Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

DUP's heir apparent after Gavin Robinson's flawless reign as mayor

Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed
Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed
Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed
Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed
Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed
Star on the rise: Former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson survived a politically turbulent year in Belfast unscathed

Gavin Robinson is the DUP's Teflon man – and he is headed for the top. He is personable, he is able and he is the one that the party is grooming to win back the East Belfast seat from Naomi Long of Alliance at the next Westminster election.

Expect him to join Peter Robinson's backroom team as a special adviser while we await the election. Space is now being created by moving Timothy Cairns to another post in the DUP machine.

The move will confirm his position as Peter Robinson's apprentice and protege.

Unless he makes some disastrous gaffe in the meantime, he has the makings of a future DUP leader, who will take the party to the next stage.

Political banana skins surrounded him in his recently completed term as Lord Mayor of Belfast, but there were no slip-ups.

The year 2012-2013 was one in which the city was convulsed by flag protests and civic life was marked by stand-up rows at the City Hall.

None of the mud stuck to Mr Robinson.

He represents Pottinger, an area of east Belfast where flag-flying was a populist issue stoked up in leaflets distributed by fellow unionists.

It would have been easy to have jumped on the bandwagon, by getting down and dirty alongside colleagues like Ruth Paterson, who mixed it with the nationalists and Alliance at every opportunity, but he resisted the temptation to play to the gallery.

Instead, he maintained the dignity of his year in office – a considerable achievement at the age of 27. This isn't just a wise head on young shoulders; it is also a sign of someone who has been tutored and shielded from controversy by party managers.

Through all the furore, he even maintained a close working relationship with Tierna Cunningham, his Sinn Fein deputy. He has Peter Robinson's gift, developed a little later in life in the case of the DUP leader, of knowing when he can push the boundaries.

The First Minister picked his moment for gestures, like attending Mass for the first time, when he joined Martin McGuinness at the funeral of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr, and attending GAA matches. Those taboos have now been broken and are forgotten.

In the case of Gavin Robinson, the envelope has been pushed on the issue of gay rights. His year in office will be remembered for the fact that he was the first DUP politician to join the panel at Pride Talks Back, during (gay) Pride Week. He also launched Anti-Homophobia Week.

It involved no change in policy – the DUP still opposes gay marriage, for instance – but it was a move into new territory for a party which once launched a campaign entitled Save Ulster from Sodomy.

He is personally friendly with a number of gay people, though happily married himself, and invited representatives of the LGBT community into the Lord Mayor's Parlour to discuss how he could reach out to them before agreeing to speak at the Pride event.

This man ticks a lot of boxes, as the DUP seeks to attract the more moderate support it needs to win elections in the east of the province.

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