Division is costing unionists dearly Robinson tells DUP Spring Conference.

First Minister Peter Robinson.  Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press
First Minister Peter Robinson. Photo Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker Press

Divisions within unionism are continuing to cost in terms of “lost seats, lost power and lost influence” Peter Robinson has told delegates at the DUP Spring Conference.

Addressing the gathering in Newcastle, Co Down on Saturday, the party leader also rounded on Sinn Fein - claiming the largest nationalist party often sought to increase tensions “in order to allow them to manage their own constituency”.

Mr Robinson said: “Sinn Fein seems to crave soap opera politics where every issue precipitates a cliffhanger and a crisis. What they need to do now, is to focus on what matters to people, and get down to serious work.

“There’s no doubt that in recent times Sinn Fein has sought to up the ante in the political process. It is that, more than anything else that is stalling political progress. This reversion to type is deeply damaging to community relations and it brings the political institutions into disrepute.”

Commenting on the increasing number of choices for pro-union voters, he said: “On the nationalist side there are two simple choices whereas unionism is split and splintered over more than half a dozen options.

“Does anyone seriously believe that unionism is strengthened by the divisions that currently exist? Some unionist parties seem to spend most of their time manufacturing issues to divide us.”

The party leader added: “Of course there are other snake-oil unionist political salesmen out there who promise easy answers, quick solutions and utopian outcomes. Let me tell you - from many years of experience - there are none.

“Progress is slow, not always in a straight line and no one gets everything they want. So beware of those who offer the unattainable as a self-serving and spineless alternative to dealing with difficult and pressing realities.

“If in this new era republicans are going to be belligerent then unionists must be strong. We must be strong - but we must not be stupid. We must keep or heads and not play into the hands of republicans.”

On the Alliance party, he said: “If the debacle over the Union Flag weren’t enough, Anna Lo exploded the myth that Alliance was a liberal, small ‘u’ unionist party. In fairness that will not come as a surprise to most of its members but it may have come as an enormous shock to many of those who vote Alliance.”

Mr Robinson also said he was hopeful that the inquiries into “comfort letters’ for on the run (OTR) terror suspects will uncover the truth.

“I will not rest, and this party will not rest, until we do. It is already apparent from the evidence that has been given that the line between politics and justice was blurred and the line between probity and wrongdoing was obliterated altogether.”

He added: “Our veto would have ensured that the Assembly would never have entertained the sort of comfort letters that were issued under the authority of direct rule ministers.

“What sane person would hand our fate back into the hands of those who were prepared to do deals behind our backs and then lie about it.

“The OTR letter fiasco was not the only - but perhaps the starkest - example of the price that the last government was prepared to pay to placate republicans. It was bad enough to see the concessions that were given as part of the Belfast Agreement but this ‘invisible’ scheme - to use the words of Gerry Adams - went far beyond even that.”