So what did the Monday papers think of the DUP’s weekend conference in La Mon?
In an Irish Times opinion piece under the headline of “DUP leader’s subtle message of co-operation to end gridlock” Gerry Moriarty pulled out Peter Robinson’s statement – buried in his speech – about the need for the DUP and Sinn Fein to do business together.
There is still a bitter rump in the party that hates hearing that line but Robinson realised that, in the face of the current talks aimed at taking the North out of political gridlock, that message must be reinforced.
It is either that or Stormont collapses, although he didn’t spell it out in such graphic terms. And neither did the DUP leader overplay the theme of co-operation. But at least the 400 delegates would have exited the conference knowing somewhere in their subconscious that, strange and all as it might seem, the DUP and Sinn Féin are inextricably linked: they survive together or sink together.
… his was a tired routine on Saturday. If he has serious leadership ambitions “Sammy” needs to figure whether he is engaged in burlesque or politics. But that’s the way DUP conferences work: a subtle message weaved into a greater speech from the party leader while other speakers dug into the old enemy with toilet and fairy cake humour.
Maybe Sammy will pay attention to the Belfast Telegraph survey of DUP members at conference on Saturday?
While a surprisingly high percentage of members were happy that Peter Robinson leads the party into the 2016 Assembly election, if he was to stand down, Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster command support while Sammy Wilson is a non-runner. Perhaps less expected was the disconnect between strident party policy and whipped voting on abortion motions and delegates’ less-fixed thinking.
Should Peter Robinson lead the DUP into the 2016 Assembly election?
- 90% Yes
- 8% No
- 2% Don’t know
If Peter Robinson stepped down as leader of the DUP who would you pick to succeed him as leader?
- 50% Nigel Dodds
- 34% Arlene Foster
- 6% Sammy Wilson
- 0% Someone else
- 10% Don’t know
Should Northern Ireland’s abortion laws be relaxed to make it easier to obtain an abortion here; made more restrictive; or kept the way they are?
- 22% Relaxed
- 6% More-restrictive
- 72% Kept as they are
The Irish News front page led this morning with Gregory Campbell’s speech in which he reheated and further whipped his curry yoghurt stew mélange while wrapping it with his “toilet paper” comments about Sinn Fein’s wishlist for an Irish Language Act. Social media reaction included comment from Kyle Paisley, son of the late Lord Bannside.
The party’s East Derry representative has also faced backlash on social media from Kyle Paisley … who branded him “wry-mouthed” and a “liability”.
In his analysis piece, John Manley commented:
It may be standing up for Northern Ireland [the strapline for the conference] but its members take a very narrow view of what characterises the citizens.
Big business and big farmers notwithstanding, if you’re not a Christian, heterosexual, English-speaking unionist, it’s unlikely your interests are represented here …
Take the actions of the DUP’s dour clown prince Gregory Campbell, a man seeking to extend his triple-jobbing status as MLA, MP and daily Nolan Show contributor by assuming the role of culture war battering ram …
There’s a real prospect of the DUP increasing its influence in Westminster next year in a hung parliament but on the weekend’s evidence it is debatable whether it has the maturity to use that power responsibility in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
In the Belfast Telegraph, Adrian Rutherford brought reaction from Micheal O Duibh (chief executive of Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta, the body responsible for the promotion of Irish-medium schooling) who took part in a panel discussion at the DUP conference on Friday.
Mr O Duibh … said [Gregory’s] remarks were disrespectful …
“I gave a very warm céad míle fáilte to everybody and brought across a very strong, positive message that the Irish language and Irish medium education is there for any parent who chooses it for their child.
“To bring that positive message to the conference, and then the next day to hear the comments from Gregory Campbell felt very much like one step forward and two steps back.”
“In one way it was positive that I was invited to the conference,” he added. “In another way it gives me an understanding of how Gregory feels or what his position is on the language.
“When you hear the party leader talk about a shared future, I wonder how he, as leader, can talk about that shared future when his party colleague feels it is okay to comment on the language in this way.”
In the News Letter Sam McBride reported that “the DUP’s recent internal strife remained just beneath the surface throughout the conference” while noting “Jenny Palmer, the DUP councillor who has accused party colleague Stephen Brimstone of attempting to bully her (something he denies), did not seem to share the wild enthusiasm of most party members as Mr Robinson entered”.
He also picked up on Peter Robinson’s comments that the consultation around the DUP’s “bill to introduce a pension for ‘severely disabled victims of the terrorist campaign’” had finished. On Saturday the party leader underlined that “this bill will explicitly exclude terrorists from receiving this pension support”. Sam correctly noted:
Such a move would be politically tricky to get through Stormont, given that Sinn Fein would only have to persuade one SDLP member to sign a petition of concern to veto it. And, given that the current law makes no distinction between perpetrators and victims, it could also face legal hurdles even if it became law. However, if the DUP was to secure such a law, it would be a significant achievement for the party.
Sam’s opinion piece reckoned that “on the evidence of recent weeks and Saturday’s conference, the various factions have resolved to set aside their differences until after May’s General Election”. He concluded: “Mr Robinson has made no secret of his desire to leave on a high; his words increasingly suggest that he may see the chance to anoint a Prime Minister as such a moment”.
Liam Clarke summed up hard-line vibe at the conference:
All this marks a circling of the wagons by the DUP. If all the views expressed at the weekend are honoured, it is hard to see how any DUP leader can reach agreement with nationalists once the election campaign is over.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.