Page last updated at 21:23 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Peace will endure despite murders

By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson said there was no turning back from the path of peace

When Peter Robinson addressed the assembly on the brutal murder of two soldiers, he did so as leader of the DUP, but his speech was more in keeping with a first minister.

Indeed, not once did Mr Robinson mention the DUP.

Instead, he rose above party politics - and ended up on the moral high ground.

"Statesmanlike," was how some at the assembly described his speech.

Mr Robinson made clear that neither he nor his party nor the assembly, were for turning.

He declared: "This is a moment of truth for us all. We all have a choice to make.

"On Saturday night the challenge was issued. Today in this house and outside of it, let the answer be loud and clear. We are not turning back."

Mr Robinson recognised that he needed to wrap himself in power-sharing, not a union flag, if he was to meet the challenge from the Real IRA.

"This is not a time," he said, "to raise the flag of party politics."

By contrast, some party leaders made more partisan speeches.

This is not a time to raise the flag of party politics
First Minister Peter Robinson

Martin McGuinness, who has responsibilities as deputy first minister, may have made a different speech from that of his leader, but Gerry Adams spoke very clearly for Sinn Féin in his address which began with the words: "I stand here as an unrepentant, unapologetic Irish Republican."

With "Brits out" graffiti and an obscene reference to the weekend murder on a gable wall on the Falls Road, Mr Adams faces different pressures.

And, it could be argued, he wrapped himself in the tricolour as a form of defence.

"I want to see an end to British rule on this island, and I want to see the unity of orange and green."

Mr Adams clearly felt the need to remind the republican faithful of his pedigree before condemning the attack and making clear he was backing law and order.

In his attempts to end conflict, the Sinn Féin leader has become accustomed to speaking to several audiences at once for many years.

While his initial remarks may have grated with Mr Robinson, the Sinn Féin leader did mirror the remarks of his DUP counterpart that , "there is no turning back".

He said the popular will was for peace and condemned the murders.

"Saturday night's attack was a deliberate and calculated attack on the peace process. It was wrong - let there be no ambiguity about that," he said.

Mr Adams also insisted that the peace process, which was struck against the odds, would endure.

"Sinn Féin will, not just here and in the media, but in the communities that it represents, go toe-to-toe with those who would try to drag the people of the island, particularly the north, back into conflict," he added.

Saturday night's attack was a deliberate and calculated attack on the peace process. It was wrong - let there be no ambiguity about that
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams

He said his party supported the police in apprehending lawbreakers but that the police must be accountable.

The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, looked to the ideal of unity across the Stormont benches while mindful of the reality of underlying tensions.

Acknowledging that differences of opinion remained over the devolution of policing and justice - and other issues - he urged caution.

He warned this was not the time for parties to set tests for each other.

"We need to be very strong, clear and united," he declared.

But the Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, was blunt in his remarks, taking a clear party position in his address.

He was concerned, not just about parties putting each other to the test, but whether the tests could be passed.

Sir Reg, no doubt to the annoyance of Sinn Féin , suggested this was no time for policing and justice powers to devolved.

"Is the House mature enough to handle the ensuing operational responsibilities? Can we support the Chief Constable?" he said.

"Do we understand and fully accept that we must progress through actions that we all support? The House must think long and hard about that matter."

It is a question Peter Robinson did not articulate on Monday, but one that must certainly be on his mind as he ponders his next move and his partner's deepest wish.

The DUP leader, with pressures of his own, may yet raise the flag of party politics on this thorny issue.



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