Robinson “step back, take a breath and ensure there is sufficient space for an agreement to be reached in the calmer times that follow the hustings”

Former First Minister, Peter Robinson has taken to Facebook to give his views on the most recent election. He has allowed us to re-post his views on Slugger

Over the past few weeks many of you have sent me messages asking for my views on recent events. When I retired as First Minister and Party Leader, I determined not to be enticed into providing a running commentary on local political events.

The level of peace and stability that has characterised recent years was hard won and involved years of difficult work and endless negotiations.

There is still so much more to achieve and some distance to travel on our journey towards fully functioning democratic structures and genuine reconciliation but we should not lose sight of that goal.

The consequences of regression are many and may well be catastrophic. It must, therefore, be the duty of each of our elected representatives to embrace that essential value also enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath – primum non nocere (first, do no harm).

When I left office, the Fresh Start Agreement was in place and the major parties, DUP and Sinn Fein, were both committed to its implementation. The DUP maintained all their seats in the May election with Sinn Fein only dropping one.

With a fair wind, 5 years were available to implement an agreed Programme for Government and Northern Ireland should have been benefiting from a settled political environment with politicians working to deliver.

I admit I view life from a unionist prospective but I still cannot fathom how an election at this time and, given the higher and wider considerations, was justifiable.

There is no question that mistakes were made with the renewable heat scheme – that much everyone agrees – but throughout the world mistakes are made by politicians and government officials without it amounting to a crisis with the potential of bringing down the political institutions.

Of course, opposition parties will want to make hay – that’s their legitimate function – though in these circumstances, their similar failure as Members of the Assembly Committee with a statutory responsibility to scrutinise departmental legislation and actions also leaves them exposed.

However, the proper role of the Executive was to put in place corrective cost-control measures and initiate a thorough enquiry to ensure that lessons are learned and failings are identified, documented and published.

If culpability and claims of wrongdoing at any level are sustained, then the enquiry Judge should recommend sanctions as appropriate. These steps have been taken and that should have been the beginning and end of the action plan to deal with the crisis until the enquiry reports.

There was never a need for an election, nor were the people who live here ever going to derive any benefit from it. The argument that “it’s time for the people to have their say on these matters” is bogus.

The time for people to have their say would have been after the public enquiry had published its report and all the facts were known and independently evaluated without spin, hype or sensationalism. Instead we have had an increasingly fractious contest that has further divided and limited the ability to rebuild the political institutions.

It is not for me to reach any conclusions about why Sinn Fein chose instead to force an election and declare that they would not return to the status quo, but I cannot help feeling, no matter what now will be said, that had Martin McGuinness been in good health a breakdown would have been avoided.

As it is, the more belligerent elements in Sinn Fein have seized their opportunity and are seeking to advance their agenda regardless of imperilling the political structures.

When Arlene was installed as First Minister and leader of Northern Ireland’s largest party I told her she would have a short honeymoon and then they would come for her. The holder of the top post on entering office becomes the target of every envious politician and party.

But even by that standard she has been harshly treated over recent weeks. You can be sure that when the Public Enquiry is completed, and suggestions of wrongdoing are found to be groundless, the media will not fill their programmes and columns with apologies and the self-serving politicians in Sinn Fein, the SDLP, UUP and Alliance who have directed thinly disguised accusations of corruption against her will fall silent.

Such is the injustice of modern day politics.

Some have attacked the DUP for stressing the possibility of Sinn Fein taking the lead political position in Northern Ireland and pointing to the increasing role of Gerry Adams as the puppet-master.

For many unionists the thought of Sinn Fein tricolour-waving victory cavalcades touring the country and Adams crossing the globe purporting to speak for Northern Ireland will be enough to bring them out to the polls and vote for the DUP who alone can keep the top position for unionism.

For me, the prime concern is that as the largest party Sinn Fein would have a significantly enhanced influence with government in future negotiations. Sinn Fein are proposing that major negotiations should take place after the election.

There are two aspects to this that need to be understood.

  • Firstly, if there is going to be a major negotiation it will not be around Sinn Fein’s wish list alone, unionists will also arrive at the table with their own list of demands to deal with the weaknesses of the present structures, chief among them will be the mandatory nature of the coalition, the jointery of the Executive Office, community designations and a very different emphasis on legacy matters.
  • Secondly, a negotiation of the scale Sinn Fein are seeking to initiate will not be completed in the time legally available. Almost inevitably, the Assembly will be suspended and Northern Ireland will be back to Direct Rule (or as Gerry Adams would describe it – Tory rule). I’m not convinced the electorate will want to endorse years of that!

Sinn Fein, by calling the election and setting out their agenda, have made this election into one of constitutional importance and provided an imperative for a high unionist turn-out.

The recent opinion poll showing an equivalence in DUP and Sinn Fein support and the very real possibility of Sinn Fein taking the top spot will inevitably lead to voters rallying around the two major parties.

The result may take account of the ebb and flow of politics but, I suspect, it will still produce two large parties’ representative of the two main sections of this community.

For every party leader in election mode, the temptation to do what gets the largest vote, irrespective of the long-term consequences, appears attractive. Sadly, it was not resisted.

As things stand the road ahead leads inexorably to stalemate. The election has pushed parties further apart and if over the next few weeks parties retain a list of red-line demands inflated by electoral enthusiasm it will be impossible to reach agreement in either the short or medium term.

The structures, however imperfect, are all that stand between Northern Ireland and political isolation and impotence. While the election is unstoppable the headlong rush into destruction is not.

Parties need to take care that the positions they are adopting do not close off sensible options. They should step back, take a breath and ensure there is sufficient space for an agreement to be reached in the calmer times that follow the hustings.

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  • Stephen Warke

    Spot on Peter. Well said.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    “The time for people to have their say would have been after the public enquiry had published its report and all the facts were known and independently evaluated without spin, hype or sensationalism.”

    “You can be sure that when the Public Enquiry is completed, and suggestions of wrongdoing are found to be groundless,… ”

    INQUIRY. NOT ENQUIRY.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    When the former First Minister of Northern Ireland can’t get that right… what hope is there for much else.

  • Obelisk

    Just so we are all clear, this is the same Peter Robinson who once threatened to bring down the institutions over the badge worn by prison officers if there was ever a push to change them, correct? That Peter Robinson?

  • burnboilerburn

    Fair enough, that’s his view and its well worded and in some parts even reasonable. But again, the underlying message here is that we must resist the Sinn Fein bogey man. It’s unreal and disingenuous. Firstly, it is mathematically impossible for SF to beat the DUP on seat numbers even if they edge them on first preference votes unless a pro Sinn Fein tidal wave of epic proportions gripped polling day. The constituency boundaries in the East of the province particularly, inadvertently give Unionism a disproportionate bonus due to population density which in turn favours the DUP, while in the West of the province the DUP are hyper favoured due to the dwindling position of the Unionist population.
    Secondly, Robinson fails to note the damage done due to the drip drip pieces of information which have characterised the last two months. Even if Sinn Fein had not pulled the plug a few weeks ago, there is no way the institutions could have survived with the media, opposition and southern parties screaming blue murder as each and every revelation came into the public sphere. Coalitions simply are not designed to withstand such stormy weather.
    Thirdly, Robinson also fails to take into account the clear and openly hostile attitude the DUP have in dealing with others including Sinn Fein, and the Party’s natural kick back against all and anything that is Irish or Gaelic in nature or culture. Again, simply unsustainable when you have a growing Nationalist population and a declining Unionist population.
    Finally, Peter himself stood aside graciously when he found himself in stormy weather. Had Arlene taken a leaf from his book, none of us would be where we are now.
    Despite the above maybe Peter’s somewhat flag waving exercise might help to focus minds on what he rightly describes as the bigger picture. The benefits of devolution and the future success of power-sharing and the institutions. Maybe later on today we might have equally generous flag waving pieces on Slugger in support of the positions of all the other parties contesting the election tomorrow?

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    I put it through Google translate. Here’s what I got:

    “Provo Godfather death cult hiding in your back garden, Gerry Adams will steal little Nicholas’s M&M’s.”

  • Brian Walker

    If Peter’s little DUP list added to Sinn Fein’s is to form the agenda for negotiations, I’d be interested to know his opinion of the chances of a successful outcome, when breakdown was the result when the Assembly was up and running.

    If he was cautiously optimistic, then perhaps suspension every few months should be built into the system as a way of making progress. I mean this only half frivolously. The problem is that both have little leverage but a powerful veto. With arms to decommission no longer a bargaining chip, the power goes only one way, negatively. The glaring omissions in his piece are the odd free concession and elements of compromise. Maybe these will emerge after the vote. Interesting that he believes McGuinness in health would have prevented the smash. Might he privately think similarly about himself?

    But if the main parties are remotely serious about restoration and the main focus really is on the RHI debacle, my own suggestion is for Arlene to take on the old Gerry Adams role – ( wait for it) – and act as leader and D’Hondt nominator in the Assembly and nominate another as FM or DFM (temporary). If Coghlin clears her, she could resume. SF could hardly bring the Assembly down again after that. What’s a little mutual loss of face between statespersons?

  • johnny lately

    Same old same old from the master of fudge, everyboby else is to blame especially Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland is a Utopia and the DUP are the guardians and Sinn Fein refuses to allow us to rule as we like they keep demanding to be treated as equal partners. Its got to the stage where the DUP has lost the run of itself with statements about fake news and wild finger pointing at the British establishment controlled BBC, an establishment they are part of with three members on the secretive Privy council. Sammy Wilsons brass neck concurring with a mural, ironically on the Shankill Rd portraying ISIS and the IRA as similar, yet conviently ignoring and brushing under the carpet the similarities between the Shankill butchers, loyalist paramilataries and Muslim extremists cutting the throats of their Christian victims for no other reason other than the faith that they practice. Hypocrites comes to mind but ignorance is bliss to these people.

  • Hawk

    Some people are intending to swamp the DUP taxi service tomorrow with fake calls potentially stopping DUP voters from getting to the polls.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/northernireland/comments/5wv1a3/dup_taxi_on_polling_day/

    Please share so people can take mitigating action.

  • Zorin001

    Sorry but no, people have the right to vote DUP if they so wish and no-one should be interfering in their democratic decision to do so.

  • Karl

    “..inadvertently give Unionism a disproportionate bonus…..”

    I’ll have whatever you’re having so

  • JR

    It is exactly the same as the DUP scrit the last few days and weeks, just put more eliquantly.

    Essentially,

    1.Should not have been an election because it was all rosy
    2.Now that there is one vote DUP to prevent SF first minister (totally irrelevant in joint post)
    3.Gerry Adams is a boogeyman,

    That said he delivers the points better than Arlene.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Robinson managed a long post without mentioning Brexit. While people may have different views on the need for the Irish border, there was no need to change its operation and the principle of primum non nocere (first, do no harm) would have been to leave it alone and not introduce cross border trade etc into the mix of issues involved. The DUP did intend to do harm.

  • Pete

    That is disgusting and anti-democratic.

  • Hawk

    I’m not endorsing it. I’m trying to raise awareness in the hopes that it will make its way to the right people so they can take mitigating action.

  • Zorin001

    Ok, sorry wasnt sure if you were or not could have phrase d it better, apologies.

  • ScottishClive22

    Arlene is v v poor compared to Robinson, Paisley or even Trimble.

  • aquifer

    I heard “for christ’s sake Arlene just stop digging (in)”
    And that from someone who was expert with the shovel and pick.

  • aquifer

    Never mind direct rule, lets stick to the GFA rules and have elections until we find some people capable of delivering stable government.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    It isn’t hypocritical. The IRA drove the war. IRA war = Loyalist response. IRA ceasefire = Loyalist ceasefire.

  • wild turkey

    Well Johnny, may be same old, same old. who could dispute that eternal truth? not me buddy. but consider this. the same old same old does run an effective and wise thinking “Strategic Outreach Programme” evidence?

    they obviously are now a major cultural influence in NewFoundland and Labrador. These are key places; the western naval hinge of the north atlantic alliance.

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/01/grayson-bowell-boy-loses-tenpin-bowling-title-jeans-canada

  • johnny lately

    Show me a link where we can see evidence that the IRA cut anyones throat or throats because they were Protestant, British, or Unionist. Irish or whatever.

  • ScottishClive22

    The probably have not been born yet.

  • aquifer

    Fair point. The twenty somethings don’t recall or believe a lot of the crap and I am very happy for them, but I still think it is my job to remember the nonsense so as not to repeat it. Two or three years of direct rule will bring on a few more newbies who owe less to bad history.