The DUP was right to agree to power sharing in 2007 because “for the first time in a generation unionism is winning”, party leader Peter Robinson has claimed.
Unionism has not had such control over its future since before 1972, according to a new DUP policy document, released ahead of the party’s annual conference last weekend.
Entitled ‘Building on Success’, the 35-page dossier outlines why the DUP signed up for devolution at the St Andrews talks and offers its ‘vision’ for a new assembly.
In the introduction first minister and East Belfast MP Peter Robinson claims that “after decades of conflict, a united Ireland is further away than ever”.
“There is no doubt that devolution is better for Northern Ireland and for unionism than direct rule with the inevitable Dublin influence,” Mr Robinson writes.
“There is no prospect of a return to the pre-1972 Stormont parliament but Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom can be strengthened through strong devolved institutions.”
The DUP document says that although “far from perfect” the power-sharing government including Sinn Fein enables parties in the north to make decisions and set priorities. It says political stability leads to economic stability.
It claims that DUP negotiations at St Andrew’s succeeded in securing IRA decommissioning and Sinn Fein support for the police for the first time.
More importantly, under the new arrangements “no important decisions can be taken without unionist approval”.
“This was the single most important change to the Belfast Agreement and gave unionism a veto over decisions in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972,” the DUP document says.
If the DUP had not agreed to devolution, the policy document claims, it would have led to an Irish Language Act, an increased role for Dublin, an end to academic selection (the eleven plus), and immediate water charges,
The DUP “remain convinced” that majority rule is the best long-term option but acknowledges it will not “solve all the difficulties”.
Despite the current political stalemate, it was a triumphal annual conference for the DUP and Peter Robinson in Belfast.
It was also a public celebration of the unprecedented wealth and power of the unionist elite, highlighted when party chairman Lord Morrow referred to the vehicles parked outside the venue.
“Would the owners of the following vehicles please move them - a white Audi, a dark Land Rover, a red BMW ... and a Rolls Royce,” he said, adding an appeal for a motorcycle to be parked properly, a reference to Minister for Finance Sammy Wilson.
Robinson told delegates that the long-delayed transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast would only take place “on DUP terms”.
He called on Sinn Fein to “show leadership” and stop suggesting that it could pull out of the power-sharing government.
The past few weeks had witnessed Sinn Fein “muttering darkly” about an imminent political crisis and a threat to the existence of the assembly, he said.
“To my mind this is the clearest evidence that it is they and not we who are under real pressure from the new dispensation in Northern Ireland.
“They must show leadership and stop looking over one shoulder at Alex Attwood [SDLP] and over the other at the dissidents.
“Threatening the institutions is destabilising. Threatening the DUP is just dumb.”