Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson: Catholic 'majority want NI to stay in UK'

Media captionPeter Robinson: "A majority of Protestants and Catholics alike support our constitutional position within the United Kingdom"

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson has said he believes a majority of Catholics now support Northern Ireland staying within the UK.

Speaking at his party's annual conference, the DUP leader said the peace process had helped to secure Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

Sinn Fein are pushing for a referendum on keeping the union as Scotland is.

Mr Robinson said the result would not be in doubt, and said republicans "should take the hint".

He compared Sinn Fein's push for a vote to "turkeys voting for Christmas".

Mr Robinson also paid tribute to the Royal Family and said: "Long may you reign over us. God save the Queen."

He described the two-day visit of the Queen to Northern Ireland in June, as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour, as the "high point of the year".

On Friday, Mr Robinson told delegates that Irish cross-border relations have never been better.

He made his comments after party members had been addressed by the Republic's Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney.

It was the first time an Irish government minister had been invited to a DUP conference.

"The very fact there was no fuss or fanfare would indicate that normalisation has taken place," Mr Robinson said.

He said he regards the Irish Republic as "good neighbours" rather than a threat.

"Our position within the United Kingdom is not under threat - we feel confident and secure within the union and we want to have the best possible relationship with our neighbours," the first minister added.

BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson said that when Ian Paisley founded the DUP 40 years ago, "the party's attitude to co-operation with the Irish government was - to use his own phrase - 'never, never, never'".

However the peace process has transformed cross-border relations, our correspondent added.

On a lighter note, Mr Robinson commented on the DUP Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson's efforts to grow a moustache as part of the Movember campaign: "You'll never win seats in east Belfast looking like a Mexican bandit".

It is thought the current mayor is likely to be the party's east Belfast candidate in any future Westminster election.

Also in attendance was former North Down Alliance councillor Adam Harbinson.

He quit the party on Friday, not over constitutional politics, but over Alliance's support for gay marriage.

Mr Harbinson told the BBC not to read too much into his attendance at conference, but admitted he was thinking of joining the party.

The DUP is the biggest party in Northern Ireland and the fourth largest at Westminster.

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