OTR reaction analysis: Robinson on brink of having to quit to fulfil threat

DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson at Hillsborough Castle for a crunch meeting with Secretary of State Teresa Villiers.

DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson at Hillsborough Castle for a crunch meeting with Secretary of State Teresa Villiers.

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Stormont’s crises have become so repetitive that the public, and plenty of journalists, have grown weary of the spats between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

But it was immediately apparent that yesterday’s threat by Peter Robinson, which broke on the BBC at lunchtime, was different.

Firstly, it was highly unusual for Mr Robinson to threaten to resign – he last used that nuclear option more than two years ago over plans to change the prison service emblems.

Secondly, whether by accident or design, the price spelt out by Mr Robinson for him staying as First Minister was so high that it looks more likely – if he sticks to his threat – that he will have to go, and go soon.

For the Government to not only set up a judicially-chaired public inquiry similar to the Leveson Inquiry would be difficult enough for a government which has vowed to end ‘costly open-ended inquiries’.

But Mr Robinson went further, spelling out that every one of the 187 ‘letters of comfort’ to IRA members have to be rescinded if he is to stay in post.

Either Mr Robinson will secure a massive price from the Government – a huge boost to the DUP just 90-odd days before an election – or he will have to resign.

Though Ian Paisley Jr was yesterday ostensibly supportive when interviewed by the BBC, one of his comments made clear how Mr Robinson will be perceived if he stays in post without securing his demands.

Defending Mr Robinson’s threat to quit, the North Antrim MP said: “Only a patsy would continue to run an administration where they’re kept in the dark [about these issues].”

Mr Robinson’s credibility is on the line. On the cusp of an election and after a difficult year for the DUP leader, that is less than ideal for him.

Yesterday’s decision to threaten resignation will not have been made without careful thought because a key DUP electoral argument has been that the institutions are secure under its leadership.

The party has argued that the changes it secured at St Andrews ended the constant threats to Stormont under David Trimble’s watch and have brought the stability of recent years.

Yesterday’s threat is a throwback to the crisis atmosphere which surrounded much of the Trimble era.

Vowing to resign if an improbable set of demands are not met is a risk, but clearly a risk which Mr Robinson believed he had no option but to take.

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