In an intervention last Friday, a day ahead of the annual DUP conference, former party leader Mr Robinson said the Irish language – the issue which derailed February’s draft deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein – was “such a small issue” that it should not be allowed to prevent the return of power-sharing.
“I couldn’t care less about the Irish language,” he declared.
“Let them speak it until they are green, white and orange in the face, as long as it doesn’t encroach on me.”
His comments have been slammed by former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey, who claimed it was the “latest example of (Mr Robinson’s) seemingly supportive comments for a Sinn Fein demand”.
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Earlier this year, the UUP peer (among several other unionists) rounded on the former first minister after he suggested holding regular polls on the issue of Irish unification, saying he thought Mr Robinson had “lost the plot completely”.
In a statement yesterday, Lord Empey said: “I have expressed concern about his behaviour before.
“Last time it was a border poll and talks about a united Ireland; before that the disgraceful legacy proposals that will lead to years of uncertainty and anguish for thousands of former soldiers and police; and before that was the shrine at the Maze. Now Peter Robinson says he couldn’t care less about an Irish language act.
“Each one of the above are key Sinn Fein demands, and each one – to one degree or another – has received backing from Peter Robinson, leaving ordinary unionists wondering just what is going on with him.”
During a talk at Knock Methodist Church in Belfast on Friday, Mr Robinson also warned against the DUP being led by the “most vociferous voices”.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson was asked on BBC’s Talkback show yesterday if he believed his former party leader’s comments were in reference to him, to which he replied: “You would be best to ask him.
“If people are going to have an issue with someone they are far better to be straight about it rather than talk in roundabout language nobody understands.”