Still too delphic, Peter

Perhaps someone closer to the scene can tell me what Peter Robinson is trying to say in his Union 2021 essay.

To me it reads like a coy appeal to the dwindling numbers of Ulster Unionists to throw in their lot with the DUP and an attempt to cool down the extremes of DUP paranoia before the Assembly election. It seems like classic positioning from the centre, if only he could find where and what the centre is. On the following, Peter is surely right when he says:

There was a time, not long ago, when there were clear dividing lines between the DUP and UUP in policy terms, but today the differences are largely synthetic.

Note the important qualification: ” in policy terms.” He acknowledges the drag of history on the committed of both parties. At the same time, he knows unionist voters are largely indifferent to the legacy of the forty year vicious civil war within unionism which the UUs now seem bent on carrying on all on their own.

Once, the attractions of unionist unity were compelling and decisive. Undeniably, it was unity that created the State in its original guise . Peter now warns against “complacency.” that the Union will remain forever secure. But it was a different complacency – that unionist unity was enough – that in turn destablised the State and made revolt credible.

Peter says some good things which show how far unionist orthodoxy has travelled in his political lifetime.

 I also believe that confident unionists will, over the next decade, continue to improve our relationship with our nearest neighbours in the Republic without any threat to our constitutional position…. That will be a real sign of how far we, and they, have come..  If republicans head down a constitutional cul-de-sac we must not follow them down it.

Our real long-term security lies in attracting not only those for whom the constitution is the key issue but to be able to provide a policy platform which can best deliver good government for the people of Northern Ireland. That will be the real challenge we face in the years ahead.

We need to find a new equilibrium that will preserve unionism not just for the next decade but for the next century.

Where is the fulcrum of this ” new equilibrium” to be found?  If this means anything more than warm words to liberal -ish unionists and the uncommitted to try to increase unionist turnout, it suggests he’s sincere about powersharing with a Sinn Fein committed to powersharing with the DUP. Foreseeably the ” constitutional cul de sac “of Irish unity is not open to traffic. Is Peter trying to discard  as futile  the   DUP’s  aspiration to challenge SF ‘s supposed veto  on the  DUP’s ideas for  Assembly reform? 

He ends with a generalised plea for unionist unity, but fails to make clear whether he’s appealing to all unionists to vote DUP or is angling for a merger. At the very least, it appears like a mild outflanking move to the left of the new UU leader.

The theological quarrel over the significance of Tom Elliot’s GAA remarks may be classic evidence of terminal decline. But death throes can be prolonged and unpredictable.

Today Peter may be hedging his bets on the  collapse of  the Ulster Unionist party before next year’s election. But given his own vulnerability, will he ever be in a position to make them an offer they can’t refuse?  To position himself as the statesmanlike leader of  unionism – a role he has striven for for a quarter of a century – may be  the right strategy for him. If so, he needs to spell out exactly what  it entails.

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  • That essay just highlights how blindly myopic and bankrupt of new constructive, inclusive ideas, Peter Robinson and the DUP are. The same old same old nonsensical unionist rhetoric they’ve been churning out for almost half a century. Don’t they realise the union is a non issue, and their harping on about it is just a pathetic lazy excuse not to imagine and realise/formulate and implement independent initiatives. Grow up, Peter.

    I give it an F for Fail.

  • iluvni

    When Robinson appears on TV these days, surely I’m not the only one who wonders why this discredited busted flush is still ‘First Minister’?
    He should be out of that job a year ago.

  • rappoe

    I see Peter Robinson in his essay say NI is:

    “an integral and vital part of the Kingdom”.

    Is anyone else fed up of hearing this rubbish?

    NI is not integral in any way with the rest of the UK. Largely thanks. to Unionists
    The province is percieved as a place very much apart owing to the
    Young earth creationist, global warming denying, gay bashing and
    Annual sectarian marching ‘culture’ we enjoy here. What it is to be
    British in Britain bear almost no resemblance to the ‘Britishness’ espouced in
    The province.

    Also could someone explain what is ‘vital’ about NI to the rest of the UK?

    What exactly is literally vital?

    Unionism needs to wake up from fantasy land and smell the coffee

  • Cynic

    “The Unions completely safe ….but only if we keep them Taigs in their place ‘cos you cant trust them, you know. Vote for me”

  • Rocketeer

    If Peter Robinson is working hard and responsibly for our country and doing a good job in partnership with Martin McGuinness – ensuring the successful devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont – then why on earth should he leave his job? Objectively speaking, the man is one of the most gifted politicians of his generation, to lose such a talented man would be a tremendous loss for Northern Ireland.

  • Rocketeer

    You really are a cynic….

  • Dr Concitor

    He appears not to appreciated any more in E. Belfast if the results of the last election are anything to go by. Prophet in his own land kind of thing I suppose.

  • Cynic

    or realist

  • Alias

    Good administration can only be provided in a consociational mandatory coalition if all parties are equally capable of providing good administration. And if all parties are equally capable of providing good administration then it doesn’t matter which party you vote for, so that it not a valid argument to persuade people to vote for the DUP in preference to PSF or the UUP.

    It is of course nonsense to claim that the DUP will provide good administration since they have no control over which parties form the administration. At most they can claim to be capable of providing good administration in whichever departments they hold but that even this promise is qualified by the formal outworking of consociationism and that it may not be possible to provide the good administration that they claim they are capable of providing.

    Pure farce…

  • Whilst Peter Robinson may be being a bit Delphic, Brian Walker is simply being what he is: a rather pathetic, completely detached from the scene ultra liberal guilty Prod. About the only bit of relevance in his argument is the “Perhaps someone closer to the scene…” About right Brian you are out of touch, out of ideas and out of relevance. Still you can tell a few lies, make up some nonsense and in your own semi literate way produce a few half baked ideas. Calling you Delphic would be too polite: incoherent might be better.

  • Pete Baker


    Play the ball not the man.

  • Pete,
    Walker said Perhaps someone closer to the scene; I was merely answering him. I thought that was what the comments section was for: playing the ball. Walker asked I answered.

  • Pete Baker


    You were playing the man.

    You did not address the ball whatsoever.

    If you can’t see that then you should step away from the keyboard…

  • Alias

    Robinson is advocating the form of unionism that Trimble advocated, so just as PSF dressed itself in the SDLP’s clothes so too is the DUP running the tailor’s tape over the UUP’s ‘progressive’ clothes.

    Typically, he is being more cautious in his approach, and this article is essentially a turn signal way ahead of time. He intends to learn from Paisley’s mistake and take the party’s supporters with him this time by preparing the ground in advance.

    The key line is “A political party will no more succeed if it abandons its traditional support than it will if it fails to adapt to the evolving nature of society.” There is not much to argue with in that cautious approach or in the diluted form of civic unionism that he talking about.

  • Dr Concitor

    TUV man eh Turgon. You are resorting to the bully boy tactics that have been the hallmark of the Neanderthal wing of Unionism for as long as I can remember.

  • Dr Concitor,
    Well criticising someone on an internet debating forum is hardly “bully boys tactics” and you throwing terms like Neanderthal about as insults is hardly playing the ball.

    However, it is worth pointing out that the play the ball rule has problems. I accept that my criticism of Walker was only in part to his blog: though he did specifically invite such with his first line. However, the fact remains that Walker has repeatedly told lies about me. Now pointing that out is perceived as playing the man in some quarters. I call it calling Walker to account and pointing out for anyone who might be interested that far from being an objective professional journalist he has nowadays descended rather a long way.

    I will step away from the keyboard as and when I see fit. I never saw you criticising Walker when he told lies about me.

  • Brian Walker

    Alias I accept your essential point especially the need to take traditional support with him. The fates of Faulkner, Trimble and to some extent Paisley hang over Peter greatly, I’m sure. He will want to avoid turning the election into a bitter battle for First Minister, particularly as he might lose it. He is in something of a quandary about how to approach it – bang the drum or widen the appeal?

    Once, not long ago, nobody would even have bothered to ask that question. It was a no brainer.

    But now what does traditional support want and is it the force it used to be?

    There is a paradox here. Unionist parties rejected their leaders but accepted their legacy, albeit somewhat grudgingly. Powersharing happened after a 35 year resistance.

    Conventional wisdom says reform ideas only lose unionist votes. But banging the drum hard no longer seems to increase party support or unionist turnout. On the other side,visionary unity rhetoric from SF will hardly convince their voters and will only expose a flank to the dissidents who will deride them for it. SF are in some difficulty as they appear to have reached the end of a long cycle of tactical victories.

    The need for new ideas has been exposed by the realities of powersharing and the Agreements. Perhaps the voters have noticed?

    Peter can take his share of credit for powersharing and follow the logic towards more and better consensual government. To attract UUs he might be better to play down the much exagerrated claims that the DUP did much better than Trimble.

    To move government on, both sides need to improve delivery somewhere. Could it be on problem solving over interfaces, communities and parades? Can they win small victories to modify the cuts and share the credit? Sort out secondary education together?

    Above all, could they deliver a great prize, and come to an agreement on smaller, fitter government and the reform of public administration?

    I don’t see much of a debate in these strategic terms anywhere.

    Similar, parallel appeals to their respective constituencies might have an important marginal appeal at an awkward juncture next year.

    Or will they all head for the default positions behind the tribal walls for the election, believing that they dare not move an inch until after next May?

    I can see why Peter is unsure – but then he is a leader and
    he’ needs to find some messages clearer than this. And time is quite short.

  • Comrade Stalin

    And there was me thinking that Ulster Unionist policy on Newtownabbey Borough Council was a secret.