DUP leader Peter Robinson this week challenged unionists to shed “siege-mentality” thinking and to be more considered in their approach to unionism.
In a speech to Castlereagh Council, he said unionists and nationalists “will face some big decisions in the next few months”.
“We can get back on track to a shared and united community which can benefit everyone in Northern Ireland or we can go back to the 40-year conflict. There is no middle option,” he said.
He said the union of the north of Ireland with Britain was safe and urged unionists to have more self confidence.
“Unionism has historically had a siege mentality,” he said. “When we were being besieged it was the right response. But when we are in a constitutionally safe and stable position it poses as a threat to our future development.
“Demographic changes and social change mean that we need to build bigger and broader coalitions and not to retreat into an ever-diminishing core.”
He said unionism should not be defined simply by the issues of “flags and parades” but by the benefits of British rule.
“Unionism needs to think and act strategically,” he said. “Adopting political strategies that will inevitably lead down a cul de sac is not politically courageous, it is politically crazy.
Although he said he shared loyalist anger at what he described as “nationalist intolerance” to “unionist culture”, he said violence was not the right channel for such anger, and that attacks on the police were wrong.
PRAISE AND CRITICISM
Last week, Mr Robinson drew praise for attending a dinner honouring the GAA, the Gaelic sports organisation, which he himself said would have been “unimaginable” in previous years. Speaking at the Cooperation Ireland event, he credited the GAA for taking decisions such as the move 12 years ago to lift the ban on members of the Crown forces playing Gaelic games, which he said was “welcome and important”.
Recent months have seen a visibile cooling of relations at Stormont. Over the summer, Robinson’s DUP suddenly reneged on a plan for the development of a peace centre at the internationally famous Long Kesh prison site.
His change in tack comes amid claims by some commentators that a lack of direction and leadership within the Stormont administration have encouraged militants to ratchet up their campaigns.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said this week the Dublin and London governments was partly to blame for the deteriorating situation in the Six Counties, and accused the Irish Taoiseach, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, of abandoning the peace process.
Speaking at his party’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Mr Martin said the Dublin government has failed to respond to a rise in sectarian rows, escalating tensions and the collapse of faith in institutions set up by the Good Friday Agreement.
“What has been missing is any serious engagement by either the Dublin or London government,” he said.
“They have been complacent and disinterested. Particularly damaging is how the entire issue of development through north/south cooperation has been ignored.
“This is how you end up with Sinn Féin and the DUP going to Downing Street to launch a development plan for Northern Ireland which makes no mention of the Republic.”
And in a parallel development, the new ‘Shadow’ Direct Ruler, Ivan Lewis of the British Labour Party, warned that the British government are “being complacent on Northern Ireland”.
The MP from Bury, near Manchester, was speaking on his first official visit to Belfast.
In his first interview since his appointment, he said that “the vast majority of people I meet think that the government are not focused, whether it is on the economy or on the Haass talks”.
An inter-party talks process chaired by the former US envoy Richard Haass are currently taking place with a view to resolving tensions and violence arising from sectarian parades and the flying of the British flag.
Mr Lewis said that whatever proposals are brought forward in the weeks ahead they must not be “a sticking plaster” but must provide “a route map to implementation”.