Banned #Nama book: Chapter 3- Internal DUP revolt! 

On 22 September 2014 the Democratic Unionist Party held a meeting of senior party members. Less than twenty-four hour later, three high profile members were dumped out of respective positions within the Stormont institutions. The announcements on 23 September were portrayed by Peter Robinson and the DUP press office as routine.
   On the evening of Robinson’s 23 September cull, a senior DUP source telephoned me to express disgust at the situation that had unfolded and made clear that there was almost a complete media black-out of the real story behind the “day of the long knives” within the DUP. The source- who is very publicly perceived to be close to Peter Robinson and a loyal ally- expressed dismay at Robinson’s wielding of the sword and told me of his concern that the DUP leader’s actions would prove counter-productive in the long run. He maintained that he was shocked the true timeline of events had not leaked out into the mainstream media.
   On the afternoon of 24 September I published a blog entitled “The Poots proposal” which told the whole story of the events during that fateful 22 September DUP meeting when opponents of Peter Robinson sought to move against him, and as a result the DUP leader lashed out wildly within twenty-four hours. I also emailed this blog to various media outlets and the Newsletter carried the story on the front-page on the 25 September. The story in the Newsletter was written by their political journalist Sam McBride and he expressed dismay that I was the only one who had been able to ascertain the right way of the story, whilst all the mainstream media remained in the dark. A DUP source of McBride’s accepted that I had been briefed by someone around the senior DUP leadership table. This, naturally, caused some serious concern amongst the DUP leadership. Alex Easton, a DUP MLA from Bangor was initially thought to be getting the blame for the ‘leak’. However this was quickly dispelled when some within the DUP pointed out that Alex Easton would not have been in a position to leak the information, and even if he was, the relationship between me and Easton was so fraught that I am about the last person he would have leaked it to.
   What had transpired was that at the DUP meeting on 22 September Peter Robinson was bringing forward his ideas for the DUP commitment to a fresh round of talks, this of course came in the wake of the DUP leader’s call for “St Andrews two”- a reference to the first set of talks that lead to the restoration of the devolved power sharing Executive in 2007, which came after five years of direct rule following the collapse of the Assembly amidst allegations of continued IRA activity in 2002. The DUP had hounded David Trimble from office and as Suzanne Breen recalled in her Sunday Life column on the 30 August 2015, in May 2000 the DUP stood outside a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Convention in the Waterfront Hall, as David Trimble fought for his political survival and sang the following:
“What shall we do with the traitor Trimble
What shall we do with the traitor Trimble
What shall we do with the traitor Trimble
Early in the morning?
Burn, burn, burn the traitor
Burn, burn, burn the traitor
Burn, burn, burn the traitor
Early in the morning.”
The fact that the DUP now implement all the key architecture of the same agreement they denounced Trimble for propping up seems to have been conveniently brushed under the political carpet.
   During the tense DUP leadership meeting on 22 September the DUP leader was under pressure to get agreement for renewed talks. He thought the reason for this pressure was known only to him, but political opponents within the room were aware of Robinson’s secret. He had agreed with the Secretary of State that he would back-track on his previous ‘principled’ position and allow parades, flags and the past to be included in a new round of talks. The quid-pro-co of this was that the Secretary of State would bring forward some sort of whitewashed ‘inquiry’ into the North Belfast parading situation. Robinson needed some way to ‘appease’ the hardliners and also extract himself from the “graduated response” he had committed himself to. In truth the “graduated response” mattered little to Robinson, it was merely a stalling tactic to ensure a peaceful July- lest it upset his political legacy ambitions.
   All of this came after a bombshell announcement by Robinson who claimed that Stormont was “not fit for purpose”. The bizarre nature of this announcement had become clearer when it became known that Robinson had made a secret deal with the Secretary of State. His “bombshell” was really nothing of the sort; instead it was simply laying off ground for a new round of talks. The talks lead to what is known as the “Stormont House Agreement” and only hours after the agreement was made, the Secretary of State changed her mind on the promised inquiry into the North Belfast parading situation. Of course Robinson knew she was always going to do this, he simply needed a carrot to throw those who were taking a principled stand on parading to get them of his back, and then in the midst of the political backslapping of the Stormont House Agreement, the Secretary of State would withdraw the inquiry proposal and Robinson would once again proceed having trampled over the Unionist people. The parading situation in North Belfast was cynically used by Peter Robinson to gain political leverage- once it had served it’s political purpose he abandoned the bandsmen and Orangemen of North Belfast and then he simply fronted out the criticisms- which were being drowned out by the peaceniks praise for the latest agreement- and moved on.
   A rump within the DUP could foresee this latest betrayal by Robinson- which came to pass following the aforementioned Stormont House Agreement- and thus sought to derail his cynical political bargaining by bringing forward a counter proposal at the 22 September meeting.
   In an internal DUP report- commissioned by Peter Robinson- it had come out that there was widespread internal discontent with Robinson’s leadership and the current Stormont institutions that he headed up. Robinson’s response to this was to initiate the talk’s process.
   One of the open internal critics of Robinson’s leadership is Edwin Poots. He is a long term member of the DUP, a devoted “Paisleyite” and a current MLA for the Lagan Valley constituency. His father, Charlie Poots, was also a DUP politician and stood in the 1969 Northern Ireland General Election under the banner of Protestant Unionist Party (not to be confused with the latter day Progressive Unionist Party). In the 1998-2003 Assembly the Lisburn man was a member of the Environment committee and also chaired the Committee for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister. On 8 May 2007, following a return to devolution after a period of Direct Rule, Poots was appointed Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the newly formed Northern Ireland Executive. Poots held this position until 9 June 2008 when, only three days after the official culmination of the Rev Ian Paisley’s forced removal from office by Peter Robinson, Poots was removed from post and replaced by Gregory Campbell, an ally of Peter Robinson. In a sop to Poots, designed to minimise any dissent, Robinson ensured that Poots was kept busy and thus on 23 June 2008 he was made deputy Mayor of Lisburn.
   Little over a year later, on the 1 July 2009, Edwin Poots was brought back into the Executive when Robinson made him Minister of the Environment. The Lagan Valley MLA held this position for a little over two years and in May 2011 he was handed a high profile portfolio, but also somewhat of a poisoned chalice, when he was made the Health Minister. During his period as Health Minister he became the victim of a number of online ‘satire sites’. He was relentlessly targeted by the “Loyalists Against Democracy” site which had sprung up in the wake of the Union flag protests. The supposedly secretive group had among its administrators Gary Kirby, whose partner Olive Buckley was a major player in the Unite Union and the NHS. Under the direction of Buckley, Gary Kirby used the LAD site to wage a campaign against Poots and promote extreme left wing and communist propaganda. In 2014 Kirby was exposed as an administrator of the LAD site and as a result he left his job in Convergys’s call centre, based in Belfast. All of LAD’s activities had been encouraged and done with the knowledge of NI21 leader Basil McCrea and he rewarded Gary Kirby by making him his office worker at Stormont. Poots remained in the Health hot-seat until the September 2014 “day of the long knives”.
   The proposal put forward by Poots on 22 September 2014 was that the DUP refuse to enter into any talks on parades, flags and the past and furthermore he added that the Irish Government should have no role to play in any talks. This proposal flew in the face of Robinson’s secret agreement with the Secretary of State and the First Minister reacted with fury. Internally blind-sighted in his own party meeting, Robinson was furious and became visibly agitated. Paul Frew, Paul Givan and Ian Paisley Jnr spoke in support of the proposal put forward by Edwin Poots. A wounded Robinson, sensing a move against him, decreed that the party officers would decide and called a halt to the meeting.
   Less than twenty-four hours later, still smarting from the previous day’s ambush, Robinson decided to take drastic action. Edwin Poots was the most high profile of the dissenters to be punished; he was removed from his Ministerial post. Paul Frew and Paul Givan also became victims of the “reshuffle”. There was precious little that Robinson could do about Ian Paisley Jnr, given he was an MP.
   A gleeful Robinson smugly reveled in the “punishment” he had dished out. On 24 September the dissenters struck back. Edwin Poots told Stephen Nolan that it was common knowledge that Robinson was soon due to stand down as party leader, fueling speculation about Robinson’s future. The DUP leadership response to this was comical. Peter Robinson called those opposed to him within the DUP “puffed up lemmings”. This outburst from the First Minister was compounded when the DUP Press Office told all party members to tweet their support for Peter Robinson. This was a blatant attempt to “flush out” the dissenters but it became a running joke as DUP member after DUP member tweeted their “support” for Robinson, all in strikingly similar fashion. If the DUP leader had ever looked weak, it was at that moment.
   The DUP leader believed he had put the dissenters to the sword and ended the rebellion. In the end he only added more to their ranks as the split within the DUP widened. The wounds of Robinson’s hostile takeover were still there, and they weren’t going away.
   In May 2015 senior DUP members went and spoke to Arlene Foster, seeking to recruit her into a plan to force the issue with Peter Robinson. One of those who went to discuss the situation with Foster was the man who will become the next DUP leader, Nigel Dodds.
   Nigel Dodds is a long standing member of the DUP. The current North Belfast MP is Christian man who lives in a modest home and is described by those within the party as a “genuine, honest family man”. First elected to Belfast City Council in 1985, he became Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1988 and again in 1992. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum in 1996, a body set up as part of a process that led to the Belfast Agreement. In 1998 Dodds topped the poll in North Belfast and was elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and he repeated this feat in 2003 and 2007. He was elected MP for North Belfast in 2001, replacing Cecil Walker. Nigel Dodds has also held a number of ministries in the devolved Northern Ireland institutions including Minister for Social Development from December 1999-2001 and again until October 2002, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment from May 2007 until June 2008 and finally Minister of Finance and Personnel from June 2008 until June 2009 when he was succeeded by Sammy Wilson, who would later become embroiled in the NAMA scandal.
   Nigel Dodds is a man who is uncomfortable with corruption and underhand dealings. He dislikes the so called “trappings of power” and appears to resent the role he played in the ousting of Ian Paisley, at the behest of a power hungry Peter Robinson. That is not, however, to say that Dodds is soft, far from it. A ruthless political operator with a pragmatic streak, he is widely respected within the party. Deeply wounded by the comments of the DUP’s founding father, Ian Paisley, in the infamous documentary “Genesis to Revelation”- Dodds came to regret his role in removing Paisley from office.
   In May 2015 it almost seemed as if history was repeating itself, as Dodds and another senior DUP figure asked Arlene Foster to assist them in removing Robinson. Foster was having none of it and immediately walked down the Stormont corridor and told Peter Robinson of the plans to move against him. It was only days later that Peter Robinson took a “suspected heart attack”. Conveniently this dramatic turn of ill-health bought the DUP some good-will and more importantly time, it would look bad to move against an ill-man.
   As the Nama scandal broke attitudes changed and finally Arlene Foster accepted that Peter Robinson was going to have to go. Sammy Wilson was shipped off to Westminster to keep him out of the way. He was always going to have to make a decision on whether to stay in the Assembly or Westminster, with double jobbing coming to an end, but with Nama hurtling towards DUP towers his decision was made for him. Wilson is implicated in the scandal from his time as Finance Minister when he undertook some dubious “lobbying”.
   It was agreed that Nigel Dodds will be the new party leader and Arlene Foster would become First Minister. Robinson began laying the ground for his exit in early August when he spoke to Liam Clarke of the Belfast Telegraph and hinted at health issues and remarked that “no one can go on forever”. This leadership transition hid a speedbump when the IRA murdered one of their former assassins, Kevin McGuigan.
   The hit, which was sanctioned by a number of IRA Army Council members and planned by a prominent and notorious Belfast IRA man- led to a political crisis- which at the time of writing is still ongoing. The PSNI and sections of the media combined to felon set against a little known crime gang called Action Against Drugs. The purpose of this was to divert suspicion away from the IRA and serve up a fall guy for the McGuigan murder. With a dubious “statement” issued by AAD following the murder of former IRA man Jock Davison, it seemed to anyone watching closely that the scene setting had been going on for quite some time. On 30 August 2015 Richard Sullivan and Paula Mackin devoted a number of pages in the Sunday World to blaming Action Against Drugs and Sullivan even went as far as to say the IRA leadership had not met in a decade. One could have been forgiven for thinking that the Sinn Fein press office had written the stories and the Sunday World journalists had simply put their by-line on it. Paula Mackin is a close relative of IRA money man Dessie Mackin. Her story managed to blame the murder on “criminals, dissidents and drug dealers”- despite the fact that it was acknowledged almost universally, except of course by Sinn Fein, that the IRA had been responsible. The Sunday World were clearly running diversions and distractions on behalf of their trusted Sinn Fein “sources” and thus contributing to the felon setting against a little known group of low level criminals, who would not have been incapable of carrying out the Kevin McGuigan murder even if they desperately wanted to.
   The Ulster Unionist Party took the step of leaving the Northern Ireland Executive, claiming that the assessment of the PSNI that IRA members were involved and indeed that a command structure still existed, was enough to prove bad faith on behalf of Sinn Fein. The DUP responded by attacking the Ulster Unionist Party, ironically for doing the same thing that they themselves done when David Trimble was in office.
   On 31 August Peter Robinson broke his silence on the political crisis, writing an article for the Belfast Telegraph. Robinson went on the offensive against the UUP and appeared to be desperately trying to identify some ambiguous angle to allow him to cling to power alongside Sinn Fein. He also remarkably spoke about the Stormont House Agreement and wrote that it had dealt with “parading”. This is despite the DUP leader giving assurances, on 15 February 2015, in an interview with BBC Political journalist Chris Page that the DUP had not negotiated on parading during the Stormont House talks. I tweeted that a liar needed a good memory. Clearly Peter Robinson’s had failed him on this occasion.
    At the time of writing the Stormont Assembly looks set to collapse at some stage in the near future. It appears that all the ghosts of Robinson’s past are coming back to haunt him. His Deputy leader is lining up to take his position, just as he himself had done to Ian Paisley. Powerful people within his own party are openly briefing against him, just as his allies had done to Ian Paisley. The UUP have placed him between a rock and a hard place, walk out of the Executive and be seen as being led by the nose by the UUP or stay in and cling to power courtesy of IRA murder. The grassroots of Unionism is turning on him for remaining in Government with an armed IRA which still maintains an organisational structure.
   It is now not a case of if but when Peter Robinson steps down. His political legacy is in tatters and with the full story around NAMA yet to come out, the DUP leader has bigger problems that Sinn Fein looming ahead. The National Crime Agency investigation is buying him time- but time eventually runs out for us all. The ship is sinking and it looks as if Peter Robinson is desperate to cling on and go down with the Stormont ship that he himself built. His legacy will sink with that ship. That I suppose is honourable in some respects. Perhaps the kindest thing that I, or those within his own party who are moving against him, will be able to say in hindsight is that at least he went down with his own ship and didn’t abandon it to try and save what is left of his legacy.
   Robinson became everything he once despised and as Ian Paisley would have undoubtedly said to the man who was once his young protégé- “What one sows, so shall they reap.”


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