Emerging from the shadow of “Stalin”…

Peter Robinson is funny old bird. One minute he is laughing and jovial (you can’t build a team as effectively as he has, without strong personal skills). Then he seems to change character when the ‘interview’ begins: it’s as if the scene has been suddenly shifted to a verbal war zone. Fionnuala O’Connor usefully points [subs needed] us in the direction of a profile of Peter Robinson, by David McKitterick who describes him as “ambitious, clever, and workaholic”. As a teenager, according to his sister Pat, he was a budding singer songwriter in the Dylan/Donovan style. The menacing glasses have given way to contact lenses. Clearly there is more to that frosty exterior that comes over on the media. He’ll need to show more of it, when Stalin finally falls from the DUP plinth.From O’Connor’s piece:

The DUP deputy leader who told the House of Commons 13 years ago that Margaret Thatcher had “prostituted herself” by allowing Dublin a consultative role in Northern Ireland is no doubt still tucked inside the architect of the party’s crabwise approach to powersharing. Both are folded into a personality nearly as unreadable to his party as to outsiders. Old rhetoric will probably now be steadily ditched if internal feedback stays benign: though the recent Robinson article in these pages was harsh enough in its refusal to admit that the St Andrews Agreement he helped negotiate might in any way resemble the Good Friday agreement.

Discordant gear-changes are the least important accompaniment to major political shifts. DUP lesser lights, their mentor that ranting public speaker with an extra reserve of biblical vituperation, have always behaved as though abominable rudeness to and about opponents was the surest way to preferment in the party, and their voters’ hearts. Sharing power with Sinn Féin has yet to be absorbed at the grassroots – and who can wonder? DUP people do not like today’s political dispensation but they want it to continue, as long as they can claim to be top dog.

Appearing in public with someone called Biffo is eminently ignorable, especially since he came bearing a gift of sorts. The new and smaller party leader – 12 years older than Biffo and coming into his own as he approaches 60 – has to weather his first joint appearances with the former IRA leader now trading as Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister. Facial features must be arranged and visual warmth adjusted to the occasion. A run-through would be handy before going live with Martin McGuinness, he of the twinkling eyes – though chill incarnate, of course, until commanded to deploy his inner charm.

But a couple of touching photographs – in the Irish News last week and on the BBC website – showed Messrs Robinson and McGuinness shirt-sleeved and smiling warmly at each other. Foreign parts have worked wonders before on reticent unionists. These pleasant shots were taken last summer in Washington, when Robinson could only dream about becoming first minister. Launching a “Folklife Festival” in the Smithsonian museum, he perhaps looked more his youthful self in public than at any time since that long-ago IRA bombing killed his school friend, and pushed him into a lifetime in Ian Paisley’s shadow.

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