Jude Collins

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Tea and sympathy

Try not to burst into applause when I say this (it'll wake the baby) but I once had afternoon tea with Peter Robinson. I was doing an interview with him about something or other some twenty or more years ago and we sat in the conservatory and chatted. He seemed a polite if not wonderfully fun person to be with, and in the latter stages of our conversation, Iris served us tea and scones and smiles. Of our conversation, I remember nothing - not a single thing. Of Iris, I remember only dark hair and red lipstick. And that's it. That's my brush with the two most famous people in ireland at this particular moment. No wisdom, no insight, no dazzling light in a dark corner.

I suggested to two young(ish) unionists today that I thought Peter and Iris were getting a fairly harsh deal. It wasn't as if Iris had pilfered hospital monies intended for the purchase of wheelchairs and had passed the cash to her teenage lover. And it's not as if Peter covered up the knowledge that his wife had stolen a million from an ailing orphan. In fact, if you'd told me that there was a rule which said you had to inform the authorities if you'd received a certain level of money, I might have had to admit that I didn't for sure know that.

That's not to say that I'm sorry to see the DUP get it where it hurts - let's not be hypocritical about this whole thing or even a part of it. The more disorganised unionism is, the better possibility that the nationalist/republican side of the see-saw will rise, and God knows the n/r side is in need of a correcting boost. Iris Robinson is the proverbial toast, politically speaking. Peter Robinson is damaged terribly by the actions of his wife and his own link with them. His efforts at a pre-emptive strike with the famous 'I am shattered' interview clearly hasn't been enough. If anything, with its cutesy 'You're my dad and I'll always look up to you' card in the background, it has exploded in the First Minister's face. It's starting to look increasingly as though Peter is also terminally damaged. However, given that the Westminster elections are just a few months away, his party may decide to hang onto him. A new broom would look business-like and fresh but there again, it might seem an even more open acknowledgement that the DUP is in running-around-whimpering crisis mode.

Macmillan knew what he was talking about when he said what mattered in politics: "Events, dear boy, events", didn't he?

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