26/11/2011 09:56 GMT

Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland First Ministers, Calls On Catholics And Protestants To Unite

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

Combining education services and promoting a shared community is the way to secure the future, Peter Robinson added.

He addressed hundreds of members at the Democratic Unionist Party annual conference near Belfast.

"The conflict of the last 40 years created terrible divisions. It became a case of 'them and us'. And that attitude deepened divisions further," he said. "If we want a better society it can't be 'them and us'. It can only be 'all of us'."

Mr Robinson entered the packed hall to a rock star style reception with the white and red of the Ulster flag being flown by many delegates.

Mr Robinson said the economic crisis would pass but argued that the lasting challenge was to tackle the causes of division.

He added that there can be no greater guarantee of the long-term security of the union than the support of significant numbers of Catholics.

"An end to the Troubles did not bring an end to division and that dilemma will not solve itself," he said.

"Our critics have claimed that we want a society which is carved up rather than shared. Some of them accuse us of wanting a separate but equal society," he added. "Let me be clear, nothing could be further from the truth. It is not right and it would not work. I do not want a society where people live close together, but live separate lives."

He said the task was to persuade, rather than defeat.