Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Echoes of Big Ian as the First Minister Peter Robinson sticks the boot in

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson appealed to Assembly colleagues to "take a step back" from party politicking – just before sticking his boot into the SDLP.

The Assembly session designed to usher in a new era of increased community harmony was sullen and bad-tempered from the outset. Not for the first time MLAs demonstrated that before they can hope to begin achieving a 'shared future' they will have to do a much better job at sharing the present.

The First Minister accused the SDLP of leaking confidential conversations, while the party countered that he had given the 'Cohesion, Sharing and Integration' paper to the BBC.

The DUP leader wasn't just directing his bile at rivals, however, he didn't have a good word for the entire previous administration.

"They could not even produce a strategy or plan, never mind projects and programmes of any significance. We have shown that we are prepared to take the steps forward," he said.

Robinson doesn't often like to don the Biblical cloak or evoke the evangelical style of his predecessor: Heaven forfend. But some of his language yesterday, attacking his critics as a 'tribe of jeremiahs', had more than a swab of Ian Paisley about it.

If he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness really wanted the other parties to come back to the drawing board with them, this hardly seemed the way to go about it.

But while Mr McGuinness was present in the chamber throughout, it was left to Mr Robinson to field all the criticism and questions.

"Let us try to keep the party politicking out of it," he said and when the SDLP's Conall McDevitt shouted "hear, hear", went on, "That is good coming from the SDLP, because the Deputy First Minister and I were still on our feet making the announcement when the tweets were coming from the SDLP attacking what we had not yet said about the project."

Mr Robinson pleaded for a question without a 'but' in it, then proceeded to kick butt wherever he could locate it.

He told DUP benches he could give no undertaking that other parties will not try to undermine the project, but could guarantee they will not succeed, to which independent Basil McCrea responded: "So much for generosity of spirit."

Asked for a 'yes or no' answer on whether the plans could cost a half billion, Mr Robinson demurred and the SDLP's Dolores Kelly said: "That's a no, then."

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