Larkin was within rights to make his ‘unacceptable’ proposals about the past, says Robinson

DUP leader Peter Robinson: is not hyping the prospects of the Haass talks on parades, flags and the past. Photograph: Lesley-Anne McKeown/PA Wire

DUP leader Peter Robinson: is not hyping the prospects of the Haass talks on parades, flags and the past. Photograph: Lesley-Anne McKeown/PA Wire


Attorney GeneralJohn LarkinPeter Robinson

Nonetheless, the First Minister indicates, Mr Larkin may be about to have his wings clipped. “I am not sure that the Attorney General should be taking the lead on political matters,” he says carefully in his office in Stormont Castle.

What was his initial reaction to Mr Larkin’s proposal?

“Where did that come from, was the first thing that flashed into my mind,” he says during an interview yesterday with The Irish Times in which he talks about his relationship with Martin McGuinness and delivers a verbal shoulder charge to RTÉ GAA pundit Joe Brolly.

But first the focus is on the banner headlines triggered by Mr Larkin. “We heard about it first from the media which raises some issues, I think,” says Mr Robinson. “There are certain posts where there is an expectation of the holder being apolitical and not being involved in the cut and thrust of politics. Many believe that the Attorney General would be one of those posts.”

Mr Robinson, without being explicit, refers to a current official review of the remit of the Attorney General which could limit the ability of Mr Larkin to be so vocal on certain matters – as he has been on issues such as abortion, gay adoption and now proposing no one should face prosecution for killings in the Troubles up to April 1998.

Necessary debate
The First Minister does not run with the idea that Mr Larkin is provoking a necessary debate which, because of the huge sensitivity of the issue, politicians cannot or will not touch. He may be “saying the unsayable”, he agrees, while asserting that it is also “the unacceptable”.

Mr Robinson, as he prepares for the opening of the DUP’s two-day annual conference in east Belfast today, certainly is not hyping the prospects of the Haass talks on parades, flags and the past. “I still take the view that there is progress that can be made in all three areas, more in parades than in flags, and more in flags than in dealing with the past.”

A chill in the Robinson-McGuinness relationship set in this year after the First Minister withdrew support for the peace and reconciliation centre at the Maze prison site. “We have consistently been able to do business and get business done,” says Mr Robinson.

As for the Maze peace centre, it is not an absolute dead duck. Mr Robinson says he could have convinced unionists and organisations representing victims, police and prison officers that the centre would be as “neutral as it was possible” to be but a republican summer parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, and other events “caused the project to be shelved”.

Siege mentality
The DUP conference at the La Mon Hotel kicking off today will largely be about preparing the party for next May’s European and local elections and persuading more people that the Assembly is working. He wants unionists to be more confident, to shed the siege mentality.

Last month Mr Robinson went a distance outside his constituency to honour the GAA at a Co-operation Ireland dinner in Belfast. A subsequent comment from former Derry footballer and RTÉ analyst Joe Brolly diverted attention from that gesture. It was nobody’s business if some GAA clubs were named after dead republicans and people could “like it or lump it”, said Mr Brolly.

It wasn’t just what he said but the way he said it, complains Mr Robinson, finishing with the dig: “I want to encourage those within the GAA who are progressive, who are wanting to move forward, rather than the backwoodsmen that are still in the organisation.”