United community is goal, says Robinson


DUP CONFERENCE:THE NORTH’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, told his annual party conference that he wanted the support of Catholics and pledged to pursue energetically a policy of creating “one community” in Northern Ireland.

Most people are more concerned with providing for their families than with the constitutional question, the DUP leader also told more than 600 delegates at the La Mon Hotel in east Belfast on Saturday. Now was the moment to “build one, united, shared and peaceful society” in the North.

Mr Robinson placed considerable emphasis in his keynote speech on looking to the future and trying to shape a society free of sectarianism. He said the cry of “No Surrender” had served the DUP well but now was the time for a different approach.

“The lasting challenge for us will be to tackle the causes of division. An end to the Troubles did not bring an end to division and that dilemma will not solve itself,” he said. “Our critics have claimed that we want a society which is carved up rather than shared. Some of them accuse us of wanting a separate but equal society. Let me be clear – nothing could be further from the truth. It isn’t right and it wouldn’t work. I don’t want a society where people live close together, but live separate lives.

“There can be no greater legacy than a more shared and united community. It isn’t just good for Northern Ireland; it’s good for unionism too. If we want a better society it can’t be ‘them and us’. It can only be ‘all of us’.”

Mr Robinson said recent surveys revealed that more than half of Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and only a third wanted a united Ireland. “I want to create a society where those numbers are improved and where our place in the kingdom is not reliant on demographics. There can be no greater guarantee of our long-term security in the union than the support of a significant part of the Catholic community.”

The DUP leader also referred to the statement by Bobby Sands that the IRA’s revenge would be the laughter “of our children”. He said there was too much talk of revenge, victory or defeat.

“The DUP’s ambition will be the laughter of all our children, playing and living together, with a future that doesn’t see them having to leave our shores, but wanting to live here, in Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom,” he said.

“If I read the mood of our people correctly, we all now realise, as we have never realised it before, we are interdependent. If we are to move forward, we must move forward together,” he said.

“We need to build one, united, shared and peaceful society,” he added.

“I tell you now is the moment. Miss it and we may miss it for ever. Miss it and we may drift and stray. We have the prospect of making a difference that previous generations never had or never took – a chance that future generations may never get or never grab.

“We are the first generation of peacetime unionists for many decades,” said Mr Robinson. “No longer under siege. Moving forward with confidence and able to reach out. Traditional unionism was never about prejudice, sectarianism, wrecking and division.

“That was never what Edward Carson stood for.”

Mr Robinson also told delegates that in the current recession people wanted to see the Executive working effectively. “These are tough economic times. The truth is that for most people the real fear is not that they are going to be sold into a united Ireland – they accept the union is safe,” he said.

“Their real fear is that they might not have a job to provide for their family or that their debts are getting out of control.

“As an Executive we must focus on the economy and do all we can to help.”