Belfast Telegraph

Why the Hillsborough deal is a two-way street

Last Friday's agreement was a victory for all sides. But nationalists must accept the Orange Order's right to march or it will not work, argues Peter Robinson

Last Friday at Hillsborough Castle was a good day for unionism and for Northern Ireland, but as I left I couldn't help but think how unionists had stood outside that building in a much unhappier time on November 15, 1985.

On that day unionists stood outside excluded, powerless and betrayed as the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. Unionists rightly said 'No' to that agreement, but were wrongly ignored.

Yet 24 years later, I entered that building as First Minister of Northern Ireland and to represent the interests of the mainstream majority and, more than that, I was there to represent our whole community.

The exclusion of unionists has been well and truly ended. At times in the Hillsborough Castle talks the DUP had to say 'No'.

When the DUP said it within the talks it couldn't be ignored. The powerlessness of unionism is over.

The DUP left with a good deal that is the next step in the generational task of unionist renewal that began at St Andrews. The days of Anglo-Irish betrayal are well and truly banished and will remain so as long as devolution remains.

What makes it a good deal?

First, it deals with the public concerns about how the Executive has been working.

The Executive has achieved much more than it receives the credit for, but that does not excuse the areas in which it has failed the community.

It has been slow and faltering. You expect and deserve more. There will be an opportunity to agree a new approach across the Executive parties and to tackle the outstanding issues that have frustrated the public and, indeed, my party.

The DUP is up to the challenge and hopes the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein demonstrate they are too.

Second, it addresses the contentious issue of parades.

It has been a clear contradiction that, while the nationalist community demanded power be shared at Stormont, a section of nationalists refused to share something as basic as a road in an ever-increasing number of towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

Its potential as a public order issue makes the link between it and policing clear.

Furthermore, our present system, the Parades Commission, has been a failure. It issued incoherent, unexplained and inconsistent determinations which did nothing to resolve the issues.

The swift timeline towards publication of draft legislation on the parades issue means that everyone will be able to see very quickly how the new start to parading can come about.

Indeed the report of the working group will be published before the Assembly takes its decision on policing and justice.

Third, there is the devolution of policing and justice functions into local hands.

This is a DUP manifesto commitment for many years now and it has been something the unionist community has demanded since the foundation of Northern Ireland.

Jim Allister co-authored this passage in our manifesto, he and I voted for it at the party officers' meeting and again at the party executive and then we both campaigned for it in the election which followed.

I have not broken that pledge to the people. The agreement reached at Hillsborough means our commitment can be fulfilled and another unionist goal has been achieved.

Ordinary unionists had a number of concerns about the devolution of policing and justice.

These included who would be the justice minister, the independence of the judiciary and operational independence of the police.

The minister will be appointed by cross-community vote. The appointment of judges will be free of political interference. The operational independence of the police is assured.

While others did nothing more than issue a press statement, the DUP did the work and unionist concerns have been addressed.

Of common concern was police resources and it was through the DUP's perseverance that a £800m package was achieved that will maintain front-line policing.

Furthermore, additional resources will be available from the Government reserve to meet any dissident republican threat.

The financial package does not only look to the future, but tackles the legacy of the past. Ten years ago, official recognition for those who served as part-time Police Reserve officers and, more lately, provision for police officers who have suffered hearing loss, was raised.

The DUP has delivered for those who have given loyal service. A total of £400m will be available for hearing loss claims and £20m for recognition payments for the Part-Time Reserve.

The DUP aims to show the way forward for unionism and for the people of Northern Ireland. The dissident unionist approach of a press statement rejecting everything won't deliver for unionism. It is the DUP approach of holding out until the right deal is on the table that works for unionists.

I am unapologetically a committed unionist, but I want a better life for everyone who lives here.

What has been achieved is not a victory for unionism alone; it is a good deal for all.

These arrangements - made in Ulster - can help transform politics and our society.

I urge everyone to support the agreement so that we can move forward together.


From Belfast Telegraph