Peter Robinson and Robert Frost

I see that Peter Robinson has been anointed as DUP leader. Robinson has been seen as the obvious choice for leader since Dr. Paisley announced his decision to step down; indeed one could argue that apart from occassional suggestions about Dodds (or even for a time Jim Allister), Robinson has been the likely successor for a very long time now.This is not the time to go over Robinson’s career from the current highs as Finance Minister to the low of liberator? of Clontibret. Whilst Robinson may not be a strategic visionary, nor possibly a towering intellectual (though that is probably unfair prejudice) he is and has always been a supreme tactician (the problems I have previously highlighted over Allister and Dromore notwithstanding).

Where Robinson will take the executive and his party now is very interesting and indeed I suggest the future is possibly more uncertain than it seems.

To turn to the first of Robert Frost’s poems: “Mending wall”. In this one line is “Good fences make good neighbours”. In terms of the executive I suspect this to be very much the case. I have no doubt the “Chuckle Brothers” type routine will never be seen again. Whilst Robinson may try to avoid the pained look on Trimble’s face when he had to appear with Mallon; I suspect he will practice studied coldness and even a little contempt with McGuiness. He will ensure the wall is well maintained; he will be quite happy to be the “old-stone savage armed” of Frost’s poem. Robinson is a pragmatist and seems to have a good grasp of committees and the like. As such I suspect this coldness will not prevent him from having a reasonable relationship with SF ministers in terms of getting things done. There may be absolutely no love or friendship but I suspect Robinson will get on with the job in hand. Good fences may make at least tolerable neighbours.

The second Frost poem which comes to mind is “The Road Not Taken”. In this case the question is which road should the DUP under Robinson take with respect to unionism.

For essentially the first time since its inception in 1971 the DUP, now unionism’s dominant party, are beset within unionism from both left and right, albeit the degree danger they face from their two opponents is difficult to assess.

Robinson could move to the left and attempt to hoover up the remaining UUP support. Indeed Robinson did relatively recently appear to put out feelers regarding possibly increased unity with the UUP. Although he was rebuffed by Empey and the UUP have felt buoyed (in error in my view) by Dromore; the fact remains that having gained so much of the UUP vote in the recent past Robinson may feel he can gain more. There are some UUP voters and members who would never vote for or join the DUP. Robinson may, however, feel that with Paisley gone he might make further gains of UUP support and possibly even membership once the fundamentalist bogey person of Paisley has gone. The UUP is rather like a dying star and as such will presumably become a small dense object, not disappearing but remaining pretty irrelevant (I doubt it is big enough to become a black hole but I will leave Pete Baker to the astronomy analogies). As such, I suspect further gradual loss of support for the UUP. In addition I suspect the fear of a Sinn Fein first minister might make some UUP voters who might consider moving to Alliance, go to the DUP instead.

This leftward drift (not shift) may also make more sense as Robinson has always been on the liberal pragmatic wing of the DUP (all things being relative) and is seen by many as having helped ease / push Paisley into the current deal. The size of the UUP constituency is also pretty definable.

The other road, the one he may wish to take but cannot may be to move to the right and cut off Jim Allister and the TUV. No one knows the size of the TUV constituency (I am unsure, and I am in the party). What Dromore seems to show us (but remember it is only a council by election) is that this constituency is not tiny. It may also grow now that Paisley has gone. Some DUP supporters, I suspect, are utterly loyal to Paisley and so would support him in spite of his recent volte face. However, with Robinson (never entirely trusted in some circles) in charge, the accusation of sell out may stick more easily. In addition any further concessions or joint initiatives by the DUP along with SF may be seen as a sell out that Paisley would never have accepted. Appointing Dodds as deputy was clearly practically inevitable but is also quite a good sop to the right wing. Other measures are easy and already in train (such as not chuckling); in addition promoting other know fundamentalist hardliners might well help (can I plug Nelson McCausland without that destroying his career?) The fear of a SF first minister might also play with the hardliners but possibly not as much as with the UUP types. Some TUVists might think that a SF first minister would result in the collapse of the executive and as such almost view it as a good thing. On the other hand, I suspect the TUV would be relatively unlikely to stand in Westminster seats where that might result in nationalist gains.

I suspect that a move to the right would be welcomed by many DUP members (and supporters). However, Robinson may calculate that stopping chuckling and at the same time remaining static or even easing to the left will allow him to achieve what Robert Frost failed; that is travel both roads. I suspect in the short term such a tactic will work. I would, however, maintain that this is a short term tactic and not a viable long term strategy. In the long term if Robinson were to think this was the way to square his circle, I think he would be incorrect. We will, however, have to wait and see.

  • Rory

    Oh, all right then, I’ll wait and see.

  • Gerry lvs Castro

    Turgon I’m only an occasional visitor to Slugger and have just realised from your article that you’re a TUV member.

    I’m old enough to remember such political delights as Vanguard, UUUP, Jim Kilfedder, Bob McCartney et al, none of whom amounted to anything more than an electoral distraction.

    Whilst I have to admire your pragmatism, is there any possible reason to think that your party is anything more than a flat-earth society likely to split the already precariously balanced Unionist vote?

  • Connacht Man

    Why is there no thread about the serious problems off Loyalist thugs beating a connacht fan and also slitting the throat of a man who was wearing a Celtic top.

    This could be views as 2 – nil which is a very dangerous thing. Its hard to put the jeeney back in the bottle once it is out.

    Gods speed to the Connacht fan.

  • Dec

    Turgon and Stevie Smith. Discuss.

  • Turgon
  • Trouble with the Newshound today. Today’s links are available at

  • Billie-Joe Remarkable

    I’d have thought the “low point” was linking up with Davy Payne and the UDA to bring in guns in the mid-80s. Many of these weapons have never been accounted for. Maybe Robinson’s “don’t know what you are talking about guv” defence convinced you of his innocence. Or don’t you don’t take this sort of thing seriously, the guns not being in republican hands and all?

  • Rory

    Was, do you think, Robert Frost being uncannily prescient of this displacement of Paisley by Robinson when he composed these lines from Nothing Gold Can Stay?

    Then leaf subsides to leaf.
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day.
    Nothing gold can stay.


    SOME say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To know that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    ~ Robert Frost ~

  • ersehole

    Unionists always split to the right.

    A stronger leader, a harder line, no sell-out etc.

    When they work out why this happens they will understand why they are bolloxed.

  • Gerry lvs Castro

    Whereas republicans tend to split to the left.

    More pointless violence, superior hatred of the Brits, mad leftist economics etc.

    Then they wonder why nobody outside the wee six likes them.

  • Bigger Picture

    They should move to the right and shore up the TUV vote. If they move to the UUP end of things other more fundamental DUP voters may think twice about staying (myself included). Better to stabilise and cement what you have, the DUP didn’t become the biggest party by sopping to the liberal centre and I do not believe it should start now.

  • Turgon

    Bigger Picture,
    I of course agree with you in not wanting them to move to the left. My mild concern is that stopping the chuckling will make them think that that is a rightward move and indeed the only one they need before indulging in collecting the UUP vote by moving to the left. I doubt Robinson for all his undoubted political skills can recreate a grand alliance of all or practically all unionists. That has not been a realistic option for a long time; actually the closest anyone has come recently is probably Jim Molyneaux and it was not that close.

  • Bigger Picture


    Yes I agree with you and even at I at one point thought that it would simply be enough to remove Ian Paisley to stop all the criticsm. They need to go further, not only in what they do but also about getting their message across. I think the DUP has been particularly poor in this regard because I think they have achieved a number of things against the wishes of SF/IRA. RPA/The Maze and the Irish Language ACT to name a few.
    However I also think that Robinson and Dodds know this and that they have sat up and taken notice since the turn of the year.

    Pushing republicans is the key in all of this and to be honest i think this would satisfy both in a way. Ex-UU’s voted for the DUP because Trimble couldn’t deliver and I think if the DUP are seen as the only party in govt effectively delivering then they will take more votes there. The same way as it will show to those who might be more scepticle that it is unionists forcing the issue at stormont. I think this can be done no matter what some people might think I have not witnessed many concessions to the Republican movement, since devolution was set up, through the executive.

    Of course I also agree that there will be those on either ends who will not agree with the DUP for various reasons and that is why they’ll probably not go away especially in the UUP’s case. At the end of the dayI think the DUP has a tremendous opportunity right now and I trust that they don’t blow it. However I also saw that last summer whenever they themselves didn’t.

  • The Watchman

    Never mind Robert Frost, Turgon, I see a book in Waterstone’s entitled “Friend of the Devil” written by a … Peter Robinson. I would never describe him as such, although I bet Mammy might.

    Here’s the synopsis from Amazon about, believe it or not, a murder in the Maze:

    “When Karen Drew is found sitting in her wheelchair staring out to sea with her throat cut one chilly morning, DI Annie Cabbot, on loan to Eastern Area, gets lumbered with the case. Back in Eastvale, that same Sunday morning, 19-year-old Hayley Daniels is found raped and strangled in the Maze, a tangle of narrow alleys behind Eastvale’s market square, after a drunken night on the town with a group of friends, and DCI Alan Banks is called in. Banks finds suspects galore, while Annie seems to hit a brick wall -until she reaches a breakthrough that spins her case in a shocking and surprising new direction, one that also involves Banks.Then another incident occurs in the Maze which seems to link the two cases in a bizarre and mysterious way. As Banks and Annie dig into the past to uncover the deeper connections, they find themselves also dealing with the emotional baggage and personal demons of their own relationship. And it soon becomes clear that there are two killers in their midst, and that at any moment either one might strike again.”