Monday, 11 January 2010

Centre-ground has responsibility not to squander opportunities.

Peter Robinson is due to make a statement to the Stormont Assembly at 3.30pm this afternoon. This might be the moment that the First Minister chooses to step down.

The immediate aftermath of last week’s Spotlight documentary witnessed a rather muted response from the DUP. The party’s officers met on Friday and this morning there were signs of support for its embattled leader.

On Slugger, Mick Fealty speculates that, far from comprising a public display of unity, pro-Robinson noises are intended to facilitate a dignified exit. Eamonn Mallie hints that the First Minister might jump before he is pushed or choose to cite personal problems and withdraw from public life entirely.

Certainly a clean break would mitigate possible electoral damage for the DUP. After years of silence, the media have got their teeth well and truly into the Robinsons. If Peter attempts to stay in place the major damage which has already been done will be compounded by a drip drip of low level allegations.

The Electoral Commission has begun a review of Robinson’s claim that he donated his first minister’s salary to the DUP. The dealings of Castlereagh Borough Council, for so long the Robinsons’ stronghold, will come under increased scrutiny.

Although, understandably, there is anxiety about the resilience of Northern Ireland’s ’political process’, should Robinson depart, the DUP’s weakness actually represents an exciting opportunity.

If Sinn Féin collapses the executive, and Shaun Woodward calls an Assembly election, it will contest seats in the teeth of a gathering furore about Gerry Adams’ family and child abuse. Clearly the DUP is also riven with internal difficulties. The fall of its first and second families and the attendant whiff of corruption cannot fail to take its toll on a party, already anxious about the potential for the TUV to eat into its vote.

Moderate parties have an unparalleled opportunity to regain ground, almost by default. The centre-ground which held its nose to vote DUP or Sinn Féin is unlikely to repeat its mistake under the current circumstances.

Conservatives and Ulster Unionists, Alliance and the SDLP could soon be handed the political initiative in Northern Ireland and it is imperative that they do not squander it.

When the UUP previously led unionism, and the SDLP were the largest nationalist party, there was not a sustained effort to promote the benefits of the Belfast Agreement. The working relationship was poor. There could soon be an opportunity to do much better.

Update: The DUP has opted for the 'drip drip' to continue. Nigel Dodds spoke for the Assembly team, offering its backing to Robinson, as party leader. Whether this support extends to the retention of each of his roles, is not clear.

Further update: Peter Robinson steps down as First Minister. Arlene Foster takes over his duties, for six weeks at least.


Sam Semple said...

The centre ground should work together to ensure this opportunity at realignment is taken.

That might well mean some joint agreed policies on health, education and social and regional development.

Then the message can really be put out "Look, SF-DUP couldn't agree their way out of a paper bag. Vote for us for better, stronger, more effective government."

My sense is people really want to see parties working well together. Lets demonstrate that before the election and not just wait until afterwards.

bob wilson said...

Panorma 8.30pm. Looking forward to it

Alec said...

When are the next MLA elections?

Chekov said...

Alec - theoretically 2011. There's still a high possibility there could be an election this year though.