Foster silent on Robinson united Ireland remarks row

DUP leader Arlene Foster is facing mounting pressure to clarify her party's stance on remarks made by her predecessor Peter Robinson about the subject of a united Ireland.

Monday, 30th July 2018, 6:56 pm
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:00 pm
Peter Robinson speaking at the Macgill Summer School in Donegal last week

Former first minister Mr Robinson provoked a backlash from some unionists after stating that Northern Ireland should prepare for the advent of Irish reunification – whilst also stressing that the prospect still seems remote.

While a number of unionists have rounded on Mr Robinson for his controversial views, DUP leader Mrs Foster has so far remained silent on the matter.

However, two of her most senior party members have conveyed seeming opposing reactions to Mr Robinson’s remarks.

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While Sammy Wilson derided the comments as “dangerous and demoralising”, fellow DUP MP Gregory Campbell described them as “valid and relevant”.

The News Letter contacted the DUP regarding the matter, but the party declined to comment.

Following the apparent discordance between the two DUP MPs, a number of unionists have called on the Mrs Foster to come forward and make her position clear.

UUP MLA Steve Aiken said the DUP leader was “conspicuous by her silence”, adding: “It is not clear who speaks for the DUP right now.”

Echoing these remarks, former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey told the News Letter: “We need to know where Arlene Foster stands in all of this, because two of her MPs are at loggerheads over this issue. This is not something she can hide from.”

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister said the DUP appeared to be “in a bit of a muddle”.

The North Antrim MLA said: “Why isn’t Arlene Foster jumping to the defence of the Union and opposing the utterances of anyone who would suggest that we should prepare for it to be dismantled?”

Speaking at the Macgill Summer School in Co Donegal on Friday, Mr Robinson suggested Northern Ireland should prepare for the possibility of a united Ireland, despite believing it to be a highly unlikely prospect.

“I don’t expect my own house to burn down but I still insure it because it could happen,” he added.

East Antrim MP Mr Wilson moved to strongly distance himself from such views, stating: “I don’t prepare for a journey to the Moon because I’m never going to get on Richard Branson’s space rocket and fly to the Moon. So why would I prepare for a united Ireland when it’s not going to happen.”

He rejected Mr Robinson’s analogy of an insurance policy, stating: “It’s not like an insurance policy. It’s almost like inviting the arsonists in to burn your house.”

By contrast, East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell said Mr Robinson “is right in terms of the analogy of the insurance policy” and added: “There is no concept of Britishness in the Irish Republic, so there is just no possibility of a united Ireland happening.”

Last month, Mr Robinson came under fire from some unionists after he suggested regular polls on the issue of Irish unification.