Lemmings, Icarus, and that dish best served chilled

The rumours of discontent within the usually closed ranks of the DUP spilled into the public domain in sensational manner with the latest intemperate outburst of party leader Peter Robinson this week. The identity of the lemmings has since been the source of much speculation, with The Irish News John Manley listing as the “core dissenters” the trio of Edwin Poots, Paul Givan (not Girvan) and Paul Frew- all suffering demotions in this week’s reshuffle. To this list, add Lord Morrow, who’s Nolan interview mentioned by Comrade Stalin in an earlier thread from Mick indicated a clear, ahem, lack of confidence in Robinson as leader. The Nolan team’s ‘High Noon’ audioboom is well worth a listen for an entertaining yet informative insight into the state of play within the DUP.

Of course, the House of Paisley, in mourning since the death of former party founder, Ian Paisley Snr, has a famously  strained relationship with the condescending ignoramus (to quote Kyle Paisley’s description of Robinson) who orchestrated the political coup which ousted the late Paisley Snr from the position of party leader. Manley cites DUP sources as suggesting that Paisley Jnr was “behind the briefing which fuelled summer speculation over Peter Robinson’s departure.”

Having decided to so publicly -and brutally- attack his internal critics in what The Belfast Telegraph editorial described as an “incredibly ill advised tactic”, Robinson has created a new problem: how to present a united front with an election on the horizon and amidst heightened expectations that his leadership era is drawing to a close.

Robinson now faces the not inconsiderable task as leader of going to the electorate and recommending people vote for party candidates he has so publicly demeaned as ‘lemmings.’ The purported lemming ring leader, Ian Paisley Jnr, will be announced as a candidate in the forthcoming Westminster elections, and the Robinson outburst is likely to prove grist to the mill of DUP opponents within unionism, who will seize upon it to highlight the now publicly visible divisions within the lead unionist party.

Ahead of that election, the other main unionist parties are once again jockeying for position on the well-trodden and crowded ground of the Unionist Right. The spectacle of ‘liberal’ Ulster Unionist Party councillor, Alex Redpath, joining loyalists at Camp Twaddell yesterday to make the weekly ‘let them home’ address, demanding a parade inquiry lest another parade route be eternally lost to Protestants illustrates just how far from the centre ground political unionism remains (and it was touching to see in the backdrop the Protestant Coalition’s Bill Hill on hand with the PUP’s Billy Hutchinson to give Alex some support. I’m sure he appreciated it.)

This is important as it will have the effect of ensuring that the battle for unionist votes focuses on personal as opposed to political divisions. That will benefit those seeking to make electoral hay out of emerging DUP divisions in the time ahead.

Could it be that The House of Paisley has determined that the time for Icarus’ ignoble descent has arrived?


  • Bryan Magee

    I think Alex Redpath would be a good choice for the UUP in the Lagan Valley constituency for 2015 Westminster and 2016 Assembly Elections.

  • Michael Henry

    A Lemmon a day keep’s the Doctor Paisleys voters away-

    The Paisley memorial ( invite only ) will soon be taking place- interesting to see who in the DUP will be invited and who in the DUP will not be invited-

    The Unionist Right are in the wrong again-

  • Comrade Stalin

    Discord between Robinson and Paisley goes back a long time. These are two men who knew they needed each other, but nothing more; the relationship was strictly business.

    I think the problems started back at the time of Robinson’s Clontibret incident, an effort by Robinson to increase his own public profile. It seems that Paisley advised against the idea, but when Robinson went ahead anyway, Paisley got himself offside, apparently knowing that the foray into the Republic would be a political and PR disaster. I suspect Robinson never forgave him for this, and some time later, when Robinson and Harold McCusker of the UUP recommended a change in direction for unionism in 1987, Paisley’s rejection of his proposals led to his resignation as deputy leader of the DUP. The proposals were eminently sound – that Unionism must acknowledge that it has lost ground since the 1960s (a veiled excoration of the tactics of Paisleyism?) and that it must consider a different strategy – chiefly powersharing with nationalists – as a means to preserve the union.

    The relentless, perfectly pitched and sophisticated campaign against the Good Friday Agreement and the Ulster Unionist Party has Robinson’s stamp all over it, and the way that it translated into electoral success will have increased Robinson’s grip on the party. I am sure that by the time of the DUP’s triumphant elections in 2003 and 2005, Robinson was the de facto leader, and was now pressing for the party to enter government.

    Robinson knew that he needed Paisley to seal the deal, but as soon as it was done, a concerted campaign began to oust the Paisley dynasty. Whoever was behind this campaign knew that they could not hoodwink Paisley while his son was working in the same office, so someone – nobody knows who – passed information to the media showing various details of Ian Paisley Jnr’s dealings with developer Seymour Sweeney. This led to the resignation of Ian Paisley Jnr in February 2008. Without his son to keep an eye out for predators, the increasingly ailing Ian Paisley himself succumbed to the pressure and resigned a month later, in March 2008.

    I’ve no doubt that these tactics are what later led to Paisley’s attack on Robinson and Dodds shortly before his death.

    The problem for Ian Paisley Jnr is that I don’t think he has much of a base in the party. He doesn’t have the charisma or speaking skills of his father and I get the general impression that most of the DUP regard him as a bit of a prat, a young man promoted way beyond his skills on the basis of his surname.

    A while back I mentioned my memory of Jnr playing a tape of “God save the Queen” at the back of the Whitla Hall (during his graduation from QUB in protest at the university’s decision to replace it, and the RUC band, with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy during the mid 1990s) to a DUP activist once who told me that it felt cringe-makingly embarrassing and suggested that they had, unsuccessfully, tried to talk him out of it.

    In the 1990s Jnr had a run in with Sammy Wilson. Wilson was organizing an understanding to promote greater co-operation between the DUP and UUP in Belfast City Council. Ian Junior made a public comment that this move would damage the DUP and “cover up the ineptitude of the UUP”. Wilson scathingly commented in reply “Since no senior members of the party expressed any concern about the arrangements, it seems odd that someone so junior should take it upon himself to express his opposition in public before he has used the proper party channels to have this issue debated”. It is very hard to believe that Ian Jnr, then a 20-something with no electoral mandate of his own, would have spoken about this without the knowledge – and perhaps urging – of his father.

    I remain to be convinced that Paisley Jnr is capable of rallying support in the party by himself. The party needs him and the Paisley brand to win North Antrim against Jim Allister if they wish to hold the North Antrim seat and the prestige associated with it. On the other hand, someone like Robinson would be equally capable of calculating that sacrificing North Antrim and sending Allister to Westminster would be a useful way of blunting the TUV’s devastating effectiveness in the Assembly.

    However, it appears that Paisley Jnr’s aim of hurting Robinson means that he has common cause with others whose complaints are political, rather than personal. The stories in the press that Poots, in particular, opposed Robinson’s idea that talks could take place after elections suggests that those who are campaigning against him are plotting some sort of return to the failed Paisleyite tactics of boycott. Robinson is simply factually correct to observe that these are the tactics of a lemming; unionism has never gained by staying outside of talks. But it appears that Paisley’s death has catalyzed feeling in the party. If the party doesn’t arrest this problem it will be well on the way to a split before long – and the most immediate outcome of a split is the nomination of a Sinn Féin First Minister.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Most of the DUP Westminster seats are completely untouchable, and Lagan Valley is one of them. Wee Jeffrey works very hard for the constituency and is extremely popular.

    The only seat the UUP have a chance of is South Antrim. It’s not clear whether McCrea will run again. If he doesn’t I am sure the UUP will be considering a pact.

  • carl marks

    Certainly a divided DUP will more or less ensure that SF is the largest party after the next election.

    Unionists won’t tolerate this and will either refuse to form an assembly (result Joint rule with them having few friends in either government) or the forming of a pan unionist front, which considering the bad blood among unionists is hardly likely to be anything other than a fiasco!

    Ardoyne and the alliance formed between all unionist parties and the terror groups will be the flag they wrap around themselves, didn’t someone once say that” those who the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad” I’m thinking that Zeus has it in for them!

  • Bryan Magee

    The UUP indeed are too far behind in Lagan Valley to win for the Westminster seat, and Jeffrey Donaldon MP is indeed well regarded locally I concur. That does not mean though that Alex would not be a good candidate for Westminster and Stormont. And they need a replacement as candidate for Stormont, since Basil McCrea has departed.

  • Bryan Magee

    I wouldn’t rule out a major split up, but I think its unlikely. The obvious time for a change of leadership would seem to be autumn 2016. With elections coming up, this will put people off scoring any own-goals. I don’t see DUP losing too many votes in the Westminster elections and in fact they could well win East Belfast back.

  • npbinni

    Lemming, Michael, lemming!

  • npbinni

    Enjoyed the High Noon clip…

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d also say it’s unlikely, but it is the possibility being faced, and which Robinson was referring to with his “Lemmings” comment.

    I wouldn’t predict the DUP losing elections but there are tight situations. South Antrim would be vulnerable if the UUP ran a credible candidate. Up in North Antrim they have Jim Allister to deal with, and in North Belfast, Nigel Dodds’ antics mean that Gerry Kelly could attract tactical votes from soft nationalists who wish to teach him a lesson. The DUP’s electoral strategists would need to be careful they don’t ignore these risks while trying to regain East Belfast.

  • Gaygael

    I would agree with the thrust of your comments but I would think about upper bann also. Last assembly election uup only 1k behind the dup. And although I’m struggling to project the new council results onto upper bann, strong results and good vote management.
    They could have even punted a fourth in Banbridge.

  • Bryan Magee

    The UUP are happy with their candidates there, Doug Beattie, Colin McCusker, and Jo-Anne Dobson.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I imagine they’ll run McCusker for the family name thing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I see Alex has been cavorting at the pointless and doomed soapbox up at Twaddell, which must mean that he has ambitions to be selected somewhere.

    There is nothing more pathetic and depressing at the moment than witnessing a young UUPer ten years younger than me recycling the age-old Unionist tradition of pandering to loyalists extremeists to try to copperfasten his unionist credentials to get himself elected. A shameless and brazen display of sectarian manipulation.