Robinson responds to Kearney of Sinn Fein’s approach on the past…

So Robbo strikes back? In what is at times a somewhat ill-tempered response to Vincent Declan Kearney’s piece delivered in Westminster the other night (see Brian’s piece for a great first hand account), Peter Robinson’s response takes few prisoners:

The fact that fiscal freedom for Northern Ireland and a replacement of the Barnett formula would cost Northern Ireland billions of pounds a year is an inconvenient truth that is best forgotten for Mr Kearney.
And a border poll in which the outcome is a foregone conclusion from start to finish would merely serve to distract from our primary responsibility of seeking to get the economy moving again and it would also unnecessarily polarise politics for years ahead.

I suppose that we should consider it to be progress that he merely calls for the withdrawal of the British Secretary of State from Northern Ireland and not the British presence altogether as was for so long the case.

What puzzles me is not that Sinn Fein felt the need to respond to my comments, but that they chose Declan Kearney to do so. There are more than enough Sinn Fein MLAs who would happily put their name to any press release attacking the DUP no matter how ill-informed the content.

Only a few weeks ago even Alex Maskey was prepared to associate his name with the claim that I wanted a return to majority rule when in that speech I had expressly said exactly the opposite, so there is clearly a reservoir of fodder for their press office.

Why then burn Declan Kearney and put him beyond the pale for any engagement with what he disparagingly refers to as “political unionism”? Why combine a call for reconciliation with a vile and angry rant and a personal attack? Those are the questions that Sinn Fein will have to answer.

Mr Kearney’s speech has all the hallmarks of reflecting multiple personalities or multiple ghost authors – from the worthy, reaching out for reconciliation to the bitter and twisted unionist-haters who are struggling to come to terms with the new politics. If such a conflict represents an internal tension within Sinn Fein then I genuinely hope that the forces for progress can prevail.

Mr Kearney would do well to note that those who constitute “political unionism” are actually the people mandated by the unionist electorate to represent their views. The outlook of ordinary unionists may not quite as neatly fit the republican agenda as the hand-picked – small “u” soft unionists with whom he would prefer to deal, but we are what he is stuck with.

So who could be against reconciliation? Well Mr Kearney’s lofty aspiration of a spirit of shared compassion and generosity towards one another while recognising our common humanity stands in stark contrast to his ad hominem attacks.

I was accused of being responsible for every wrong and ill over recent decades. No doubt if he had spoken for longer I would have taken the blame for the potato famine as well. Or perhaps that was caused by the securocrats!

In Mr Kearney’s analysis, unionists are accused of everything short of war crimes over the past 90 years. Not surprisingly in the imaginary Kearney world republicans have done no wrong and are not subjected to any criticism. However, in the real world, history will record that it was the IRA that killed more Catholics than the security forces. The record will show that the IRA killed three times as many people as all loyalist paramilitary organisations combined.


At the heart of the Kearney analysis is a fundamental misunderstanding of ordinary unionists. That’s why the IRA were so slow to recognise the futility of their armed campaign. It is also why their new strategy will fail. When Sinn Fein can’t even persuade those who vote for nationalist or republican parties of the case for Irish unity they are hardly likely to make headway with unionists.

Mr Kearney’s outburst notwithstanding, we should get back to our agenda of building peace and prosperity for everyone in Northern Ireland. The DUP will seek to broaden and deepen the coalition for the Union. We will reach out to those beyond our natural base and seek to expand our support.

Our aim is not to rehabilitate the reputations of those who waged a brutal terrorist campaign on the province for decades, but to make the case for the Union for those who want a better life for themselves and for their children.

The reconciliation we seek is a genuine healing of community divisions today and not the airbrushing of awkward history. It is based on working together for the future and not seeking to allocate blame and responsibility for the wrongs of the past.

This is 2012 and not 1972. Sinn Fein is in government with the DUP and the DUP with Sinn Fein. We do not agree on the causes of past division and conflict. Nor do we agree on Northern Ireland’s long-term constitutional future either, but we can work together in this generation with the other parties for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The worst thing that unionists could do would be to allow Sinn Fein to draw us into a debate about the past that we have long since won and which they are now trying to reinvent. We must focus on the urgent demands of dealing with the many problems our society is facing today.

Robinson with an inversion of what his own precondition of doing a deal allowing his party to enter government with Sinn Fein had once been: “reconciliation is a process and not an event.”

As I noted yesterday on Brian’s thread, I don’t think a reconciliation process is possible unless certain preconditions are dropped.

And although Robinson goads Sinn Fein about Gerry Adams coming clean about his past, he also knows very well that the President of Sinn Fein cannot do that without running the risk of ending up locked up alongside the likes of Gerry McGeough and Marian Price.

That’s the flaw in everyone’s plan for dealing with the past. It requires too high a price of the living. Former combatants and the rest of us.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty