FIRST Minister Peter Robinson has appealed for unionist unity in a rare joint statement with Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, ahead of an even rarer joint DUP-UUP dinner.
The leaders, who also released a photograph in which they stand smiling together in front of Lord Craigavon’s statue in Stormont’s Great Hall, are to each address the £70-a-head dinner on Friday night.
In his comments as part of the statement, Mr Nesbitt stressed the importance of commemorating what took place 100 years ago.
However, Mr Robinson used the opportunity to again press the case for ‘unionist unity’, something which the DUP leader has been seeking for some time and an issue on which the UUP is divided.
In a more overtly political message than that of Mr Nesbitt, Mr Robinson said “The men and women who signed the Covenant and Declaration were clear in their desire for Ulster to remain within the Union.
“Their actions and determination laid the foundations for the creation of Northern Ireland. As British citizens today, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men and women of 100 years ago. The Ulster Covenant was not the preserve of the political class, but of Ulster men and women from every background.
“I know the loyal spirit, which motivated those who signed the Covenant 100 years ago, still remains today. As a result of that spirit, our position within the Union has never been more secure.
“It is fitting that we mark this centenary and honour those who took their stand in 1912.
“Carson and Craig were also successful in motivating interest across Ulster because unionism was united. That is why it is important that unionism is coming together in a joint celebration on Friday night. Vested interests were put aside in 1912 for the greater good and it is right that we look to that example a century later.”
Mr Nesbitt said: “This month, and in particular, the upcoming weekend are very important dates for the people of Northern Ireland. One hundred years ago, Ireland faced a crisis, and people pledged themselves to oppose the imposition of Home Rule on Ireland.
“It is right and proper that these events should be marked, commemorated and celebrated by everyone who identifies with the key players in that period in our history.
“As I said to our party faithful at our annual conference, this weekend we all have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the giants of unionism. Let’s not waste that chance to revisit our history, culture & heritage of which we are all rightly proud.
“All unionists are joining together to celebrate this moment in our history, on Friday, Ulster Day, we will be attending a Gala Dinner in Titanic Belfast, which is open to everyone. This dinner is an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come in 100 years, to celebrate the landmark building that is Titanic, and above all, celebrate who we are and what we believe in.”
Up to 500 people are expected at Friday’s dinner in Belfast’s Titanic Centre and tickets are still available.