Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has said the recent draft proposals to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland as set out in a leaked document did not amount to a “good deal” for unionists.
In a wide-ranging radio interview covering everything from the Belfast Agreement to Brexit, Mr Robinson also suggested the controversial prisoner release scheme under the 1998 deal “had to happen at some time” although he insisted it “should not have happened in the way that it did”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday morning, Mr Robinson shared his view of the leaked draft agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin to restore power-sharing.
“I think it (Stormont) should come back,” he said. “I think any new agreement has to be much more broadly based. When I looked at the agreement I didn’t think there was an awful lot in it for the unionist community to say that that was a good deal.
“It might have satisfied and touched on a lot of the issues raised by Sinn Féin during the process, but unionists have issues that they want to be resolved. There are cultural issues that they want to have resolved. You have to have a balance in any agreement.”
He continued: “Sinn Féin talk about cultural expression and they talk about the Irish language. There are people in the unionist tradition who want cultural expression, whether it is through parades and whatever else it might be, but it wasn’t addressed in that agreement.
“There has to be a balance in any agreement. Arlene has to be able to go out to the unionist community and say ‘I want you to support this agreement and here’s what’s in it for us’.”
The former DUP leader explained his position on the prisoner release scheme. “I don’t agree that the prisoner releases should have happened in the way that they did. I think on balance, although there wouldn’t be a lot of people in the DUP that would share this view, prison releases had to happen at some time. I think to let prisoners out, effectively, the day after the agreement was wrong. It didn’t take into account the sensitivities of those who were either the families of people who were victims or some who were victims themselves.”
Mr Robinson continued: “I think there needed to be a process - it might have been tied into the kind of truth that people are looking for about what happened to their loved ones. There were issues that could have been dealt with under that heading.
“If prisoners are going to be released then what is there for the victims? Are they going to take ownership of their crimes? Are they going to give evidence that people are looking for of what happened, why people were killed.”
Giving his view on Brexit, Mr Robinson said: “If I’d been voting solely on economic issues as they stood at that moment in time, I think I would have voted to remain. But there were a whole series of other issues which caused me to vote to leave. There was no certainty about the economic issues because Europe will change economically.”
He added: “I tend to believe that we are better to be out of the European Union but have a good relationship with our neighbours in Europe.”