Peter Robinson is right to urge a restoration of power-sharing structures
FOR the second time in two months former first minister Peter Robinson has spoken out on the future of the power-sharing structures and the possibility of a united Ireland, views that are certainly thought-provoking but not necessarily in tune with the thinking of some of his DUP colleagues.
In June Mr Robinson sparked controversy by suggesting holding fixed generational polls on unification which he believed would make the constitutional question less disruptive to local politics.
The former DUP leader acknowledged he had “pulled the pin out of the grenade” by even talking about the prospect of a united Ireland, something many unionists would prefer to ignore and hope never happens.
But Mr Robinson is regarded as a shrewd strategist and he knows that a combination of the upheaval resulting from Brexit and demographic changes have brought the unification debate forward in time. He recognises it is a topic that unionists need to face now, and not put off to the distant future.
Mr Robinson reinforced this point at the MacGill summer school in Glenties, Co Donegal, at the weekend, saying he believed Northern Ireland should prepare for the possibility of a united Ireland.
He qualified this by saying that he does not think the north will want to leave but added that if the decision was taken then democrats would have to accept it.
Mr Robinson has drawn criticism from unionists including Lord Empey but the reality is that at some stage there will need to be a proper discussion about the changing dynamics on this island.
What we cannot have is a repeat of the shambles and confusion that has surrounded the Brexit negotiations.
Although the former first minister’s comments on unification have drawn particular attention, his Glenties speech was mainly focused on the impact of Brexit on British-Irish relationships and the importance of seeing the Stormont executive restored.
Mr Robinson pointed to what he termed as the comradeship between the UK and the Republic which he believes exists as a result of being “part of the same” team within the EU but warned that post-Brexit there could be rivalries that would lead to “clashes and struggles”.
He has concluded that the best way to deal with the difficulties and strains presented by withdrawal from the EU is a restoration of a functioning assembly and executive which he said represents the best hope of peace, stability and reconciliation.
He is, of course, absolutely right to strongly argue in favour of re-establishing the devolved structures.
It is unacceptable that 18 months have passed since Stormont collapsed and there is no sense of urgency about getting MLAs back to work.
Taking a hands-off approach, as the British government has done, is not working and we need to see fresh momentum in this stalled process.