Peter Robinson: The DUP cannot allow Sinn Fein demands to be given supremacy

Let me try to say this without referring to crocodiles, but the idea of jumping first has never worked well for unionists while dealing with Sinn Fein.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 6:30 am
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minster, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday. His next column after today will be on July 2
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minster, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday. His next column after today will be on July 2

If you don’t believe me, ask David Trimble.

Yes, they have done it again.

Republicans have turned what was intended to be, and should have been, an automatic and mechanised procedure to appoint a replacement first minister into a self-serving negotiating process.

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David Trimble and Sinn Fein just before 1998 Belfast Agreement. The Ulster Unionist failure to link delivery of decommissioning to prison releases destroyed that party

It is shameless narcissistic unscrupulous exploitation.

Typically, some other political fellow-travellers joined the republican chorus while significant elements in the media blamed the delay in appointing a new first minister on “disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein” when manifestly it was Sinn Fein alone who decided to transform a purely administrative operation into a blackmailing process.

Other sections of the press and media threw up their arms exclaiming “what’s wrong with legislating for the Irish language?”

Some even adding, “sure, it’s a watered down offering anyway”.

It seems that no matter how tawdry and cynical Sinn Fein’s behaviour may be, they must be appeased, and the needs of unionists are extraneous and ignored.

According to republicans, Irish language legislation had to be guaranteed, or they would, once again, blow the house down.

Yet, it is Sinn Fein’s blinkered view of what the priority is at this time and the absence of concern as to what is in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, that perplexes me most.

For Sinn Fein there is only their narrow republican agenda and only those who think as they do who matter.

Only a very tiny minority of misguided souls would insist that the introduction of legislation on the Irish language should be our top priority.

Facing a global pandemic with new variants a regular feature, a health service tottering dangerously on the brink of exhaustion and collapse, an education system suffering, as never before, to recover from a year of unprecedented challenges that will have a profound impact on young students and with an economy trying desperately to cope and survive the ravages of shutdowns and restrictions, Sinn Fein placed its cultural predilection into pole position.

This has become a pattern for republicans.

They look for a moment when their political opponents are debilitated and unsteady and then they swoop.

Partnership and responsible government get shoved onto the backburner and the interests of the people are scornfully shelved.

The Sinn Fein ultimatum to the DUP was to concede what republicans demanded or face an electoral test while they were flat-footed.

It worked for them before, and they see it as a win-win option.

Now, the UK government has stepped-in and committed to legislate for the Irish language if the assembly does not, but that should never be acceptable to unionists.

If the DUP have not been given a firm, copper-fastened and unalterable undertaking of a satisfactory outcome that can be publicly announced on the Protocol issues and other non-delivered aspects of the NDNA this government approach is offensive.

The configuration of our devolution process was carefully designed to provide guarantees that both sections of our community must be satisfied before significant decisions are taken or implemented.

Additionally, everyone needs to assess the impact on an already seething unionist community of inflicting further abuse by removing the unionist portion of that mutual veto.

The DUP signed up to the package of cultural elements contained in the New Decade New Approach Agreement so it must follow that they are not opposed to legislating for them. But legislating for the cultural package is not the only item in that agreement that has not been implemented, nor is it the most important.

Just because it transcends all other issues for Sinn Fein does not bestow supremacy upon it.

The promise in the same agreement to ensure “that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK internal market” has not been met.

Nor has the guarantee to “unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market” (access to that market goes in two directions – parts, products and components imported, end goods exported) or the commitment that “the government will protect and strengthen the UK internal market”.

To most sensible people these Protocol issues and their constitutional ramifications are of much greater importance and urgency.

I make the further assumption that all the signatories to the agreement not only accepted the cultural aspects that republicans crave but also the protections for the integrity of the UK internal market that are vital for our economy, and which are an absolute requirement for unionists.

So, it’s simple, the agreement must be implemented in all its parts to the satisfaction of all the parties and sequenced in a transparent and binding manner agreeable to all.

To rank Sinn Fein’s demand as urgent and unionist needs as less pressing cannot be allowed to happen.

Thursday’s rapidly moving drama caused me to provide several iterations of this column. But in essence, I say this to my colleagues, the failure of the UUP to link delivery of decommissioning to prison releases in the Belfast Agreement destroyed that party.

Acquiescing to an unlinked, one-sided outcome, yesterday was also folly. That leadership was holed below the waterline and defying party colleagues made sinking inevitable.

The problems are still there and need to be resolved and a new leader must have a united party in order to move forward.

The task is massive, and unionism is, quite frankly, exhibiting many of the characteristics of being dysfunctional at present.

Those of us who care for the Union and want to serve all the people of Northern Ireland and see better outcomes in a shared society will pray that wise counsels prevail.