Sinn Féin chairman calls on unionists to share power


NORTHERN IRELAND First Minister Peter Robinson must stop “talking out of both sides of his mouth” if he is to represent all people in Northern Ireland, the chairman of Sinn Féin, Declan Kearney, declared last night.

In a speech in Westminster, Mr Kearney launched sustained, often bitter criticism of the Democratic Unionist Party leader, while also calling on all sides – the UK and Irish governments, unionists, nationalists and republicans – to enter into real, meaningful reconciliation.

The Belfast Agreement, he said, is “still the only security we have” to prevent a return of unionist “misrule”, pointing out that unionists doggedly refuse to share power with other parties on local councils in Northern Ireland.

“Truth be told, to this day unionism can’t be trusted in the North to share power unless it is legislated for and that is why power is not shared in local councils where unionists have a majority,” he said.

During questions, Mr Kearney urged Protestant communities to demand more of their political leaders in the DUP and the Ulster Unionists during a Westminster event organised by the party and attended also by former Alliance Party leader Lord John Alderdice.

Mr Kearney’s speech appears to be a no-holds-barred response to Mr Robinson’s recent criticism of Sinn Féin that its fear of the SDLP was paralysing the work of the Northern Executive and that Sinn Féin was guilty of “chicanery” in opposing changes to welfare legislation.

“Peter Robinson’s recent outbursts betray a real discomfort in trying to represent . . . unionists, republicans and nationalists. He needs to stop talking out of both sides of his mouth, and get with the programme,” said the Sinn Féin chairman.

“He cannot be a latterday James Craig or Basil Brooke, because the Orange state has gone. He can only sit in OFM/DFM [Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister] if he shares power properly with republicans,” he added.

“The Orange Order and loyalist bands cannot walk wherever they want; the Eleven Plus isn’t coming back; minorities do have rights; and nationalists in the North are no longer second-class citizens.

“The DUP leadership needs to get out of its time warp, get into real time, and start doing grown-up politics with the rest of us. Opposition to sectarianism is not a negotiation or an optional choice; it must be a leadership imperative.”

Meanwhile, unusual signs of divisions emerged between the Conservatives and the Labour Party over the performance of former Northern Ireland secretary of state Owen Paterson, who was criticised by former Labour Northern Ireland Office minister Angela Smith for not pushing all-party talks.

Replying, Lord Robin Glentoran expressed surprise at Baroness Smith’s criticisms, which contradict the bi-partisan approach that has been followed by the main parties in London on Northern Ireland for several decades.