Robinson says deal will fail if SF reneges on parades


FIRST MINISTER Peter Robinson told the Northern Assembly yesterday he would walk away from the Hillsborough Castle agreement if Sinn Féin did not meet its commitments on parading.

At the same time, Mr Robinson delivered an impassioned defence of the deal.

He told the Assembly that the personal and financial disclosures around his wife’s affair with a young man had almost convinced him to walk away from “frontline” politics but that he had remained engaged out of a sense of political duty.

Shortly after last Friday’s deal was announced, Mr Robinson spoke in Lisburn of “clever devices” that could be employed were any side to act in “bad faith” in relation to the fundamentals of the deal.

Elaborating in the Assembly yesterday, he referred to how former Ulster Unionist first minister David Trimble had triggered a “post-dated resignation” option to suspend the first Assembly over the issue of IRA decommissioning.

“I think everybody has recognised that there are methods available, particularly to the two main parties in this Assembly, which can be used at any and all times if they wish to bring down institutions,” Mr Robinson said.

Mr Robinson expressed confidence that such mechanisms would not be necessary, stating that the DUP was committed to the deal and he believed Sinn Féin was equally committed.

“Over these last months I have had plenty of drama in my life. I could have walked away very easily. Every brain cell and every blood cell cried out to me to watch from the sidelines rather than the frontline,” he said.

“I am here because of a sense of duty, because I believe that what we are doing actually matters,” he added.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the Assembly that politicians must move forward with courage and determination. “I move forward to make this place work, to make these institutions work, because these institutions need to work if we are to deliver a better future for our children and our grandchildren,” he said. He described the SDLP and the UUP as the “grumpy parties” because they had expressed reservations about the agreement and because the DUP and Sinn Féin were now the dominant parties.

UUP leader Sir Reg Empey, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie and Alliance leader David Ford met Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to discuss who should take the planned new justice portfolio.

The only party to nominate so far is the SDLP, who has proposed lawyer and MLA Alban Maginness for the post. The favourite for the position remains Mr Ford, who says he needs more clarity about the justice department and commitments on tackling sectarianism before he will nominate.

The Hillsborough agreement centres on the creation of a Department of Justice within the Northern Executive by April 12th and a revamped structure to address contentious parades by the end of this year.

The new six-member DUP-Sinn Féin working group charged with finding a way forward on parades met for the first time for about an hour at Stormont yesterday. It is to report by February 23rd, while on March 9th a cross-community vote is to be held in the Assembly leading to the appointment of a Minister of Justice on April 12th.

Sinn Féin junior Minister Gerry Kelly, who with Sinn Féin MLA colleagues Michelle Gildernew and John O’Dowd, is on the committee, said the group would meet on a daily basis. There was a “business-like” atmosphere to yesterday’s meeting, he said.

The DUP members are Jeffrey Donaldson, Nelson McCausland and Stephen Moutray. A resolution to parading was vital to build public confidence, said Mr Donaldson.