On Friday 25 February 2011, the Politics Society of Sullivan Upper School proudly welcomed First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Mr Peter Robinson MLA.
We commenced with the minutes of the last meeting of the Politics Society when another notable politician, Tom Elliott MLA, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was the guest speaker. This was an apt beginning to Mr Robinson’s speech as he noted one of the reasons for the growth in support for the DUP was as a direct result of their policy not to go into working in government with “IRA/Sinn Fein”, unlike the UUP had.
However, this was not the key turning point in Mr Robinson’s life… He recalled his younger years when he had a best friend, Harry Beggs. Harry Beggs was murdered at the onset of the Troubles (he was the 114th victim of the Troubles) by an IRA bomb at NIE Headquarters at Danesfort. Robinson vowed to become involved in politics to “ensure that democracy rather than terror would reign”.
Mr Robinson spoke of the difficulty he faced sitting side-by-side with men whom he knew sanctioned the death of his school friend. He stressed the point that the only reason he joined Sinn Fein in government was on DUP terms. He continued to speak about our government and agreed with the UUP that there should be a formal opposition so that the government could have better stability. He claimed there was, however, an opposition as we speak, in the form of SDLP and UUP, both of which “act and make decisions as if they were ministers from the opposition”. This led him to express the importance of collective responsibility.
He felt it would be naïve of him to not mention the “elephant in the room”, the Economy. He acknowledged cuts had to be made however he emphasised how the cuts were “too much, too fast, too soon”. He spoke on how Northern Ireland’s unemployment has now risen above the EU average and that housing, education and health will be hit hardest. He warned of many difficult years under the Comprehensive Spending Review. Furthermore, he warned that “if party politics comes into the equation, we will suffer”.
After his speech, the most eagerly anticipated moment began, the infamous questioning. I
Mr Robinson seized the opportunity to talk about his party’s progress in 2010. Whilst admitting he had an “extremely disappointing personal year”, he quoted figures from the Westminster elections that suggested the DUP did not do as badly as it was first perceived and listed economic, social and energy policies that have “moved Northern Ireland forward”.
Perhaps the most enjoyable question came from Ms Holywood, who asked “What adjectives would you use to describe your relationship with Martin McGuiness?” to which Mr Robinson’s reply was rather humorous! While he believes they have a “stable working relationship” he “would never dream of inviting him on holiday, nor would Martin invite me fishing… nor shooting for that matter!” And those were the last words of Mr Robinson which the audience acknowledged with rapturous applause. Personally, I would like to thank all who attended and extend my gratitude to my committee members and Mr Armstrong, all of whom worked very hard to make this event a success.
Tom McClelland Chairman of the Politics Society