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Suzanne Breen: DUP was arguably in safer hands under former leader

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Peter Robinson has never been so popular. His interview with BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan has left many people, who certainly weren't fans when he held political office, wishing that he hadn't gone away.

He is now being hailed for his "words of wisdom" in the most unlikely quarters. Whisper it quietly, but the former DUP leader is beginning to be regarded as a bit of a statesman.

Just the mention of his name these days brings a creeping nostalgia from a range of political opponents, including Sinn Fein.

Robinson may have been respected within his own party but he was never loved like the Rev Ian Paisley. He was too much of a cold fish for that. But some in DUP ranks now feel they were in much more safer hands with him at the helm than Arlene Foster.

A number of MLAs privately believe power-sharing would never have been suspended had Robinson been around. He would have guided them out of the choppy waters of RHI. Rewind the tape two-and-a-half years and it was a very different story.

So many people couldn't wait to see the back of him when he announced he was retiring from politics in November 2015.

So is this surge of love and affection justified or are we in danger of rewriting history?

There can be no doubt that Robinson brought a totally different skill set to the table than his successor. He's in another league when it comes to tactics and strategy. When Stormont teetered on the brink of collapse after the IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan in the Short Strand in August 2015, it was Robinson who saved it.

The UUP leader at the time, Mike Nesbitt, took his party out of the Executive after the PSNI said the IRA still existed and its members were involved in the killing.

The pressure was on the DUP to follow suit. Robinson came up with the idea of his ministers resigning and then being renominated.

It kept the Stormont show on the road. Robinson told Nolan he never had a bad falling out with Martin McGuinness and, despite disagreements, they always remained on friendly terms.

He clearly is more comfortable in Sinn Fein company than the current DUP leader. His personality is perhaps not as abrasive as hers can sometimes be.

But it is hugely unfair to Arlene Foster to lay all the blame for the breakdown of the DUP's relationship with Sinn Fein at her door.

Outlining his approach to power-sharing, the former First Minister said: "Compromise is part of it, you don't succeed if you're simply looking after your own position. You have to remember that the other party has a constituency, it's not sufficient to solve your problems, you have to solve theirs too."

But under Robinson rule, it wasn't a score-draw at Stormont. The DUP hammered Sinn Fein 10-0.

There was no development of the Maze/Long Kesh site or Irish language legislation. McGuinness shrugged his shoulders and took it but the ill-feeling the lack of wins caused among Sinn Fein grassroots built up and boiled over with RHI, forcing the leadership to bring down the institutions.

In the past, Stephen Nolan robustly held Robinson's DUP to account. By giving an in-depth interview to the BBC broadcaster despite that history, the former First Minister is showing he holds no grudges and has moved on.

When he says he is happy with his life post-politics, it's impossible to not believe him. Retirement has been the making of Robinson.

Belfast Telegraph


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