The chasm between deputy First Minister Martin Mc Guinness and First Minister Peter Robinson was necessarily well disguised for a long time because the two men had been sparingly seen in public since Mr Robinson replaced Ian Paisley as Dup leader and First Minister.
On the Nolan show which went live from Parliament Buildings almost a month ago I drew attention to the fact that the two most senior ministers had virtually disappeared from public view.
Members of the media had already learned of rows in OFMDFM over such trivial matters as appearances on radio and television programmes.
Opportunity after opportunity presented itself for Peter Robinson to stand shoulder with Martin Mc Guinness when the homes of Poles were thrashed in South Belfast, again when Romanians were attacked and when a mother of all rows erupted over the killing of a Coleraine man in a street fracas.
Mr Robinson appeared tardy in his arrival to stand beside Chief Constable Hugh Orde and Martin Mc Guinness outside Stormont Castle when Mr Orde condemned the death of the Coleraine man.
The genie was out of the bottle when Martin Mc Guinness said in the Great Hall over a week ago ” I have to record my annoyance at the fact that I have not been able to develop a close working relationship with Peter Robinson.”
Mr. Robinson retorted and spoke of a “one-sided nasty attack.”
At the heart of this now very public rift was the Sinn Fein’s angst arising from the perception that the DUP was putting a brake on the transfer of powers for the devolution of policing and justice.
Mc Guinness expected a meeting in London with Gordon Brown to finalise details of a financial package on the return of security and justice powers only to learn that Mr Robinson was refusing to go to London to meet Mr Brown.
Peter Robinson argued this was not likely to produce much since a gap still existed in the figures necessary for the transfer of policing and justice powers.
This did not endear the First Minister to Gordon Brown.
Within twenty four hours Downing Street announced he was Stormont- bound.
After that meeting there was a detectable shift in Mr Robinson’s language. He had been forced into a meeting with the Prime Minister not of his choosing.
On emerging Mr. Robinson repeatedly spoke in the first person about the onus on him to get policing and justice devolved on correct terms.
The DUP leader spoke in ‘singular ‘ parlance implying the responsibility for the transfer of policing and justice powers rested on his shoulders alone.
On the financial package he declared
” I don’t want anybody coming back to me saying you didn’t etc etc ….”
This was a reference to the make-up of the financial package needed to underpin the return of policing
Mark Devenport said on the BBC one DUP source spoke of Sinn Fein not being ” house trained in the ways of government.”
This claim has not been challenged by the DUP.
All of this is leading to one conclusion.
Peter Robinson is publicly redefining the office of First and deputy First Minister.
According to the authors of the rules governing the office of OFMDFM that office is defined as ‘The First Minister and deputy First Minister share their responsibilities with each other in a diarchy.’ This means the two ministers have equal power. The First and deputy First Minister are entitled to the same salary of one hundred and eleven thousand one hundred and eighty three pounds.
It appears that Martin Mc Guinness moved to slap down the Dup’s Simon Hamilton in the Assembly when he referred to The Deputy First Minister as “the deputy.”
He reminded him to address him properly as the Deputy First Minister and a co- equal to the First Minister.
Mr Robinson is not stepping back from his ‘solo run’ effort.
In the wake of the midnight discussions in London with the Prime Minister he said ” I will want to speak again” and he referred to the police, court services etc.
To all of this Mr Robinson speaks of the need for the community having confidence in the return of policing and justice powers here.
He further speaks of the need for more consultation.
When he talks of consultation and community confidence this is taken to mean he is speaking of his community – the unionist community.
Peter Robinson is one of the finest parliamentarians of his generation. He is ‘too big’ to be ‘so petty’ in his behaviour.
He should be the custodian and guardian of OFMDFM.
He should guard against any diminution or dilution of the status of that office.
How does he think what is going on is reading in the broad community and in the eyes of the outer world ?
He must think long term. The Dup might not always be the biggest party in the Assembly.
He should be building guarantees into all processes during his tenure to be instructive to those who follow in the next generation.
That is what true leadership demands.