DUP leader Peter Robinson has called for a “unity of added potential, not a unity of necessity”. He went on to list six shared values upon which the UUP and DUP could base close ties and cooperation. However, he cautioned that any process of Unionist Unity will “most likely be one of stages on a journey rather than a giant leap”…
The below is Peter Robinson’s full statement:
“Following the Westminster election there has been some discussion of the potential for Unionist Unity. However, so far this debate has provided more of an insight into tensions within the Ulster Unionist Party rather than progress on the issue. For the DUP the concept of closer co-operation and the ideal of unity with fellow unionists is not a new one. Our willingness to work closely with other unionists, particularly the Ulster Unionist Party, was evident for all to see in past decades. Throughout the course of our recent election campaign we were to the fore of championing the notion that a unity of policies, principles and ideals was in the best interests of unionism as a whole.
The DUP made its commitment to Unionist Unity crystal clear and acted accordingly by supporting an agreed candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and trying to seek agreement on South Belfast until the close of nominations. That commitment remains. The DUP stands ready, willing and able to examine the full range of options for Unionist Unity.
Any examination should be based upon common values, realism and a vision for Unionist renewal.
So what are the common values that we are held between the UUP and DUP?
- A common belief in the maintenance and the development of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Identification with the institutions of the state and the over-arching British identity
- Making the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive work
- Upholding power-sharing with nationalists
- Transformation of the Northern Ireland economy
Realism must be shown throughout the process. Many a harsh word has been exchanged between our parties. This has led to mistrust and will take time to overcome. This reality means the process must be cautious, transparent and open. Furthermore, it will mean any process of Unionist Unity will most likely be one of stages on a journey rather than a giant leap.
The examination of Unionist Unity should be driven by a vision for Unionism that shapes a unity of added potential, not a unity of necessity. It must be one with a vision of Unionist renewal.
Whilst in the most recent election the DUP remained the largest Party, too many people who once voted Unionist are sitting at home, particularly in working class communities. Minority ethnic communities are growing and new ones being established in Northern Ireland that have little linkages with politics in general and Unionism in particular. The idea of the Union has the strength to appeal beyond its traditional Ulster boundaries.
As part of this vision for renewal the debate must go beyond party leaders, politicians and party members but taken to and involve the Ulster public. Whatever the ultimate outcome of this process and however, small or large the initial steps there are surely issues of common concern that can be pursued. On issues like a Bill of Rights and the human rights industry, the Unionist Parties positions are very close and co-operation makes sense. Working together to increase voter registration should be a no-brainer. Is it not better for us to have more potential voters to compete over? A common strategy to tackle Unionist under-representation in Northern Ireland’s capital city of Belfast is in all our interests. Both our parties have limited human and financial resources so pooling those will allow more to be achieved.
Whilst the term ‘unionist unity’ means different things to different people, we must be honest in this debate by recognising that the immediate prospect of a single Party is unrealistic. We must crawl before we can run. Therefore the first challenge for those committed to unity is the building of trust. Whether in the Assembly or our Council chambers there should be greater cooperation between our members. With this stepping stone approach we can eventually reach a point where we have agreed candidates, whipping arrangements and joint ventures on issues of common concern.
I hope that this willingness and openness of my party will be accepted in the spirit in which it is offered. For within our grasp is the opportunity to secure and shape Northern Ireland’s second century in the Union.”