End sectarian division, Peter Robinson tells DUP conference


Northern Ireland's First Minister has called for Catholics and Protestants to unite to end sectarian division.

Peter Robinson made the comments at the annual DUP conference in County Down on Saturday.

He said it was time to build a new Northern Ireland.

"The conflict of this last 40 years has created terrible divisions," he said.

"It became a case of 'them and us' and that attitude deepened divisions even further.

"If we want a better society it can't be them and us - it can only be all of us."

Mr Robinson said there could be no greater guarantee of the long-term security of the union than the support of significant numbers of Catholics.

He said power-sharing had delivered progress on agreeing moves towards creating a shared society and that it was important to seize the opportunity.

"I tell you, now is the moment," he said.

"Miss it and we may miss it forever.

"Miss it and we may drift and stray.

"We have the prospect of making a difference that previous generations never had or never took, a chance that future generations may never get or never grab."

The DUP leader pledged his support for victims of the Troubles and said he would not allow republicans to "rewrite the past".

Mr Robinson also said there was a need for a shared education system.

"The DUP's ambition will be the laughter of all our children, playing and living together, with a future that doesn't see them having to leave our shores, but wanting to live here, in Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom," he added.

Up until November 2008, the majority of primary school children in Northern Ireland took a transfer test for entry into secondary and grammar schools.

The exam, called the 11-plus transfer test, had been used for almost 60 years to decide who qualified for a place at grammar school and who did not.

It has been left up to politicians in Northern Ireland to find a solution to what should replace the official test.

However, they cannot agree and so Northern Ireland is without a regulated test.

The Association of Quality Education (AQE) and a group of Catholic grammar schools therefore drew up separate grammar school entrance tests.

The AQE is serving non-denominational grammars while the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) is providing tests mainly for Catholic grammars, along with some integrated colleges and non-denominational schools.

More integration

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the party wants to build on the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland.

"We need to build a society now which is more integrated, more shared," he said.

"The current position means that in these tough economic times there are a lot of services and measures which are very expensive because they are segregated.

"We believe the mood is right in Northern Ireland for that to be addressed."

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland and Health Minister Edwin Poots also addressed the conference.

Mr Poots told delegates he was not afraid of taking the hard decisions needed in the health service.

Mr McCausland indicated that he may mimic Scotland by handing out yellow card warnings to Housing Executive tenants involved in anti-social behaviour.

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