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Ambitious pincer movement may just deliver his aims... in spite of resistance

By Liam Clarke

"Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth." The words were those of the ancient Greek engineer Archimedes - but Peter Robinson appears to be attempting something equally ambitious.

It is an unpromising situation to be in. Stormont is up to its neck in debt, the British Government is demanding payment and Sinn Fein - whose support Mr Robinson needs if he is to achieve anything - has set its face against austerity. His own party is troubled by equally fractious hardliners.

The DUP leader has carefully studied the position of all the players and constructed a sort of pincer movement, which he hopes will force them along the path he wants.

Next month he hopes to present London with a budget in return for a £100million loan but, to please nationalists, it makes no provision for next year's welfare reform fines. That means the Government must bail us out, pull down Stormont or legislate above our heads.

He is clearly hoping that they will give us enough of a bailout to spare Sinn Fein blushes and allow the party to say they successfully fought austerity here. Then the Government can limp on after next May's election.

It looks like a legacy project - the effort of a departing leader to put things in order and hand over his leadership with things in good shape. Mr Robinson will neither confirm nor deny that, pointing out that things won't necessarily work according to his plan.

"If everything operated according to my script I might have gone in 2011," he quipped.

In 2010 he temporarily stood down as First Minister to deal with the turbulent fallout from his wife Iris's affair.

He also used that period to achieve the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland, something that largely changed the political script. Although he did lose his Westminster seat, DUP representation went up in the 2011 Assembly election.

He is hoping for a similar breakthrough this time but it will be tough.

The DUP is still a deeply conservative party, many of whose members see going into government with Sinn Fein as a necessary evil that gives them the power to hold back changes on matters such as abortion law and gay marriage reform.

That attitude seems to be out of touch with public opinion but it seems unlikely to affect the coming election.

For now it is another factor which Mr Robinson has to weigh up as he tries to plot a way forward that will preserve his party's leading position for another electoral cycle.

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