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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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