in recent times by all sides.

His comments have to be seen in a wider context. As he pointed out, the current political paralysis is stopping vital day-to-day issues being resolved, negatively influencing investment and turning people, particularly the young, off politics. The controversies here, at Westminster and the Presbyterian General Assembly over abortion laws and same sex-marriage create more problems. But Mr Robinson has challenged unionists to move beyond their normal reflex reaction of saying no to change. It was the wake-up call many needed.

Belfast Telegraph

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