Hamill’s Beat - It’s become a battle for hearts and minds now

26/11/2011 PACEMAKER BELFAST. DUP leader Peter Robinson milks the applause of party members as he delivered his speech to the annual DUP party conference at La Mon House this afternoon. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.
26/11/2011 PACEMAKER BELFAST. DUP leader Peter Robinson milks the applause of party members as he delivered his speech to the annual DUP party conference at La Mon House this afternoon. PICTURE CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER.

Welcome to the brave new world. The armed struggle and actions like Peter Robinson’s raid on Clontribet in County Monaghan with Ulster Resistance are in the past.

“Better to languish in jail… than to forsake principle and betray future generations,” said our First Minister back in his hardline days.

That was six months before his cross-border ‘raid’ in 1986. Fortunately for Peter it wasn’t himself who had to do the languishing. A spot of plea bargaining followed by a IR£17,500 fine on a charge of unlawful assembly took care of that.

Now Peter wants his DUP colleagues broaden their appeal. He wants his party to woo Catholics to vote in favour of the union. Meanwhile the Shinners have long since joined the persuaders in favour of the re-unification of Ireland.

Now it’s to be charm offensives all round instead of armed offensives. That’s grand. Let the new ‘battle’ commence.

We’ve already seen hardliners on the republican side struggle to embrace the concept of winning hearts and minds instead of winning their war. I just hope Peter’s troops can keep up to speed with their change.

After the First Minister’s speech, outlining his new vision for the Party, Gregory Campbell told the Irish News that DUP members would go along with their leader so long as their “core values” were protected. “It needs to be a twin-track approach,” Mr Campbell said. “If we abandon those values there would be strong resistance. We can’t widen the base and dilute our unionism.” Presumably the “core values” include the all-important symbols like the crown on prison officers’ caps.

Politics is a tough sport. Just when hardliners had perfected their game, their leader has moved the goal posts. Now it’s to be a, “twin-track” approach. Churning out hardline statements to appeal to core voters won’t cut it anymore. Ending “them and us” politics will take subtler, more sophisticated messages. The old mean spiritedness won’t do now. It’ll make a fascinating challenge for the DUP dissidents. This I must see!

Read more from Norman Hamill every Tuesday in the Journal