Today’s announcement from Peter Robinson that he would step down from his role as First Minister and leader of the DUP, in effect retirement from political life, was not altogether unanticipated.
The pressure had been on him for some time both in terms of his health and recurring political scandals. With the union secure, and having had Sinn Fein deputise to him for the last 7 years in a partitionist administration it had sworn to destroy, he probably feels he has achieved as much as a political career is likely to offer.
Robinson was clever in that he went out after securing a deal which leaves "the party in good shape and the union secure." This should help nudge other less wholesome experiences into the shadows. Although an achievement which sees Stormont adopt the Tory policy of attacking the poor his party will nevertheless be rewarded at the polls in the land of the peace process where Whip us oh wise ones for our own good, seems to have a masochistic appeal for reasons not always easy to comprehend for people not into that sort of thing.
Others will be watching how things unfold in the hope that if Robinson sets an example it will not manage to make its way across the North’s sectarian divide. Tommie Gorman on tonight’s RTE floated the possibility that other leading political figures might consider their positions. He mentioned Martin McGuinness by name but conspicuously not Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams whose devotion to serving the people by being their eternal leader is now legendary.
Mr Adams might yet take everyone by surprise. Whispers have it that the old caudillo no longer takes to snarling at colleagues who have the temerity to suggest he has reached the end of his shelf life. They have been intimating that the Robinson decision makes Adams' continued hanging around the political scene a source of the type of stench normally associated with decomposition. Consequently, he is said to be considering his future and is expected to confirm that the moment has come and that as such he is considering stepping aside in time for the 150th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2066.
When asked why he might wait so long he explains that easing in a new leader is very much a transitional process and that such things invariably take time. Has not the peace process showed people that much? Bringing new talent forward carries with it challenges of its own and as the Security Department can no longer be trusted to vet prospective leaders, other mechanisms have to be found.
As it is the hope of President Adams that the new man or woman will lead the party into the centenary of the peace process a replacement has not yet been born. Mr Adams thinks it would be most unfair to pick somebody now with the 100th anniversary of the peace process so far off in the future. However, the party leadership said it will behave responsibility and thus monitor all prospective candidates as they make their way through primary schools in order to ensure that nothing is left to chance.
The peace process is a delicate flower, the cultivation of which can only be put into the hands of someone both sensitive and deferential enough to kiss the royal ring. Martin McGuinness was in his 60s by the time he mastered it. So the faithful are asked to continue with their patience, in the full knowledge that their reward will be in the Kingdom ... the United one.