So what are we to make of Papa Doc’s announced retirement as DUP leader and First Minister?
It’s interesting, in the first instance, that the last year, and Big Ian’s reputation as a great peacemaker of our times, has almost totally effaced his fifty-year record as the chief representative of guldering bigotry in the North. It was a miraculous conversion, we are led to believe. But Ian, if you take his Spotlight interview as good coin, didn’t change all that much. As he said, he could do a deal because he’d won. He had more or less what he wanted. And, importantly, the DUP’s pre-eminence of late meant that he would be the man to do the deal. He wouldn’t have to play second fiddle to a Molyneaux or Trimble.
As for others’ reactions to him, again there’s a lot of continuity. The two governments never led any sort of fight against Paisleyism, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear London and Dublin praising the Dochtúir Mór at this late hour. Meanwhile, the SDLP remain sharply critical of Paisley. The people who have really turned on their heads are the Provos, and that’s a story in itself.
But if the exact timing of Ian’s announcement was a surprise, the fact of it wasn’t. For quite some time now various DUP figures have been surreptitiously doing a Menzies Campbell on their octogenarian leader, mentioning his age and letting it be known to the media that he might not be around much longer. The clamour only increased after the Prodiban inflicted an unexpected defeat on the DUP in Dromore. Ian, for his part, had been digging his heels in – he had promised a full term and, left to his own devices, he most likely would have served it out. One assumes that last week’s appointment of Baby Doc to the Policing Board was meant to send out a message. If so, it went down like a lead balloon.
And now Martin McGuinness will have to get used to another double act. He claims to be unconcerned, but the jovial and gregarious Paisley will be hard to replace. How amusing you find Peter Robinson depends on your taste for gallows humour. And then there’s Nigel Dodds, a man who makes Sir Geoffrey Boycott look like a compulsive party animal. Not much to chuckle about there, I fear.
Still, at least it won’t be Ian Óg. That would be like the Godfather dying and Fredo taking over.