Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson: Shared and united society way forward for NI

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Media captionFirst Minister Peter Robinson has said that a shared and united society is the only way forward for Northern Ireland.

First Minister Peter Robinson has said that a shared and united society is the only way forward for Northern Ireland.

He added that politicians need to reach out beyond what they see as their "own community".

"Our challenge must be to make what is often merely a sound-bite into a meaningful reality," said the DUP leader.

He was speaking at a Co-Operation Ireland dinner at Queen's University in Belfast on Thursday night.

The dinner had been organised to acknowledge the efforts of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) to forge better community relations.

Mr Robinson said that while it is easier and more comfortable for politicians and people in wider society to retreat to safe and familiar ground, that is not the ground where progress will be made.

"I am entirely convinced that a shared and united society in Northern Ireland is the only way forward for all of us," said Mr Robinson.

"I would not be here tonight, or be involved in politics at all, if I were not personally committed to making progress in Northern Ireland.

"Anyone who believes that there is a better alternative to the political process we are engaged in simply doesn't understand reality.

'Communicate better'

"Finding solutions is easier said than done. Progress can be slow - frustratingly slow. And when two steps forward are followed by one step back it is easy to become disillusioned and forget how far we have come.

"I am absolutely convinced that 'respect' is the key to progress. And that 'understanding' is the key to 'respect'.

"Understanding requires us all to listen as well as talk. There is a difference between listening and merely hearing. Sometimes I feel that unionists say one thing, but nationalists hear something else. I'm certain the reverse is also the case. We must learn to communicate better."

Mr Robinson also paid tribute to the GAA.

"In the last few years Co-Operation Ireland has celebrated the role of rugby and football in peace-building and it is fitting that tonight we very publicly acknowledge the important role of the GAA.

"It is a testament to the progress that we have all made that tonight we can acknowledge the GAA's role in peace-building by inviting a first minister from the unionist tradition to the lectern.

"Not so many years ago it would have been unimaginable that I would have been invited to speak at an event of this kind - or that I would have accepted.

"Thankfully the world has moved on. We are all on a journey. Although I think we each recognise that there is still some distance to travel.

"For my part I want to see my party reaching out further in the years to come and I am certain that the GAA leadership will want to do the same."

Danny Murphy, secretary of the GAA's Ulster Council, said the presence of the DUP leader was a "significant step" on the way to improving community relations.

He said: "While it is not an intrinsic GAA event, it is a GAA event organised by Co-operation Ireland. I think in those terms it is another significant step along the road of improving relationships right across the whole sector."