Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

First Minister Peter Robinson is a leader who's not doing his job

'First Minister Peter Robinson is a leader who's not doing job'
'First Minister Peter Robinson is a leader who's not doing job'

Increasingly I find myself listening not to what First Minister Peter Robinson actually says, but waiting for his office to tell me what he really meant. For instance, his recent comments about Muslims were quickly followed up by a more considered written statement.

Then he said the housing protest that kept a Nigerian man out of his new home wasn't racist. The subsequent reformulation, this time, came from his party colleagues in the DUP.

So when Peter Robinson repeatedly tells us that the institutions we collectively set up to run this place are "under threat", is he speaking as Peter Robinson the individual, as the leader of the DUP, or as First Minister? When we are told that the controversy over OTRs, and then over parades, risks collapsing Stormont, which Mr Robinson is speaking? We need to know who exactly is crying wolf.

Mr Robinson appears to be making a bid for the mantle of 'First Unionist'. Take his recent talks with Theresa Villiers – or rather, her meeting with (take a breath) the DUP, the UUP, the TUV, Ukip, the PUP, the UPRG and the Orange Order. An impressive display of unionist unity, to be sure; but all the more reason to be clear about the separation of roles.

When the flag protests began, those involved were seen as the 'hardliners', on the fringes of unionism. Perhaps because of the rise of the TUV and a revived PUP, mainstream unionists appear to have moved over to get behind them, showing not so much great leadership as great 'followership'. But Peter Robinson is the First Minister of Northern Ireland; and as long as he remains so he must live up to the duties of the office to represent all the people of Northern Ireland, unionists, nationalists, and others.

As things stand, the concerns of the 'others', indeed of most of us, are about economic and social issues – flatlining wages, precarious jobs, cuts to vital public services and so forth.

We need our leaders to stop crying wolf over our cultural differences, because there's a social and economic wolf out there – and it's rapidly nearing the door.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in NI

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