Is the DUP unskilled – and unaware of it?

Posted By: October 26, 2015

Unskilled and unaware? Peter Robinson and his party suspended their ‘no business as usual tactic’ despite the gloomy assessment of a report into paramilitary activity
William Scholes.Irish News(Belfast).Monday, October 26, 2015

IN the same way that Daniel O’Donnell’s early exit from Strictly Come Dancing was assured, it was inevitable that the DUP would break a leg – one of their own, or someone else’s, it didn’t really matter – to get back into the Stormont executive as soon as the first gossamer fig leaves fell from the sky.

And so it came to pass. With the ink on the report into paramilitary activity still wet, Peter ‘no business as usual’ Robinson and his in-out, off-on, the cheque’s-in-the-post colleagues last week deigned to return to their desks on a full-time basis. For the time being, at least.

It might have been inevitable, but it was still humiliating. How could it be otherwise?

After all, the report paints a far more extensive and troubling picture of paramilitary activity than that highlighted by the PSNI’s blunt assessment that the IRA was involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

It can hardly be a vindication of Mr Robinson’s hallowed political acumen that the IRA army council, among other unsavoury elements, is now firmly back in the political vernacular.

Or that the security situation is exactly the same as it was when the chief constable spelled it out in August; if that was enough for the DUP to walk at that time, then the remaining souls who haven’t completely disengaged from what passes for politics at Stormont are entitled to ask what exactly has changed.

Despite all this, the report was still dutifully presented as a glorious victory. There was the traditional refrain of “there’s only a couple of weeks to save Stormont”, a tic that is occasionally even delivered with sincerity, but the party line was clear – ‘Peter has done it again, aren’t we lucky to have him?’.

Arlene Foster, relieved from full-time gatekeeper duties, encouraged folk to look for the positives in the report, conveniently forgetting that Jeffrey Donaldson still has nightmares about how she barged him out of the way in the stampede to eviscerate David Trimble and the UUP over a set of circumstances which bear an uncanny echo of that into which the DUP has now manoeuvred itself.

There is a sense in which politicians have to put on a brave face and row in behind the leader; unless, of course, we’re talking about the SDLP.

Even so, after various Robinson ultimatums over on-the-runs and the like, the DUP faithful must be getting fed up with the climb-downs which invariably follow.

Or maybe not. Perhaps they truly and sincerely believe they are doing a great job.

What’s more, while the outsider looking in – that’s you and me – might believe the whole thing is bonkers, that is only because we don’t have their skill, experience and intelligence to accurately assess just how wonderful a job they are doing.

The title of a study by psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning, published in 1999, put it another way, which you may prefer.

Identifying a phenomenon familiar to observers of northern politics, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments argues that people who are incompetent also suffer the ignominy of being robbed of the ability to realise their incompetence.

It’s the sort of thing that is evident among people who enter The X Factor and truly believe they can out-sing Aretha Franklin or Mick Jagger, when in fact they have a voice to curdle milk. People who send poetry to newspapers tend to have a similar inflated self-assessment of their talents.

Unskilled and Unaware of It relates the tale of how a man who robbed two banks in broad daylight was swiftly caught once CCTV footage was broadcast on news programmes.

Police showed him the tapes and the robber was incredulous, mumbling: “But I wore the juice…”; he had been under the impression that rubbing his face with lemon juice would render it invisible to security cameras.

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, argue Kruger and Dunning, they suffer a dual burden: “Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realise it. Instead, they are left with the mistaken impression that they are doing just fine.”

Though it has a broader application, it could be argued that this is the case with the DUP and Mr Robinson’s extraordinarily ill-judged in-out strategy.

In weeks to come, never mind months and years, no-one will remember it as a master stroke of political acumen and clear-eyed thinking.

Instead, it will be recalled as the period when the party was left pilloried and embarrassed: for leaving the department of health – already in turmoil – with no minister; for the embarrassment of conflicting stories over ministers’ wages; for failing to turn up to assembly debates yet being able to muster a full house for the finance committee’s Nama investigation; for gatekeepers, rogues and renegades; and for swiftly going back into office once a more difficult security assessment than the one they left for was published – and all this before the ‘talks’ have accomplished anything.

When the next crisis comes, as it will, perhaps Mr Robinson and the DUP should try rubbing lemon juice in their faces – it would fit right in with the heroic absurdity of Stormont.