Robinson: “We must not allow ourselves to be defined by the problems we face but by the opportunities that we have…”

I guess the party formerly known as the ‘kings of messaging’ would lose some of their narrative touch after six years in government. Yet some of the DUP party leader’s speech is worth highlighting… Starting with, erm, ‘things are not as bad as they may seem…”

Real progress is being made. We sometimes need to lift our gaze from the close and immediate and fix our eyes on a longer and wider horizon to see just how much and how far our Province has progressed.

There is also a danger that we grow complacent about what has been achieved.

It is easy to take for granted the level of peace and stability we have won, but this past year, we have also seen the consequences, as a community, of stumbling, even for a short while.

The harsh reality is that, for us, there is no such thing as a world where the difficult decisions can be left to others or that we can transform our society without the discomfort of listening to our opponents carping and criticising.

Nobody should be misled. The fallout from failure is conflict. That’s the history of the past and a warning for the future. We ignore it at our peril.

I want to see a better Northern Ireland, but I continue to believe that the traditions that make up our community are interdependent. If we are to move forward, we must move forward together.

He may believe that, and he may believe it sincerely, but it’s a struggle to see what the concrete product of that belief amounts to (apart from avoidance of war)… But as for the story on the unionist side of things, Mr Robinson’s record of consolidation is rarely if ever acknowledged in the MSM:

History will record that the election in November 2003 was the pivotal moment for unionism. On that cold autumn day voters went to the polls to signal the start of a new era. The DUP was mandated to bring about change. To stand firm when needed but to make progress when opportunities arose.

For the first time ever in a Stormont election the DUP emerged as Northern Ireland’s largest party and the authentic voice of 21st century unionism.

Just five years earlier as we filed out of the Kings Hall, our political obituary was being written. Yet in 2003, against all the odds, we emerged 3 Assembly seats ahead of the Ulster Unionist Party.

There were those who said that this result was a one off, a flash in the pan, and that before long the natural order in local politics would return. They said that holding 3 Assembly seats more than the Ulster Unionist Party wouldn’t last. And, you know, they were right. Because today we hold 25 Assembly seats more than the Ulster Unionist Party!

And to keep the older crew happy, there’s this wee dig at his new BFFs in SF:

But, Mr Chairman, I almost feel that I no longer need to make the case for Stormont – because those who once claimed to be “unalterably opposed to its nefarious existence” are now part of the furniture – pleased as punch to be there – they love it so much you couldn’t prise them out with a crowbar.

Then there’s a long shopping list of figures and claims, which noteably include the achievements of Ministers in other parties, although there is no name check for Stephen Farry increasing the student body.

There is one, however for Danny Kennedy. And Mr Robinson does a passable impression of a big cat playing with the UUP mouse:

With the further fracturing of the Ulster Unionist Party in the last twelve months and the emergence of yet another breakaway unionist party there are those who suggest that we should run a second candidate for Europe. They argue that with the Ulster Unionists on 10% in the last opinion poll they can’t secure the second seat for unionism.

We won’t take a final decision on this until the New Year. When we do it’ll be on the basis of what’s right for unionism, not just what’s right for the DUP. That’s something Lord Bannside instilled in us – it’s how this party has always operated.

I believe that unionism is strongest when it stands together, not against anyone but in defence of our shared beliefs. I don’t believe in false unity, but nor do I believe in creating division for its own sake.

We worked well with other unionists in the Mid Ulster by-election as we do on many councils. I also believe we work well with Danny Kennedy on the Executive.

That doesn’t mean that Danny votes with us on everything. Of almost one thousand decisions taken since the last election Danny has voted against us on only one Executive paper – recorded a disagreement once – and abstained just once. That’s better than a 99% record of support. I’m sure Mike wishes that all his party colleagues were as loyal to him!

Ouch!

Though, this is interesting at the end. Not least because he offers a glancing critique of his partners in OFMdFM…

We must not allow ourselves to be defined by the problems we face but by the opportunities that we have. Above all we must not turn a struggle with the most obstinate and reactionary forces within republicanism into a conflict with the broader Catholic or even nationalist community.

Does anyone believe that Sinn Fein adds to its support base by its glorification and commemoration of terrorism?

I don’t believe they do. I believe they risk retreating back onto territory from which they will not grow or expand – playing to the lowest common denominator in the hope that hold on to bellicose and belligerent republican support.

But just as Sinn Fein will inhibit its own growth, so too will this party if we allow our agenda to be dominated by those who would wish us to re-fight battles we have already won.

Unionism is at its best when it is open and inviting, not narrow and exclusive.

The DUP have been wrong footed two summers in a row, finding themselves blindsided in tackling the flag crisis as an opportunity to defend the Union, and then getting crunched by a set of street protests the ferocity and associated violence of which Mr R appeared not to have anticipated.

It was a classic case of getting crunched whilst ball watching, rather than keeping your eye on the wider game. He will need to find an answer to those bad periods of play beyond blaming the Parades Commission.

When the self named ‘responsible party of government’ goes on the lam we’ve seen there are no grown ups left to look after the farm.

That said, I don’t think he’s wrong about the likely corollary of SF’s own, at times highly risky, positioning over the last year.

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  • cynic2

    Pete glosses over the fact that yet again it was his party that marched the fleg protesters up the hill and then realsed there was no safe way down.

    Still most of them never vote so there is no real threat of a backlash within unionism.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Great speech, but hard to take seriously. The DUP have to stop this Jekyll & Hyde act of being reasonable for the big showpiece speeches and then acting to undermine the stability of the country outside of the conference hall.

    cynic, the DUP would not support the fleg protests and the Twaddell march business if they thought they would lose votes from it. I’m not saying their calculations are correct; but clearly their internal strategists think that they need to be behind these folks.

  • “It was a classic case of getting crunched whilst ball watching, rather than keeping your eye on the wider game.”

    Alan, the DUP had no control over the SF’s and SDLP’s decision to unfly the flag and none of these have any control over the NIO Parades Commission’s arbitrary decisions. The wider game is about unionism’s desire to retain NI’s membership of the UK and nationalism’s to terminate it.

  • Charles_Gould

    Very, very well delivered speech. Electrifying for the audience. Claiming much achievement for the DUP. Very positive and up-beat messages.

  • Charles_Gould

    Those posters and commentators on Slugger O’Toole, who wish to view the speech, may do so at the following website:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03jq2c1/Democratic_Unionist_Party_Conference_2013_23_11_2013/

  • Morpheus

    Mick, any truth that Dodds had The Famine Song for his entrance music?

    “Does anyone believe that Sinn Fein adds to its support base by its glorification and commemoration of terrorism?”

    I don’t believe that this the purpose of the commemorations. The purpose, which does increase their support, is that they are consistently able to highlight the gross hypocrisy of political unionism. With ease SF made idiots of senior politicians like Foster, Dodds, Donaldson who were swift in their condemnation of Castlederg but when quizzed about the exact mirror image parade in Coleraine or Brian Robinson’s annual parade they looked like village idiots as they mumbled that they didn’t know anything about them but still refused to condemn them with the same ferocity.

    We have waited a year for the DUP to condemn the protests that they started in the first place with their cowardly, disgusting leaflet.

  • Sp12

    “Mick, any truth that Dodds had The Famine Song for his entrance music?”

    I think that was a LAD piss-take on account of Dodsie being all to willing to march along with a band playing it last week.

    As for DUP, they’ve clearly added spontaneous generation to the list of backward ‘scientific’ theories they can hang their sashes on.

  • Morpheus

    Fair nuff SP12, thanks.

  • Charles_Gould

    So the purpose of Castlederg was to make points against the DUP? Is that supposed to be better?

  • Morpheus

    To me the point of Castlederg was to hold a mirror up just in time for the Haass talks CG. How can anyone retain even a smidgen of credibility when they come out with all guns blazing when there was a commemoration of Republicans who blew themselves up yet fail to condemn – even a little – a commemoration of Loyalists who blew themselves up? You never wonder why the events were EXACT mirror images of each other?

    You say it was a great speech. I haven’t watched it yet but was there an apology for the disgusting, cowardly leaflet? Was there an apology to The Alliance Party for the firebombs? Was there an apology to fellow politicians for the death threats? Was there an apology to the police officer who was nearly burned alive? Was there an apology to the people who got a criminal record? Was there any sign that they hold they hands up for their part in the last 12 months?

    I’m guessing no.

  • Charles_Gould

    Morph

    I would recommend using Alan In Belfast’s audioboo rather than the BBC’s IPlayer, as the latter cuts off before the end.

  • Morpheus

    I will.

    Was I right?

  • sherdy

    Were Pete and Nige speaking on the same platform for the same party?
    They sounded like two strangers talking to two diametrically opposed audiences on totally different subjects.
    Unity like that reminds me of the UUP.

  • Charles_Gould

    Morph he didn’t say the things you asked about. It was an unapologetic speech.

  • Morpheus

    You OK with that?

  • Charles_Gould

    To be fair he did say that the flag violence was both morally wrong and counterproductive.

  • I am reminded of a guy that I casually played golf with in Ireland many years ago. I asked him what he did. He said that he retired early because he couldn’t stand all the talking behind his back. I persisted and he said that he had been a school bus driver.
    It must be hard for Robinson to drive the DUP bus with those behind him offering different directions on which way to go.

  • Charles_Gould

    One of the things that people have commented on is: no Sammy Wilson speech this year. His wings clipped?

  • Morpheus

    The same flag violence which he fueled, perpetrated by the people he fired up while he sat back in his ivory tower and watched in silence?

    And for what? So he or one of his cronies gets a seat/salary/pension? Very commendable.

  • Sp12

    “To be fair he did say that the flag violence was both morally wrong and counterproductive.”

    Well, that’s leadership ‘Unionist’ style for you.
    Stay sweet FA after winding the WKD swigging proles up and then condemn them a year later.

  • Barney

    Nevin wrote

    The wider game is about unionism’s desire to retain NI’s membership of the UK and nationalism’s to terminate it.

    Well today truly must be a day for revelations…….

  • Mick Fealty

    For those who have not heard or read the whole speech, my apologies if my shortened summaries gave you the impression that Mr R did not cover your plum issues:

    Here’s the bit on the flegs dispute:

    One of the greatest tragedies over this last year is how legitimate protests descended into violence and economic destruction. This simply damaged the cause and tarnished the image of Northern Ireland.

    Most unionists were appalled by the flags decision in Belfast but they were also disgusted by the attacks on the police. It was not only morally wrong, it was self-evidently counter-productive. Support drained away from a genuinely good cause when the trouble started. Those who orchestrated the violence sabotaged a sound and just cause.

    Protests are valid and legitimate in any truly democratic society – violence and law-breaking are not.

    It’s always easy to point out the faults and flaws of our political opponents, but how often do we really ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to create a better future for everyone who lives here. No one knows better than me that this is not easy in the heat of battle or debate.

    Increasingly in the decades ahead the direction of the Province will be determined not on the basis of the labels of the past, but by what will provide the best future for its citizens.

    That is territory on which we should have a massive advantage. It’s clear from every recent survey and opinion poll that republicans have lost the constitutional battle for the hearts and minds even of their own community. Yet there is a real threat that we could lose our focus and perspective.

    We must not allow ourselves to be defined by the problems we face but by the opportunities that we have. Above all we must not turn a struggle with the most obstinate and reactionary forces within republicanism into a conflict with the broader Catholic or even nationalist community.

    Does anyone believe that Sinn Fein adds to its support base by its glorification and commemoration of terrorism? I don’t believe they do. I believe they risk retreating back onto territory from which they will not grow or expand – playing to the lowest common denominator in the hope that hold on to bellicose and belligerent republican support.

    But just as Sinn Fein will inhibit its own growth, so too will this party if we allow our agenda to be dominated by those who would wish us to re-fight battles we have already won.[emphasis added]

    Sound enough. But narrative needs physical legs, not just sentiment, if it is not to fall victim to the general problem in Northern Ireland, ie, a bad dose of Homeric shadow play and political pyschosis.

  • Morpheus

    Two yellow cards??? For what? Daring to question the DUP on Slugger?

  • Morpheus

    I can’t believe this. I got not 1 but 2 yellow cards for questioning the DUP on Slugger in a polite conversation with Charles!!! My comments were on topic, contained no personal insults, contained no bad language, did not play any ‘man and perfectly within the rules.

    What happened to Slugger being a politically “heterogeneous” site? We can be diverse as long as it is not anti-DUP, is that it?

  • Mick Fealty

    Questioning the DUP? Have you read my post/last comment?

    The second one was probably a bit harsh, but short hand blasts like that signal to others they can forget their brains again and clip straight to the simian stereotypes of working class Protestants so beloved of some commenters here on Slugger.

    Civil, reasoned and even blunt are all in. But the truth is you could have written that comment without even reading the snippets I put up, never mind listening to Alan’s recording of the whole speech.

    As I think I’ve said before, we all know what people feel about any given aspect of our politics and because a lot of us share any one feeling, its replication is convergent and, frankly, boring. I’ve always made it clear I’m interested in bring out what individuals think, which tends to be divergent and engaging.

    So no, I’m not protecting the DUP. I’m looking for cleaner, sharper, harder hits on them (and maybe some amplification of what their leader claims is a decent record of delivery).

    I hope that’s clear enough? If you want to continue much further can we do it by email please?

  • Charles_Gould

    I am somewhat disappointed that he didn’t talk about the need for integrated education this year.

  • sherdy

    Morph, – From what I read of Mick’s reasoning you were penalised for your perceived thoughts rather than your writings.
    Charles, – Possibly aptly for the season, Sammy has had his wings clipped, he has been frozen out, and is about to be stuffed in time for Christmas.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s interesting that Sammy was more or less unseen, compared with previous years where he is usually there as a warm-up act. Is he having a massive sulk for being removed as finance minister ?

  • Sp12

    “I can’t believe this. I got not 1 but 2 yellow cards for questioning the DUP on Slugger in a polite conversation with Charles!!! My comments were on topic, contained no personal insults, contained no bad language, did not play any ‘man and perfectly within the rules.”

    Mehh, I got one too, seems saying anything bad about drunken rioting fleggers is a nono, referring to nationalists as sheep is ok however, as proved numerous times by other.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick

    “you could have written that comment without even reading the snippets”

    After reading the snippets I did not spot anything “new”.

  • Charles_Gould

    I think what Mick is looking for in broad terms is an original analytical rather than a previosuly rehearsed emotional reaction to the speech, based on an analysis of his actual speech rather than on the writer’s previous opinion before the speech was made.

  • Sp12

    “I think what Mick is looking for in broad terms is an original analytical rather than a previosuly rehearsed emotional reaction to the speech, based on an analysis of his actual speech rather than on the writer’s previous opinion before the speech was made.”

    So put aside the actions/inactions of the past year and concentrate on the media friendly words his speech drafters came up with instead?
    Jesus Christ, and to think some people laughed at Americans for voting based on which presidential candidate they would like to have a pitcher of beer with.