Belfast Telegraph

NI Assembly Election: Peter Robinson intervention aimed primarily at unionists still perplexed by the cash for ash scandal

By Suzanne Breen

When Peter Robinson resigned as DUP leader, he did something that politicians who have been top dog in their parties usually don't do - he actually did go.

Often, former leaders hang around the stage - either trying to take the limelight from their successor or shouting advice from the sidelines. Robinson did neither. He stepped into obscurity.

That makes his 11th hour intervention yesterday all the more remarkable. It is perhaps a sign that the DUP is deeply worried about what the electorate will do today.

Beneath all the bluster and bombast, they may not be hugely confident that they retain the trust of ordinary unionist voters.

Robinson's words have been timed as perfectly as a Swiss clock. Coming late on the eve of polling, he has deprived his opponents of any chance of adequately challenging what he says.

His intervention will be aimed primarily at those unionists who are still perplexed by the whole 'cash for ash' scandal and who haven't made up their minds about what to do today - to stick with the DUP, to vote for another party, or just to stay at home.

Robinson is appealing to them as an elder party statesman in language that is carefully crafted and sounds reasonable. But the one message of his missive is clear - this is about saving Arlene.

It is far more sophisticated than the cruder tone we have become accustomed to from the DUP in recent times. But the thrust is the same - if you don't vote DUP, you will risk Sinn Fein becoming head honchos at Stormont.

Robinson doesn't tar all the Shinners with the same brush. He distinguishes between Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. If McGuinness had been in good health, things would never have come to this and the whole crisis could have been averted, he says. Gerry Adams remains the pantomime villain. Robinson paints a very vivid picture of Sinn Fein tricolour-waving victory cavalcades and a gloating, globe-trotting Adams.

But apart from Adams, McGuinness and Arlene Foster, there is only one person he names in his 1,500 word Belfast Telegraph article - Mike Nesbitt. Robinson's contempt for the UUP leader is clear.

He accuses him of having "lost his bearings" and of "headline-grabbing folly" and an "unconscionable error" with his SDLP transfer remarks.

The former DUP leader employs highly emotional language when speaking of Foster. He casts her as the victim, recollecting that he had told her that she would have "a short honeymoon" and then "they would come for her".

The language is reminiscent of that famous Pastor Niemoller poem and is designed to reach into the hearts of voters. Whether they see Foster in such a way is another matter.

With Nama allegations hovering over Robinson, he has endured his own difficulties.

He has made his case for Arlene Foster in no uncertain terms. Unionists will now decide whether or not to listen.

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