Robinson is the key thinker in Northern Irish Unionism, but guided by what ambition?

Alex Kane devotes his News Letter column to an assay of Peter Robinson and his bid for legacy:

What Peter Robinson is selling is the DUP at the helm of a confident, peaceful, stable Northern Ireland. The perception he offers is that success is ultimately dependent upon a confident, growing DUP. He sells the prospect of increasing numbers of Roman Catholics buying into this perception. He sells the prospect of a shared future and sharing society being the natural consequence of his long term strategy, with the unnamed believers in a united Ireland being dismissed as a minority within a minority.’

Yet, not everything stacks up perfectly for the DUP leader:

The other factors which can’t be ignored are that Robinson still seems content with an us-and-them carve-up with Sinn Fein (knowing that a sectarian headcount remains the basis for elections); he has been unable to agree a ‘shared future’ strategy with them or even the SDLP; he has been unable to agree a Programme for Government which has a unique Northern Ireland agenda and vision; and he seems reasonably comfortable with the Executive being more about management and administration than being a normal, accountable, fully democratic government.

And he concludes:

Maintaining the DUP’s position as the lead party of unionism and the largest party in Northern Ireland is, of course, important to him: and it is possible that his recent set-piece, thinking-aloud speeches are simply geared to that one end. But he is now, for better or worse, the key thinker and prime mover within mainstream unionism, so I really do hope that he is guided by an ambition greater than that of the DUP’s self-interest.

  • ‘….so I really do hope he’s guided by an ambition greater than that of the DUP’s self interest’

    Of course he is. His own self interest.His outreach strategy consists of telling catholics to join him but on the understanding they’ll get nothing in return for leaving their aspirations behind. no concessions on marching and a simple ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

  • Mick Fealty

    This is where, I think, too many nationalists get it wrong. He’s not pitching as such, just making sure the door is kept open this time round. And it’s for Catholics rather than dyed in the wool political nationalists. There IS a difference.

    What I think Kane has picked up that is particularly worthy of note is that this is about Robinson’s legacy, not ambition. Unlike SF which has dedicated itself to acquiring power both sides of the border in order to create effective agency for itself, Robinson has no more political mountains to climb other than to recondition unionism for winning the peace…

    Making Northern Ireland work across the sectarian divide should help bed that in. But can he do it? Hard to imagine Catholics voting DUP anytime soon. Then again, I found it hard to imagine 2 never mind 3 DUP seats in North Down before the 2007 election.

    The thing is, that these ‘Catholic Unicorns’ don’t even have to vote for the DUP. They can continue to vote for the Alliance, the Greens or even begin voting for a Mike Nesbitt-led UUP. And in the meantime, sending his new generation politicians (and Bell is a good DUP example of a party fast track) to the Ard Fheiseanna of the Republic’s parties, sends it’s own signal that the Republic is no longer ‘quite foreign’, or to be feared.

    The trick is to dismantle the nationalist bogey man of ‘the Paisleyite party’, by building something more progressive and open in its place. Dismissing the recruiting sergeant if you like.

    That’s going to take more than a few pretty (if consistent) speeches, attending a few GAA matches, backing the local Hurling team, and decent succession planning. But at least we have some objective evidence that the strategy actually exists.

  • Drumlins Rock

    First think about Robinson, he was always part of a double act, he would have got no-where without the front man Paisley, and vice-versa it seems, the combination of party machine and charismatic leader kept them going, as did having a party disguised as a Church. He had been preparing the ground to go into government for years, dispite what the Doc said publicly the channels were always kept open, he wanted power.

    Always the tough guy who provided the bite to Paisleys bark he earned his Mr. Angry image pretty well, then he had his conversion to Mr.Nice Guy, when he realised the tough guy wasn’t gonna work as well against Marty, co-inciding with the media spotlight on his private life and dealings.

    Mr. Angry was reserved for the Snowmen, the public have been treated to Mr. Nice ever since, I don’t believe any of it. it is all tricks for the camera, can anyone show the substance behind the soft talk?

    All agreement at the top table is a secret deal between him and Marty, a tit bit to feed their own tribe without winding the others up too much. Maybe this is how coalitions have to work but so many bad decisions have been made, and even more have simply been burried.

    The play to the cameras might look good, but sure we know with the DUP that Never Never Never meant nothing, the tune might be different but the dance is the same.

  • Mick Fealty

    I agree, it is pretty poor fair:

    “All agreement at the top table is a secret deal between him and Marty, a tit bit to feed their own tribe without winding the others up too much.”

    But it underwrites the warm house for Catholics theme set by Trimble and later personified by the Chuckle Brothers (see this thread for possibly the first mention of chuckle in relation to these two)…

    As I’ve said several times, trying to guess the motivation of your opponents is not a good way of playing the Prisoners Dilemma scenario Northern Ireland finds itself in…

    And certainly, it is hard to judge actions when they are so circumscribed… But this extreme politician has been to watch a GAA match, and Mass long before any leader in the moderate UUP…

  • Drumlins Rock
  • tyrone_taggart

    “any leader in the moderate UUP”

    In what way was the UUP ever moderate?

  • Mick Fealty

    Thats the last war Drum. Nev I refer you to the year 1998.

  • Alanbrooke

    Of course Robinson could have done all the reconciliation bit 30 odd years ago, or immediately after GFA, but he didn’t. As ever it’s all about the DUP and control, the people of NI are but an afterthought.

  • “Nev I refer you to the year 1998.”

    Mistaken identity, Mick? I’ve not posted on this thread.

  • NeedNoAlibi

    By definition ‘leaders’ lead, they go ahead of their followers but they don’t go so far ahead that it makes it impossible for others to follow. Thirty years ago Republicans were killing and maiming on a regular basis (as we’re loyalist paramilitaries) so the environment was hardly conducive to ‘reconciliation’ for politicians with Robinson constituency. But as I referred to on another thread we can see the seeds of progressive thinking from Robinson i.e The Task Force with Harold McCusker, for which he temorarily resigned as DUP deputy leader.

    It would also appear that his personal difficulties have changed him but it would be more than disingenuous to complain about that.

  • Hard to know where Unionism is being led. With the Union safe, what is there left. Embedding, which as Mick says is bringing a comfort with the DUP/unionists for those not minded to be ‘nationalist’. Republicans have a much harder task in this regard to basically break it gently that this is as good as it will get – partition is here to stay.

    So then it is about good government from Stormont – and that really is the weak point that the broad post-conflict soundbite will cover only for so long. On the good Government argument it is the DUP that has most to answer for the impression of Stormont’s competence among the public. Though SF will struggle to justify what is all for when the adminstration so regularly screws up or is seen to be incapable of decision. The PfG just not good enough.

    Both lead parties in Government have their weaknesses, but to date little opposition that is capable of challenging the hubris and demanding good Government. That requires definition and policy….

  • carl marks

    This is where, I think, too many nationalists get it wrong. He’s not pitching as such, just making sure the door is kept open this time round. And it’s for Catholics rather than dyed in the wool political nationalists. There IS a difference.
    There is indeed a difference Mike, but the DUP’s relationship and closeness with groups that are by nature anti-Catholic not just anti- Nationalist makes it hard to see may unicorns giving their support to the party,

  • carl marks

    sorry in case of confusion my lt post was in reply to Mikes @ 4.50

  • John Anderson

    Robinson may not stand for election again, who knows. Dr Never has the ‘led my party into government’ legacy sewn up, so he naturally wants to be remembered for something else. In this case, the rebranding of his party as more friendly to a broader range of voters. All elected leaders are no different. Salmond sure knows what he wants his legacy to be. Obama does too but he needs to get re-elected before he can tell anyone. Most of all, you can bet that Nick Clegg wonders every day what can he possibly do that won’t leave him remembered as the leader who destroyed his party.

  • tacapall

    Peter Robinson like Martin McGuiness is acclimatising his people to the path he knows his people ie Unionists must travel for Unionism to survive in the future when the Catholic population will outnumber Protestants. Sinn Fein know that the Unionist people will never vote for a United Ireland that the Unionist identity can never be erased nor can the bond with Britain ever be broken. Unionists also know that the Catholic population will never reject their Irish identity, never let go of the bond we have to the 26 counties nor will our culture be erased. This outreaching by the DUP and Sinn Fein to their opposing support bases is an acceptance that what is to be achieved in the future cannot be achieved without both communities accepting that both identities are equal with the inevitable outcome being Joint Authority.

  • alan56

    PR has the sharpest strategic and tactical brain in NI politics. His motivation is however much harder to read. Difficulties in his personal life and working with nationalist/republicans may have mellowed him. Its very hard to know what he is really like as a person and difficult to judge his motivation. Supremacy for the DUP or a new vision of settled, softer unionism?

  • OneNI

    ‘sharpest strategic and tactical brain’ my *rse! He and the DUP and their narrow minded Ulster Protestant centric so called Unionism are the greatest threat to the Union.
    As much of the rest of Northern Ireland society seeks to ‘normalise’ the divisive zero sum politics of the DUP/SF marks NI out as odd and apparently dooms us to perpetual political limbo with them in power for ever.
    Anti democratic to its core.
    The idea of true reconcilation with parties like the DUP and SF in power is impossible. You can only join if you accept their rational of perpetual political divison about the Union.
    Without that what is the DUP? Nothing. SF likewise.
    Robinson a thinker? – slow learner at best

  • OneNI

    Tapacall – Joint Authority? Is that were the UK takes responsibility for bailing out/governing the Republic as well as NI?

  • Drumlins Rock

    “I really do hope that he is guided by an ambition greater than that of the DUP’s self-interest.”

    Ok Alex, lets look at one issue and see if this is true, Unionist Unity, it is believed Peter is in favour of a single Unionist Party, there is a slim posibility this might save Gregory’s ass in the new Glenshane, otherwise it would almost certainly lead to electoral losses, in the new FST (going by example set by the unity candidate) the third seat would be at big risk, in other areas votes would drift off to the Alliance and independants. Candidates would become complacent, allowing the vote to slip. If there is a scandal nationally or locally then the voter won’t have an alternative choice, staying at home instead, all these things make Unionist Unity bad for the Union. But it would strengthen Peter & the DUP in the short term, so that one issue alone answers your question, self-interest rules.

  • antamadan

    Tyrone Taggard: Fáilte arais I missed both you and Gaeilge Gan Náire.
    (Failte arais =welcome back)

  • tacapall

    OneNI you are deluded if you believe the status quo will remain for ever and its only a matter of time before Unionism see’s this in the cold light of day and realises there is no other path for them. Britain will look after its own best interests regardless of what the PUL community want as I’m sure you are aware.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Taca, 100 yrs ago there were many nationalists saying the same thing, 200 yrs ago, 300 yrs ago. Of course the status quo will change, it always does, but not always evoloutionary but the occasionally revoloution occurs too. We can’t guess the latter but going by the former although some indicators favour the nationalist view, most have now swung in favour of the Union. Taking that for granted is the big risk and making the unicorns real is the big challenge.

  • tacapall

    DR there are no catholic unicorns that wish to keep the union on Unionist or British terms. At this point in time the financial benefits of the union outweighs all else but this will not always be the case as there’s no such thing as an unlimited purse. Britain cannot and will not indefinitely over subsidise an area of land that returns nothing for its investments other than a continuous drain on its resources all for the sake of keeping a watch tower at its back door. It suits Britains interests to share the costs keep the inhabitants happy and still keep the watch tower.

  • carl marks

    Drumlins Rock.
    I agree, Unionist unity would be a disaster for unionism as nationalist unity would be a disaster for nationalism. The concept that either of the two community’s are defined purely by the stand they take on the border, ignores the social and political differences within that group and will lead to compromise candidates who in many cases will be the lowest common denominator.

  • Mick Fealty


    You’re completely wrong about that. One of them, a businessman, even stood for the Tories in the last council elections. And he’s far from alone either. I’m pretty sure I know some of the 350 odd who vote SF in North Down too.

    Do you really think this is all pure window dressing? SF fishing for votes in working class loyalist areas, the DUP trying to open up to Catholic conservatives? Parties like that do not spend time and resources for no good reason.

    Sinn Fein has the same problem, only in reverse. Unionism possesses the object of desire, and therefore have 9/10s of the strategic advantage. It’s not the legacy of the war that will prevent a sizeable number of Catholics biting, it will be the uncertainty (and the fact they will have to start paying for the NHS, may cause more default in the SF base, than the more comfortable SDLP base).

    It’s the friendly war that needs to happen if the peace is to be truly transformative. It’s also a sensible tactic in a space that can only become more pluralist as the threat of physical violence subsides.

  • Alex Kane

    Hi DR (re April 3, 9.41pm):

    I’m not actually convinced that Robinson does, in fact, want a single Unionist Party. He obviously wants the DUP to be THE party of choice for the pro-Union electorate: but then that’s more or less what Mike said in his speech on Saturday.

    Nor do I think he has any difficulty with a pro-Union rival,because it allows the electorate to make a different type of choice than it would if there was a single Unionist Party. Let’s face it, part of the DUP’s success can be attributed to the constant state of confusion, chaos and mixed message within the UUP.

    Problems for the DUP may arise in a few years time if:

    a) He stands down and his successor doesn’t have the same control of the party he has;

    b) Mike does manage to turn the UUP into a credible alternative to the DUP in the eyes of a very substantial number of voters and non-voters.

    c) There is evidence of grassroots DUP discomfort with the direction in which Robinson ‘seems’ to be wanting to take the party.

    *Readers should feel free to add to that list, by the way.

    I think what I’m really saying about Robinson is that he plans ahead; he stakes out territory for the future; he positions the party. That’s what a good leader does. Indeed, that’s the primary task of a leader.

    I’m sure you were very happy with Saturday’s result.

    Anyway, regards and best wishes,


  • Mick Fealty

    Spot on Alex! As I think Chris has said, have some competition inside your own larger political interest helps hugely to expand your wider appeal.

    Falling participation rates is a problem for both traditions, but disproportionately for Nationalism since the advantage it has always enjoyed is likely to suffer from the lack of competition (and thus voter motivation) outside the big FST set pieces, will do nothing to offset the longer term trends.

  • tacapall

    Mick were you addressing your 10.26 comment at me as Im not really sure what you’re saying. Anyhow fishing for votes from your opponents support base for future elections is not the same as getting those same people to support your views in any future border poll, its like trying to put a square peg in a round hole

  • ForkHandles

    “Catholic population will never reject their Irish identity, never let go of the bond we have to the 26 counties nor will our culture be erased.”

    But Tacapall, everyone in NI is equally Irish and has an Irish identity, and also a British identity ofcourse, yes even you!! It really gets on my nerves when people try and portray being from NI as not being Irish. Its geographically impossible! That sort of thing is so out of date these days….
    As for a bond with the 26 counties, almost everyone in NI was born and raised in NI. We don’t have any bond with the 26 counties, or the Republic of Ireland as people there may prefer to call it , for almost 100 years… 🙂 Cultural and sporting ties you say??? So you would agree that the biggest bond that people in the ROI have is with a certain part of Glasgow, judging by the football tops people wear !
    Nobody is erasing any culture, really you are just trying to be dramatic here. If anything isn’t Irish language, Gaelic games and traditional music thriving these days? My niece did Irish dancing classes in the past, also hip hop dancing classes which may be more popular with kids these days!

  • ForkHandles

    good night!

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    It’s surely up to each individual to decide whether they want to call themselves Irish or not? It’s something of a loaded term, as it suggests an identification with the whole island that many simply do not feel.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Thanks for getting back Alex,

    Even I was surprised by the size Saturdays vote, I predicted 70/30 on here, wihch I think was prob about right at the time, I think a 10% swing on the floor was likely enough, and although this sounds cheesy John was treated very much as the runner-up not the loser. What I was most interested in was Mikes talk of getting rid of the silo’s, MLAs, constituency staff, councillors, MEP office etc. and the boring internal stuff, Tom had started some good work in that area but I hope Mike pushes it further.

    The mess we make of things has always been to the DUPs advantage, have heard that on the door steps time and again, although I always have got the feeling its not a level playing field with regards the media, but its almost impossible to deal with that one.

    As you have said, the law of gravity will eventually come into play, what goes up must come down, however the reverse does not apply, and Mike still has his work cut out to get the party in shape, although Tom has did far more groundwork than most have gave him credit for even in the party, I think Mike for one knows that and his praise was genuine.

    Back to our main rival, how long do you think he is planning to hold on to the role for? I would guess another two elections, he has waited a long time to get there, but that would be pushing anyone sell by date in the modern world, maybe more details from files will emerge yet!

  • ForkHandles

    MU, If you are from somewhere in Ireland, the ROI or NI then you come under the umbrella term “Irish”, im not talking about nationality here. There is nothing to think about or choose. If you are from NI then you are Northern Irish and British nationality. Im from NI and am a British national. I have no interest in being part of the ROI, i used to live there and know what its like and i dont associate with its ‘identity’. That doesnt mean that im not an Irish person. Its geographically where im from and cant be any other way. Im also geographically from NI and the UK and this cant be any other way, there is no feeling one way or another about these things as seems to be common on slugger discussions.

  • tacapall

    Forkhandles no-one said anyone wasn’t Irish nor did I say anyone was trying to actually erase anyone’s culture I was suggesting both traditions cultures and identities will not disappear with the passage of time.

    “As for a bond with the 26 counties, almost everyone in NI was born and raised in NI. We don’t have any bond with the 26 counties, or the Republic of Ireland as people there may prefer to call it , for almost 100 years”

    The above attitude lies the problem, you telling me I have no link or bond to the 26 counties. A denial of democracy and the free will of the vast majority of the people of Ireland for a 100 years wont make those who identify themselves as Irish with an Irish identity in the 6 counties British as you claim. Just because Orangemen have a historical link with some Dutch prince who fought for their religion doesn’t make them also Dutch.

    I have no link nor loyalty to Britain nor do I identify myself as British, you do and I have no problem with that, the problem to me lies in the equal playing field. If old animosities are to be set aside just like Mrs Windsor suggested when she visited Ireland recently and the wrongs of the past are to be rectified, where both traditions and identities in the six counties can work to persuade each other in a peaceful and democratic fashion the benefits of keeping the link with Britain or not must be done in an equal playing field ie joint authority at the very least. This way democracy will be restored and the Irish people whether you identify yourself as British or not can decide the future on an equal par.

  • Drumlins Rock

    this is my view on it, I know we are going off thread into old teritory but think at this stage Mick won’t mind. There are at least four diffierent ways to use the labels British & Irish, the first two are mainly black and white, the last two are a little more subjective.
    The legal one – ie. the Nation or Nations you are a legal citizen off.
    The Geographic one -ie. the piece of land on which you were born or are a resident off
    The Ethnic one – ie. where your ancestors came from or group they belonged to
    The Cultural one – ie. the language, activities, traditions and social interations we use

    Legally everyone born in Northern Ireland is British (the children of foreign nationals may be an exception). It is conferred autmatically at birth as no-one should be stateless, it can be given up but probably not if you remain resident. Almost uniquely for Northern Ireland you can also CHOOSE to have dual Irish Nationality, the entitlement is automatic if born in NI, but you don’t become a legal Irish Citizen untill you apply, usually for an Irish passport.

    Geographically everyone born or living on the island(s) of Ireland is Irish, simples, also everyone born or living in the British Isles is British, that too is simple, there is a petty attempt to change geography using British & Irish Isles, Atlantic Isles, etc, but the names has existed for thousands of years, the geography hasn’t change, so the name should remain.

    Now for the greyer areas!

    Ethnically – Surnames are usually the best indicator if your names is of Irish origin, or Scottish, English, Welsh, Norman etc. DNA is starting to throw up interesting data, but there are many grey areas with everyone being a mix of some sort.

    Culturally – If you speak English or Gealic, Scots or Welsh, or even the dialect and accent you use, how you greet people, sense of humour, preferred music, dance and reading material, these difference are much more subtle and harder to label, borders do make a difference on land or sea, but because they changed so often the lines are never simple.

    As for myself, Legally I’m British as I was born in the UK, but I am also Irish as I have obtained an Irish passport, however I primarily reside in the UK so it takes precedence.
    Geographically I am obivously both Irish & British.
    Ethnically, of the almost twenty family names I have researched are most are Scots, a few it seems are Northern England, one is French, but none I am aware of are traditionally Irish.
    Culturally, I speak English with a strong South Tyrone accent,and identify with a culture that is a blend of English, Irish & Scots, when travelling I feel more at home in the company of Scots than southern Irish, with the English it depends on the region! I love radio 4, and I feel more like a foreigner in Dublin than London.

    So I guess like almost all of us I am a blend of both Irish & British, the mix might be a bit different but why should any of us have to give it up? Accept who you are is a mix, focus if you want on part of your identity, but don’t pretend the other dosn’t exist at all no matter what your background.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Taca, one more point,
    “This way democracy will be restored and the Irish people whether you identify yourself as British or not can decide the future on an equal par.”

    The overwhelming majority of Irish people, North and South, voting in a constitutionally binding referendum concurrently, in both juristicitons, agreed NI would remain part of the UK until such times as the majority there voted otherwise in a referendum. That is the position for the forseeable future, do you accept that remains the democratic will of the Irish people freely expressed?

  • tacapall

    DR you obviously have no problems, like myself by the way, of the identities and cultures of others who share this space of land with you. Where the problems lies is to who each identity gives their loyalty to and who they desire to be governed by. I have an Irish name that goes back generations my kin have sacrificed their lives and their family lands resisting British rule for 100s of years. I also hold an Irish passport I’m not a fluent Gaelic speaker but I can understand most of the time although that is irrelevant. You claim I have also a British identity I would not agree for this was imposed on myself and the people of Ireland, its like telling the Palestinians they’re Israelis.