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Peter Robinson says the 'battle for the union is on'

Ian Knox cartoon 3/8/18: Sensible messages from elder statesmen in summer schools are matched by self destructive nonsense from present party incumbents
Digital Staff

FORMER DUP leader Peter Robinson has hit back at his unionist critics and again warned the north should prepare for a united Ireland.

The ex-first minister accused his detractors, who included East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson, of "crass folly" for failing to make preparations for a potential border poll.

"These people have not just buried their heads in the sand - only the soles of their feet are visible above the surface," he wrote.

In a wide-ranging article for the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Robinson claimed:

  • unionists "cannot stop a border poll from happening"
  • a Tory government which doesn't rely on the DUP might call a border poll
  • a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government "certainly would" call a poll
  • nationalists and republicans have been "pouring out United Ireland propaganda"

He said unionists who failed to consider the possibility of a united Ireland or a border poll were inviting "disaster".

"Pulling a paper bag over our heads and thinking that we can, thereby, close out the impending danger is crazy," he wrote.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson said the "battle for the union is on". Picture by Mal McCann

The former leader sparked a row after he told the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, last week that he didn't believe Northern Ireland wanted to leave the UK - but that there was no reason it shouldn't prepare for the eventuality.

Ian Knox cartoon 3/8/18: Sensible messages from elder statesmen in summer schools are matched by self destructive nonsense from present party incumbents

Mr Wilson described the controversial comments as "demoralising" and said they were akin to "inviting arsonists in to burn your house".

"It's not going to happen, so why should I prepare for it,” the East Antrim MP told the News Letter.

Former Ulster Unionist party leader Lord Empey accused Mr Robinson of becoming a "Sinn Féin echo chamber", while the ex-DUP leader's comments were also criticised by TUV leader Jim Allister.

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Brexit 'should have been planned'

Ian Knox cartoon 11/6/18: In his inaugural lecture as honorary professor in peace studies at QUB, Peter Robinson talks of the leadership qualities needed in approaching a border poll

In his Belfast Telegraph article, Mr Robinson said confusion around Brexit highlighted the need for politicians to make contingency plans.

"In my view there are a range of matters thrown into stark relief by the experience of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath that add to the need for change - by the way, Brexit is an obvious example of where contingency planning should have been carried out but clearly was not," he wrote.

Border poll should not be 'yes or no'

Mr Robinson said he did not think a poll should be called but "no amount of grandstanding changes the fact that unionists cannot stop it happening".

"What I have sought is that unionists should be actively getting the rules and procedures concerning the conducting of a border poll and its aftermath sorted out to their satisfaction - now," he wrote.

He said while he thought it was unlikely that Theresa May's Tory government would call a poll, "a Conservative government that is not depending on DUP support might, and a Corbyn-led Labour government certainly would".

Mr Robinson added that were a poll to be called, the north's constitutional status is too complex for a 'yes or no' vote on its future. And he warned "against adopting the existing simplistic, majority of one mechanism to deal with colossal constitutional change".

Peter Robinson has hit out at his unionist critics. Picture by Hugh Russell

Critics guilty of 'crass folly'

He hit out at unionists who suggested that by raising the issue of a border poll, he was playing into the hands of nationalists.

"Not only are they advising us not to talk about a border poll, but they don't want us to even talk about the subject matter," he said.

"Do they not realise that the battle is raging?

"We live in a society divided by identity, so, to some extent the Union is always under fire. But, surely, nobody could be so chloroformed that they don't recognise that the opponents of the Union are charging our battle lines like seldom before.

"The battle for the Union is on."

Praise for Arlene Foster

Mr Robinson accused fellow unionists of "taking the Union for granted".

And he said only DUP leader Arlene Foster had made a "well-argued case for the Union".

"She should be given full support," he wrote.

"Setting out the advantages of UK membership, in all its aspects, must be carried out constantly, thoroughly and exhaustively."

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