Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Peter Robinson won't go just yet... DUP still values him too much

DUP leader Peter Robinson celebrates his re-election as an MLA for East Belfast in 2011
DUP leader Peter Robinson celebrates his re-election as an MLA for East Belfast in 2011

Political careers can come to a swift and bloody end, but at this point it looks as if Peter Robinson has had a good summer and that the DUP recognises he still has work to do, which will carry him well into next year.

So I'd be surprised to see him shuffling off to the Lords in the autumn, as has been predicted. Yet there are signs that, when he does go, the DUP will take a leaf out of Sinn Fein's book and split its leadership between two people.

There were reports in the Sunday World newspaper that the DUP leader was about to be pushed aside in September and replaced as First Minister by Arlene Foster, the Enterprise Minister, and Sammy Wilson, who is both MP and MLA for East Antrim, as overall party leader.

This speculation looks likely in everything bar the timing. "It would be an advantage to have a dual leadership.

We have seen how Sinn Fein worked that to their advantage," one senior DUP figure said.

In Sinn Fein, Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister but the party president is Gerry Adams.

When Mr Adams was an MLA he, and not Mr McGuinness, appointed ministers.

Now that he is in the Dail, Adams and Sinn Fein's ruling ard chomhairle still have to sign off on important decisions at Stormont.

Anything Mr McGuinness agrees in negotiations is always subject to leadership approval. This gives Sinn Fein a second, or even third, bite at things. For instance, the DUP thought it had a deal on welfare reform last year, but the proposal was eventually knocked back by the Sinn Fein leadership outside Stormont.

The republican leadership is focused on the 2015 Irish general election.

It fears that cutting benefits in the north would undermine its manifesto commitments not to do the so in the Republic.

So the policy is stalled and, unless a compromise is found, money is destined to be slashed from the Stormont budget to pay for the welfare shortfall.

That is one problem that Mr Robinson should be given a chance to try to solve.

Deductions from our block grant to pay for welfare is a major threat to all of the Executive's spending plans and pledges, and it won't go away of its own accord.

Within the DUP, Mr Robinson is credited with pulling the irons out of the fire on parading. People are noticing that, when he was out of the province in Florida last summer, the Ardoyne situation quickly spiralled out of control, blighting politics for months. This year, with him around, the outcome was better.

He will lead a joint unionist and Orange delegation to meet Theresa Villiers next week, probably Tuesday, on parading. He has more work to do here.

One clue to when Mr Robinson may leave came from Nigel Dodds, his deputy. When he was pressed by Stephen Nolan on whether Mr Robinson would lead the DUP into "the next election", Mr Dodds wouldn't answer.

However, when Nolan changed the question to specify "the next general election", Mr Dodds answered "yes".

The general election will be held on May 7 next year. It sounds as if Mr Robinson will around then, but not for the Assembly election on May 6, 2016.

That would give the new leaders a year to make their mark before they faced the electorate. The party could also co-opt a replacement MLA, who would have a year to get established in Mr Robinson's Stormont seat.

The period after the dissolution of parliament is also a time when peerages are given out to retiring politicians.

 

Further reading:

Those criticising the influence of Free Presbyterians on politics should stop complaining and get involved

On the run letters? Everyone knew... bar unionists, apparently 

Inside the DUP: Unionism's dominant force bares its soul, but what does it do next?  

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