Election Diary: Peter Robinson back in the political game

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Having largely disappeared from public view – and seemingly had limited contact even with many senior DUP members over the last 18 months – Peter Robinson is back campaigning in this election.

The former first minister, who retired in January 2016, has been campaigning for Emma Little-Pengelly, the DUP’s South Belfast candidate.

Mr Robinson, the strategic genius who was central to the DUP’s electoral triumphs over the last 15 years, has been attempting to mastermind his protégé’s election to Westminster.

While DUP leader, Mr Robinson appointed Mrs Little-Pengelly to a £92,000-a year special adviser’s job and then co-opted her into the Assembly before rapidly promoting her to junior minister.

Michael Henderson, the Ulster Unionist candidate in South Belfast, told the News Letter that Mr Robinson rang him last week to enquire as to whether he planned to take part in BBC’s televised debate The View on Thursday night.

A DUP spokesman said: “Peter Robinson has offered advice, guidance and organisational support to Emma Little-Pengelly. As a former party leader and someone who values the Union he wants South Belfast to have a strong unionist voice in Parliament.”

Foster only NI leader not on leaders’ debate

Arlene Foster will not represent the party in next week’s televised leaders’ debates before Thursday’s election, the DUP has confirmed.

The party will instead be represented by its Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, who similarly stood in for Peter Robinson in the debates two years ago.

Every other Northern Ireland party leader will be on the debate between the five big parties, even though Michelle O’Neill, Robin Swann and Colum Eastwood are not candidates.

There is an argument that Westminster candidates are the best people to address Westminster issues in such a debate.

However, there is also a danger for Mrs Foster – who was generally thought to have performed poorly in the two TV debates before March’s Assembly election – that it could appear that the DUP no longer views her as a vote-winner.

A DUP spokesman said: “Nigel Dodds, as DUP Westminster Leader, will represent the party in the local debates just as he did in 2015.

“Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, is not participating in the debates. In 2015, 4 of the 5 parties were not represented by their leader. In the recent national debate the SNP was represented by its Westminster Leader.

“On Tuesday Party leader Arlene Foster will travel to participate in commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines. Before then she has further media engagements.

“Arlene has already participated in two party leader interviews for the BBC on Inside Politics and The View.”

SF conflicted on its view of the EU

Sinn Fein has built its campaign around the slogan ‘No Tories, No Border, No Brexit’.

But despite the apparently pro-EU flavour of that slogan, the party has a long and enduring hostility to the direction of the European integration project.

It is of course possible to be sceptical of the direction in which an institution is travelling without wanting to abandon it altogether. However, a statement from Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy yesterday appeared to strike at the heart of the entire European project, which is about nations giving up sovereignty to the centre in Brussels.

He said: “Transferring yet more power from locally accountable parliaments to bureaucrats in Brussels is obviously not the answer.”