29 Mar 2012

DUP leader Peter Robinson has said that unionism must look to its founding principles and once again reach out to people of all religions and traditions.

The First Minister set out his vision for the future of unionism as he delivered the Edward Carson lecture at Iveagh House, Dublin on Thursday night.

He said he wished to broaden the appeal of the unionist brand to incorporate a “patchwork quilt” of identities and faiths, who all share a common belief that Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK.

Mr Robinson also discussed the historic signing of the Covenant, the legacy of Sir Edward Carson, and his own political journey during his speech.

The document was signed by around half a million men and women in 1912 in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill, with Carson being the first signatory of it.

“It is fitting that the marking of this decade of centenaries should begin here in Dublin – the birthplace of the central figure of the era and the leader who formed and fashioned genuine traditional unionism.”

He added: “It is evidence of our collective determination that this decade of centenaries shall contribute to creating greater understanding rather than promoting division.

“It is also a sign of real progress that unionists and nationalists can consider the events of a century ago, in a spirit of respect, reconciliation and understanding of our shared history.”

Mr Robinson said that to nationalists Edward Carson was “the man who divided Ireland,” but to unionists he was “the man who saved Ulster for the Union.”

“Edward Carson was not merely another historical figure; he was the chief architect and creator of the Northern Ireland state – maintaining it, against the odds, as an integral part of the United Kingdom – a constitutional outcome that remains to this day.”

Looking to the future, he said that he wanted to see more Catholics joining the DUP.

“I have no doubt that there are many Catholics in Northern Ireland who have much more in common with the social and economic policies of the DUP than they do with either Sinn Fein or the SDLP,” and I welcome some early signs of modest progress,” he added.

Mr Robinson also said that while he wanted to see pro-Union support grow, he did not want to see anyone left behind.

Politicians in the Republic of Ireland have described Mr Robinson’s involvement as “fitting”.

Meanwhile, the Orange Order has launched a music and literary competition to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Covenant, which was signed on 28 September.

It said prizes will be awarded to the best songs, poetry and prose, with the pick of the entries to be performed at an event later this year.

The Order said it comes as part of its efforts to “ensure that the legacy of the Covenant is as widely understood and appreciated as possible”.

Dr David Hume explained: “In seeking to commemorate the centenary of this remarkable document, the Grand Orange Lodge will be including in its plans a contest to bring forward new musical and writing talent, and we hope that this competition will capture the imagination.

“The Covenant was a seminal event in Irish history and shaped the future political and constitutional development of the island.

“The fact that it was signed by 471,414 men and women showed how important they understood it to be a century ago.”

The coming weeks will see a number of important centenaries, including the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill on 11 April and the sinking of the Titanic on 15 April.