Belfast Telegraph

Wikileaks analysis: How being underestimated worked to Peter Robinon's advantage

By Liam Clarke

It is noticeable that the only person who gave the Americans a really good read on Peter Robinson was Dawn Purvis, the former Progressive Unionist Party leader. Most others, from the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward to Gerry Adams, underestimated the DUP leader.

Her intervention comes in a long cable sent to Daniel McNicholas, the acting US consul in Belfast to the State Department on July 7, 2009.

At the time most of the people consulted by the diplomat thought Mr Robinson was in trouble after Jim Allister topped the poll in the European election a month earlier. Diane Dodds, the DUP candidate, was beaten into third place behind Jim Nicholson of the UUP, and most of the people the consul talked to, like Stephen Farry of Alliance, spoke of “DUP nervousness” and feared Mr Robinson would be unable to steer the party forward into full devolution.

Mr Woodward feared that the DUP leader might “snap or just walk away” leaving a “leadership vacuum” if pushed too hard.

This underestimation of Mr Robinson’s abilities was to his advantage. It led the government and other parties to treat him with care at a time when he was consolidating his hold on the party leadership.

The perception of weakness gave him leverage. Sir Reg Empey, the UUP leader, said Mr Robinson was “looking over his shoulder like David Trimble” and Gerry Adams described him as “Trimble personified”.

Their point was that, like Trimble, he could be ousted by hardliners.

The end result was that the governments rallied round to support Robinson, giving him every consideration and seeing no alternative to his leadership.

Ms Purvis, who like Mr Robinson had her base in east Belfast, was acute in her judgments, insisting that he could “hold things together”.

Mr Robinson was pushing the government for financial guarantees on the devolution of policing and justice. Delay and uncertainty helped him get it. Another factor in the background, no one was aware of, was the ‘Irisgate’ scandal.

Twelve weeks earlier his wife had attempted suicide after confessing an affair. This must have taken its toll on him even though it would not become public for another six months.WikiLeaks:

WikiLeaks: US Embassy Cables
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