Posted By: September 30, 2014

Tom Kelly. Irish News ( Belfast). Monday, September 29, 2014.
ONE-TIME Democratic presidential contender Adlai Stevenson once said of his
opponents, "I offer them a bargain, if they stop telling lies about us, I will stop
telling the truth about them." Over the past number of months but particularly
during the silly season, various elements of the press ran speculative stories about
the resignation of Peter Robinson before the 2016 elections. These gossipy stories
suggested that if the first minister did not jump he would be pushed in a heave.
Media reported unnamed disgruntled senior members of the DUP as sources to boost the
credibility of the claim.

There is hardly a political leadership on the island of Ireland that doesn't fall
prey to media speculation about the longevity of an incumbent leader. Sometimes, as
in the case of Eamon Gilmore, the speculation has legs. More often it's the idle
chat of a marginalised backbencher over a liquid lunch with a bored political hack,
which starts these rumours. Micheal Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, has been plagued
by such murmurs. I noted recently that a first-term Fine Gael TD who is often
critical of the photo-fit taoiseach, Enda Kenny was referred to as "a prominent Fine
Gael TD" by the southern media. I rang the newly media elevated politician to
congratulate him on his rise to national prominence.

He wryly replied: "It wasn't hard Tom, it's because Kenny has promoted everyone else."

The SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell is in a constant state of siege, like the
ill-fated Gordon of Khartoum. The ageing leadership of Gerry Adams and his frequent
predilection for erratic tweets about his bath ducks also has fed media speculation
about his retirement plans but Sinn Féin like the old Soviet politburo will keep
their Irish Brezhnev until he serves his purpose in 2016.

So it was unsurprising that the future intentions of Peter Robinson would fall under
some scrutiny, not least because Robinson had once talked about having a life beyond
65 and outside of politics. But the more startling aspects of the media commentary
on the possibility of a post-Robinson era was that it actually fuelled from within
the DUP and not the media.

The DUP, as with all political parties has its dividing fault lines, notwithstanding
its claims of being family-like, but as we all know familial fault lines can often
be the deepest. The self-serving interviews of the late Ian Paisley blew apart any
notion of the DUP being the Walton's of Northern Ireland politics - they were more
like the Borgia's. The scathing comments of Lady Bannside cut deep into the heart of
the DUP and she was as acerbic as Joan Rivers. That the Paisleys could forgive
Martin McGuinness but not their own colleagues meant that the fault lines revealed
bigger chasms between the Bible and Bluegrass set of the DUP and its modernists.
Although modernity in the DUP is about as fast paced as change is within the Roman
Curia, there are those within that party genuinely trying and in part succeeding in
widening the base of the DUP, not only within unionism, but within Northern Ireland
and Great Britain. Smart unionists will have looked at the Scottish referendum and
know that the future depends on wider alliances but as with any party they still
have their backwoods men, nay-sayers and the reluctant power-sharers.

The DUP reshuffle took the media by surprise but it was long promised and overdue.
The appointment of Jim Wells was a surprise, perhaps even to the new minister
himself. Wells has a lot of proving and improving to do in office.

That Robinson availed of the reshuffle to also lance a couple of political boils is
the action of a confident leader, not a retiring one.

As Rab Butler once said: "A PM has to be like a butcher and know the joints."
Robinson the strategist knows the "joints" within the DUP.

The so-called Paisley revisionists may dream of a Paisley dynasty but there is no
traction for them within the DUP or indeed wider unionism. Edwin Poots was
ungracious on leaving office but he will now feel the coolness of the political
wilderness on the backbenches of the assembly.

As for Peter Robinson, he should focus on legacy and his three immediate targets
should be: reform of how government works in NI, winning back the east Belfast seat
with former mayor, Gavin Robinson and a secure commitment on the introduction of
corporation tax. After that he would be entitled to retire.