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Peter Robinson pivotal in Arlene Foster's coronation

By Liam Clarke

Published 10/12/2015

Peter Robinson with Arlene Foster
Peter Robinson with Arlene Foster

With the DUP leadership secure for Arlene Foster, there are rumours that Peter Robinson will join the 790 other lifetime peers in the House of Lords as early as mid-March.

This underlines the current First Minister's continued role as an elder statesman - detractors would say back seat driver - for the foreseeable future. Most DUP members, even critics, regard him as a master strategist whose help is important in negotiations and elections.

The Conservative Party has an equally high opinion of him as a "fixer and deal-maker", one minister said recently.

It is noticeable that key events in the leadership contest have been announced on his Twitter account.

These included the fact that "Arlene's nomination was submitted with the support of over 75% of those entitled to vote in the electoral college", and the fact that she was the sole nominee last night.

It was a coup de main. Opposition to her had centred on Nigel Dodds who, although he only joined the party in 1978 and not at the outset, is regarded as old school DUP. A Free Presbyterian and an Orangeman, he is also a brilliant barrister, like his role model Sir Edward Carson.

But Mr Dodds withdrew after much prayerful consideration of what was best for the party and the country.

He is also right that, with devolution in force, the party is not best led from Westminster. Sinn Fein is led from Dublin by Gerry Adams, and although that confers benefits in negotiations when the party wants to play for time, it is a clunky arrangement that makes swift decisions difficult.

That left Sammy Wilson - who had already said Mr Dodds was the best man for the job - stranded. After Mr Dodds' statement it was impossible to proceed. So, after sleeping on it, he withdrew.

This is the very best thing with an election coming in May. The DUP may well lose seats - the party broke records last time and that seldom continues - and the last thing it needs is a damaging internal debate. A coronation is preferable.

There were some doubts about Mrs Foster. She can have a haughty manner rather than a common touch, and is often dismissive. The same could have been said of Peter Robinson, but in our society women often get criticised for assertiveness where a man would be commended.

Now Mrs Foster will be surrounded by powerful backers, including Mr Robinson as a Svengali-like adviser in the Lords and Mr Dodds minding her back in the Commons. The two of them will also handle much of the high politics with the British Government.

Mrs Foster's main worries are now the election and pushing through voter-friendly commitments from the Fresh Start document. She will be First Minister until the results at least, but afterwards Sinn Fein may get the job.

That would be the most difficult situation to handle.

The DUP will be straining every sinew to avoid it, and a show of unity is essential to winning.

Belfast Telegraph

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