Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 29 January 2015

How Peter Robinson has morphed to fully occupy the middle ground

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson arrives at the count in Newtownards Leisure Centre in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Assembly election May 2011: Fred Cobain election poster. Taken on the Doagh Road, Newtownabbey. Submitted by reader Bill Corr
Northern Ireland Assembly election May 2011: Tom Elliott spoke as Sinn Fein celebrated a major gain in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency
Northern Ireland Assembly election May 2011: Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey and Jennifer McCann are elected on the first count for West Belfast
Northern Ireland Assembly election May 2011: Counting starts in the Northern Ireland Assembly election at Newtownards Leisure Centre
Northern Ireland Assembly election May 2011: Anna Lo of the Alliance party is elected for South Belfast
Northern Ireland Assembly election May 2011: A delay at the counts in the King's Hall, Belfast
Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin as the ballot boxes are opened for counting in the Valley Leisure Centre
Raymond McCord (Independent) and Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly at the count in Valley Leisure Centre
DUP's Paul Girvan and Trevor Clarke pump their fist with joy after being elected for South Antrim on the first count at Valley Leisure Centre
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson with Michelle McIlveen and Jonathan Bell who won seats in the Strangford election at the count in Newtownards Leisure Centre
Martina Anderson who was returned as an MLA in the Foyle Constituency last night at the count in Lisneal College after coming second in the poll and being elected on the first count
An emotional Nelson McCausland and wife Mary are overcome with joy after being elected for North Belfast on the first count at Valley Leisure Centre for the Northern Ireland Assembly election
DUP's Michelle McIIveen tops the poll in Srangford and is congragulated by Jim Shannon (left) and Robert Gibson at the election count at Ards Leisure Centre
North Ireland Assembly election count at Lisburn Leisure Centre - South Down Constituency. Margaret Ritchie, SDLP leader after being elected
Pol Callaghan (SDLP) who was one of the Foyle MLAs standing for re-election at yesterday's count in LIsneal College
Alliance leader David Ford celebrating with his wife Anne and kids after being elected for South Antrim on the second count at Valley Leisure Centre
DUP's Michelle McIlveen who won a seat in the Strangford election at the count in Newtownards Leisure Centre in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Gregory Campbell celebrates with his wife Frances and party workers after he was reelected to the Northern Ireland Assembly
DUP Sammy Wilson happy with how the East Antrim counting is going in the Valley Leisure Centre for the Assembley election count.
East Londonderry MLA George Robinson (DUP) at yesterdays count in LIsneal College. PIcture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 6.5.11
Eamonn McCann from People Before Profit arrives at yesterdays count in LIsneal College. PIcture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 6.5.11
Pol Callaghan (SDLP) who was one of the Foyle MLA's standing for re-election at yesterdays count in LIsneal College. PIcture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 6.5.11
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/5/2011DUP Nelson McCausland as the ballot boxes are opened for counting in the Valley Leisure Centre for the North Belfast Assembley election count in the Northern Ireland Assembely.Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/5/2011 DUP Nigel Dodds as the ballot boxes are opened for counting in the Valley Leisure Centre for the Antrim Council election count.Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/5/2011Raymond McCord Independent and Sinn Feins Gerry Kelly at the counting in the Valley Leisure Centre for the soth Antrim Assembley count for the Northern Ireland Assembely election.Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/5/2011 DUP Sammy Wilson happy with how the East Antrim counting is going in the Valley Leisure Centre for the Assembley election count.Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/5/2011Stewart Dickson Alliance Party checks how the East Antrim counting is going in the Valley Leisure Centre for the Assembley election count.Photo Colm O'Reilly/Pacemaker Press
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson, pictured with daughter Rebekah, puts on an id braclet after he was asked for id before being allowed to enter the count at Newtownards Leisure Centre in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections
Pacemaker Press 6/5/2011 A delay at the Counts in the King's Hall for the West and South Belfast assembly elections Pic Colm Lenaghan
Pacemaker Press 6/5/2011 SDLP's Alastair McDonnell with his family at the Counts in the King's Hall for the South Belfast assembly elections Pic Colm Lenaghan
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Ian Paisley Junior at the North Antrim Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Ian Paisley Junior at the North Antrim Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
©Mark Pearce/Presseye.com- 6th May 2011 Press Eye Ltd- Northern Ireland _____ Mandatory Credit - Photo Mark Pearce/Presseye.comElecion Copunt @ Seven Towers Leisure Centre in BallymenaNorth Antrim /Mid Ulster Count Mandatory Credit Photo Mark Pearce / Presseye.com
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Left to right. Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Pat Sheehan pictured at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Left to right. Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams pictured at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. The DUP's Brian Kingston at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Alliance's Anna Lo at the Kings Hall.
Noel McCurdy and Johnny Currie from Rathlin Island hand over The Rathlin Island Ballot boxes to Richard Lewis Chief Executive of Moyle District Council as he brings them ashore at Ballycastle late on Thursday night, before they were were transferred to Ballymena counting centre for vertification.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast. Sinn Feins Alex Maskey and the DUP's Jimmy Spratt.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan pictured at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast. The DUP's Nigel Dodds pictured at the Kings Hall.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -Monday 5th May 2011 - Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Counting starts at different count centers across Northern Ireland after voters went to the polls yesterday to elect new members for the Stormont Assembly and local councils. Voters are also took part in the referendum regarding the way Westminster MPs are elected. Counting starts at the Kings Hall in south Belfast.

The significant big winner in the Assembly elections is moderacy. Never before was an election fought so respectfully between the major unionist and nationalist power blocs and never before was the result such a sweeping victory for the power of positive thinking.

The plaudits are raining down on Peter Robinson, although Martin McGuinness also deserves much credit. With apologies to Jose Mourinho, Mr Robinson has now become the "Special One" of Northern Ireland politics.

I put down much of the Special One's success to "morphing." Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were the first to recognise the art of morphing, the day they foreswore violence as a means to a political end, donned their Armani suits, polished their shoes, began wearing business ties and ensured that they were well-groomed for media appearances.

"Morphing" is defined as a technique employed in films and television whereby one image is transformed seamlessly into another before your eyes.

Thus the beast becomes a beauty. A snarling animal in a cartoon film is transformed into a cuddly bear. Most famously, Clark Kent goes in one door and comes out another as Superman.

So successful have they been at morphing, Messrs Adams and McGuinness and many others in Sinn Fein are virtually unrecognisable from their previous lives.

However, they are eclipsed today by the astounding transformation in the fortunes of Peter Robinson.

Mr Robinson began to morph last summer when he met his fate in the Westminster election in East Belfast at the hands of the Alliance party's Naomi Long. Her victory in a heartland of Protestant Ulster proved beyond doubt that hard-line unionism was fading in popularity.

Nearly everybody it seemed wanted the peace to last and the bickering to end.

The unionist community didn't demand Peter Robinson to chuckle like his predecessor but they did believe the time had come to smile, to live and let live, to show a bit more generosity of spirit, to stop staring blankly at the other side and start working collectively for something better.

Mr Robinson, with his astute antennae twitching, appears to have got the message and acted swiftly upon it. As a consequence, one year on from losing his seat at Westminster, he has morphed into the most popular politician in Northern Ireland with more first preference votes than even Sinn Fein's mightiest figures.

The results of the Assembly election are a testimony to how Peter Robinson has taken the Democratic Unionist Party on a long march from Protestant extremism towards the middle ground of unionism. In doing so, he has usurped the role of the Ulster Unionist Party, taken the ground from beneath its feet and left it pondering about its future role.

The Ulster Unionists may have passed the point of no return. Caught between the devil of the DUP and the clear blue sea of the Alliance party, they find themselves in a political no-man's land, their vision and strategy effectively stolen by their opponents.

They come across as more of a disparate collection of individuals than a cohesive political force. Some are so traditionally unionist no one would notice if they said they were in the DUP. The more liberal must go to bed at night wondering if the Alliance party are more in line with their political thoughts.

The SDLP's fortunes are faring no better. The party continues to suffer from the morphing of Sinn Fein, leaving as many question marks over its leadership as that of the Ulster Unionists. If Tom Elliott lacks the communication skills needed for televised debates so too does Margaret Ritchie. No matter the level of conviction in their voices, neither is a natural television performer, essential for a political leader in today's world.

So when we cut through all the percentage ups and downs of the various parties, where are we now? The outcome of the Assembly election shows that Northern Ireland is rejecting hard-line unionism and nationalism as never before.

The only way the two major parties have achieved their dominance is by morphing into something quite different from their origins, talking about a shared future and refusing to engage in the old-style combative politics.

The people of Northern Ireland have had their say. Correction. Less than six in ten bothered to have their say.

The biggest party in Northern Ireland is not the DUP or Sinn Fein but the "Couldn't care less, Don't give a toss, Browned off with politics, Plague on all your houses" party. This Apathy party scored its biggest share ever of the non-vote.

Devolution has only half-hearted support in Northern Ireland. A big drop in the electoral turnout figure is no vote of confidence.

It sends out a clear message from the disillusioned that the next Stormont Executive needs to perform a great deal better than the last.

To get themselves to where they are today, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein have morphed into quite different beings from what they were before.

To get to where they are today, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, needed to reject the hardline unionist and republican messages of their respective pasts. That is progress.

The Assembly election results show that Northern Ireland continues to move in the right direction.

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