If you predict something for long enough and often enough, it eventually comes true. Having piloted his party through the latest crisis, Peter Robinson is calling it a day.
He denies it is health related, and that’s probably to an extent. It’s thought he’s been intending to go for some time, but with each new ‘crisis’ he’s been thought to have felt hauled back in.
He is the DUP’s second leader in its 45 year history, and a key influencer for most that time. The ‘End to Drift‘ document which he co-authored with Harold McCusker and Frank Millar laid out lines that he was use to pilot the DUP into its current position in mainstream of NI politics.
It is a significant departure, and leaves Sinn Fein as the only political party in NI still retaining its ‘wartime’ leadership.
By far the most outstanding valedictory to such a cold political fish came from Newton Emerson a few weeks ago:
Once he decides to do a deal with Sinn Fein, he jumps in with both feet. His rows with republicans are invariably about deals he feels have been broken, after which he can fake friendliness towards Martin McGuinness almost better than he can fake it with anyone.
It must help that Robinson is not a Troubles victim. The worst attack alleged against his person was a case of a food poisoning in a restaurant, which his wife blamed on “nationalist staff”.
Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster, Robinson’s probable successors as party leader and first minister respectively, both suffered horrendous traumas at the hands of the IRA. Gunmen targeted Dodds while he visited his son at a children’s hospital, a crime considered shocking even by Troubles standards. Foster had to leave her home as a child after an attempt on her father’s life and later survived the bombing of a school bus.
How many of us could live through these experiences then sit calmly in an office with the people we hold responsible?
A political Houdini of extraordinary talent (as the latest crisis amply demonstrates, as we say in Irish, ní beidh a leithéid ann arís.
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