'Trauma is one thing personally, but to do it in public made it difficult'
He was impressed with Michaela’s widower, John McAreavey, whom he met for the first time. “I think, in the new era we are attempting to build, that it is important that we try to stretch ourselves and to have the highest level of respect for each other’s traditions.”
So does he like McGuinness? “I don’t think you could have had an arrangement that has lasted as long as this without us being able to have a good relationship. It has worked, in my view, to the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.”
There have been recent spats between the DUP and Sinn Féin around the origin of the Troubles. Nationalist commentators frequently criticise unionists for refusing to acknowledge that unionist discrimination was a significant factor in the start of the Troubles. Some unionists deny there was any discrimination or argue that the conflict was simply about the IRA seeking to achieve a united Ireland.
Robinson’s view is that there is no point perpetually reheating such arguments when there can never be agreement. Deal with the “here and now”, he says. Talking about the peace process, he offers: “For instance, if the Deputy First Minister and I had been sitting down attempting to agree a common version of history we would still be there, and we would never achieve it, nor indeed would we achieve agreement if we were to determine what the final outcome for the future would be.”
Robinson says that he is also “sceptical about truth and reconciliation commissions and that kind of thing” because he does not think it is possible to get agreement on the past. Equally, he doesn’t want the past rewritten to suit a republican version of history. Referring to the recent 25th anniversary of the IRA bomb that killed 12 people in Enniskillen and injured more than 60 others, he says, “I don’t think they will be allowed to do it, because every time they attempt it, anniversaries of events come up that remind them of what their past was.”
This is the weekend of the DUP annual conference. It’s at the La Mon Hotel, another venue that resonates of the dark days of the Troubles. Twelve people died there in an IRA bombing in 1978; many more were injured. His keynote address is today. He’ll be 64 after Christmas. Has he any thoughts of retirement? The nondefinitive answer seems to be “not for a while”.
“I am still feeling strong, still enjoying doing what I am doing, and I still feel that there is a lot yet to achieve. There undoubtedly will come a time when I feel it is appropriate for me to hand over. I want to ensure that we do that when we have a very stable Northern Ireland, when the union is strong and when the party has grown and consolidated its position.”