The DUP says it “stands four-square behind Peter Robinson” to continue as party leader and First Minister following a party meeting at Stormont.
The DUP held talks in Parliament Buildings on Monday to discuss the “way forward” following a bruising Westminster election from which the scandal-plagued Robinson emerged as the biggest casualty.
In a “unanimous” statement, DUP Assembly members dismissed their leader’s failure to secure re-election as MP for East Belfast.
“Peter is the architect of the party’s remarkable victory in the General Election. Peter Robinson’s strategic vision and strong leadership is reflected in the renewed and strengthened mandate the DUP has received from the Unionist electorate,” they said.
The statement also describes Peter Robinson has the “foremost strategist within unionist politics”.
The DUP, which held eight of its nine Westminster seats, said the outcome of the election was “a vindication of the policies of the DUP and our plan to keep moving Northern Ireland forward.”
“The unionist electorate has clearly rejected those who wanted to take Northern Ireland back or who would sell Northern Ireland short,” the party said.
This was a reference to the failure of its rivals, the extremist TUV and the ‘UCUNF’ Ulster Unionist and Conservatives coalition, to secure a single seat.
UNITY CALLS GET LOUDER
On Friday, the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who narrowly secured his seat in north Belfast and is now expected to become the party leader at Westminster, pointed to one “cohesive united unionism” as the way forward.
“We need now to work towards ending the fragmentation of unionism,” he said.
Meanwhile, Reg Empey is expected to retain leadership of his impoverished Ulster Unionist party only for as long as it takes to negotiate a merger with the DUP.
Strategists from both parties held talks over the weekend to discuss cooperation between the two parties.
DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson - who defected from the UUP in 2003 - led the charge for unionist unity by calling for a creation of a “UK wide movement”.
Speaking at an Orange Order gathering in Liverpool. he said the time had come for unionists to “come together to mount a strong defence of the union”.
“I advocate the creation o fa UK-wide movement that will draw together political and civic unionism in a campaign to promote the maintenance of the union and to defend the integrity of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Some unionists have described Michelle Gildernew’s victory in Fermanagh and South Tyrone as a “four-fingered salute” to unionism that has driven the demand for change. However, it is election results confirming that Sinn Fein is the largest party in the North, and next years’s Assembly elections, which could result in Martin McGuinness being elected as First Minister, that is the real driver behind unionist unity.
SF BACKS ROBBO
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams backed the beleaguered Peter Robinson, saying he should continue as First Minister despite having been rejected as an MP by the electorate.
“Politics is a tough game and I did feel sorry lor him,” Mr Adams said. “I didn’t see it coming at all.
“I thought he might have taken some sort of a hit, which I think he was anticipating himself, but I was shocked that he lost the seat.”
Mr Adams praised his political rival’s leadership skills and said he should continue as first minister despite having lost the Westminster seat he had held for31years.
“I think he should stay because he has the mandate,” he said, despite Robinson’s shock defeat to the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long.
Mr Adams said it was too early to predict the election’s impact on unionism but he said the TUV’s failure showed that “the rejectionists were shown the door”.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the future of Peter Robinson was for the DUP to resolve.
“The DUP must decide who is going to lead it. If they have decided that they wish Peter Robinson to continue to lead them, I, as deputy First Minister, will work with the party that has the mandate to support the deputy First Minister”, he told reporters.