DUP fights back against 'erosion of Britishness'

THE DUP is launching a fightback against republican attempts to erode the British identity in Ulster.

Party leader Peter Robinson yesterday revealed plans for:

n a Unionist Academy, which will promote the unionist culture and the advantages of the Union; encourage unionist learning in the community and provide a forum for unionist strategising and policy-making;

n a British Cultural and Equality Unit to provide legal advice to the public on fighting the removal of British emblems from Northern Ireland society.

The twin-pronged initiative will be officially unveiled in September.

It comes amid unionist anger at an unrelenting Sinn Fein campaign to promote the Irish culture and target British structures and symbols throughout the country.

The DUP leader told a briefing for journalists at Stormont: "There has been something of a cultural war in Northern Ireland. We intend to fight back.

"Our unionist way of life will not be put in some drawer in the back of an office.

"We are British and intend to stay that way."

He explained that the Academy will be a think-tank – as opposed to a bricks and mortar establishment.

It will offer a forum where DUP "policies can be formulated" but it will also be an educational vehicle.

Mr Robinson said that unionist politicians needed to "reconnect" with the unionist community at grassroots level.

He suggested that the broad unionist family needed re-energising.

The DUP intends to engage with community groups, of all types, specific interest groups and the general public.

And part of the focus will be on encouraging young people, through the Unionist Academy, to get involved in politics or to learn about unionist culture and the benefits of the Union.

Also, Mr Robinson commented: "The party is determined that it will, over the coming months and years, provide the unionist community with the kind of leadership it needs to address what I think is a major failing of unionism, which is the fall-away in the unionist vote," said the DUP leader.

"At every election there are fewer unionists coming out to vote."

Already the DUP has said this is something it wants to discuss with the Ulster Unionist Party.

And the second part of the "fightback", the British Culture and Equality Unit, would not be just a DUP party grouping but open for use to all unionist persuasions, said Mr Robinson.

This body will specifically monitor and respond to attacks on unionist culture. It will offer support and legal advice, for example, in situations like the recent

"We will have a professional group of people with a strong legal input available to be used by anyone in the unionist community," said Mr Robinson.

He insisted the fightback would not destablise government.

The different sides were clear on where they stood, he explained.

"I believe Mr McGuinness to be a dyed-in-the-wool republican," said Mr Robinson.

"On that understanding of his position I will be a unionist and I will fight the unionist cause."

Mr Robinson said the party initiatives would also coincide with the DUP taking a more pro-active approach to highlighting the advantages of devolution to the unionist community.

On other issues, the DUP MP reiterated that the IRA Army Council "absolutely must" go before policing and justice can be devolved.

Last night, TUV MEP Jim Allister dismissed the DUP proposals were aimed at distracting DUP supporters unhappy with the Stormont regime.

"I think that if they want to redress the situation that they have created they should go to the foundation – they have brought into the heart of government unrepentant terrorists," he said.

"The rest is window dressing."