Posted By: June 03, 2015

Brian Feeney. Irish News( Belfast). Wednesday, June 3, 2015

YOU know the cliché that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity? That may be a reason why people here are finding something more interesting to do instead of voting in elections. The difference is that the voters don’t expect a different result so in increasing numbers they’ve stopped doing the same thing repeatedly. It’s not only that they know the outcome but the same faces return after each election. There’s good news and bad news after Peter Robinson’s heart attack. The good news for the DUP (and maybe Sinn Féin too) is that he’s back with less than a week’s interruption. The bad news for his critics is that now that he’s had the best medical care he’s fit for another 30 years.

Party leaders and even deputies here go on and on. Robinson was elected MP in 1979 at a time just after Gerry Adams wasn’t IRA chief of staff. Adams was elected to Jim Prior’s failed assembly in 1982 and has been re-elected in various incarnations ever since. Alasdair McDonnell’s first outing was spring 1969 when Richard Nixon was US president and Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet walked on the moon.

McDonnell is still hanging on despite the fact that the only one of his MLAs who endorsed what for want of a better word is called his ‘leadership’, was his protege Feargal McKinney, co-opted over the head of the ideal candidate Claire Hanna. Then of course she’s only in her thirties and already a prominent councillor so what chance has she?

Contrast our lot with, say, David Cameron age 48, Nicola Sturgeon age 44, Tony Blair age 62 but, and this is the point, retired from elected politics seven years ago. In Blair’s position none of our guys would ever have given way to Gordon Brown. They’d still be hanging on regardless of losing.

There’s an argument that all the party leaders and most of their political followers should have stepped aside in 1998 once they’d signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. Admittedly the DUP never signed up to it but even so, it was the end of an era. The problem is that it was time for new politics but they were all incapable of imagining what new politics could be like. Instead here we are 17 years later with the same people repeating the same politics that operated before 1998. Same slogans, same insults, groundhog day.

One of the reasons the same men hang on is that there’s an element of tribal leader/ chief attached to party leader here. It’s so old-fashioned it’s embarrassing. The only way to remove the leader/chief is political assassination. It’s always been like that. Brookeborough hung on for 20 years as prime minister of his toytown administration until he was 75 and no longer capable.

Paisley staggered on until he was practically gaga and had to be ousted. After 24 years representing Derry Eddie McAteer was defeated by John Hume. No one went gracefully except Seamus Mallon. At least Peter Robinson now has an excuse to go gracefully and do what he always intended to do which is get out before next year’s assembly election.

Healthwise there’s no reason for him to go now he’s been stented but it’s a good pretext. Unfortunately the signs are not good.

Yesterday was an opportunity to let Arlene Foster take the lead since he’s placed her in pole position to succeed him. Instead he couldn’t let go and led the DUP to meet our proconsul. The tribal leader must show no sign of weakness you see. He may as well have been wearing a bearskin and carrying a club.

The moral of all this is that politics here are backward in more ways than you think. It’s not simply a matter of antediluvian policies mumbled by badly educated public representatives, it’s the old-fashioned concept of leader that dominates the parties.

A century ago the chief was John Redmond, often described with no hint of embarrassment as ‘the leader of the Irish race’ – no not Leopardstown. It never occurred to him to resign despite his total failure any more than any of our current leaders will ever pass the parcel.

There’s no sign of what they call succession planning here.