Saturday, 1 November 2008

DUP Conference 2008

I was down at the DUP Conference at the Armagh City Hotel this weekend. The big-hitters were all on-message, with Dodds singing the praises of Robbo, Robbo singing the praises of Iris, and everyone singing the praises of Ian Paisley. Which is just as well, as the BBC were filming everything.

Sinn Féin was the biggest recipient of speaker condemnation, although there were a few digs at Jim Allister as well. Notwithstanding the oft-rumoured threat from the TUV and the fact the Executive hasn't met in months, the party put on a strong and confident front. Of course, there wasn't really much likelihood of dissent anyway given that their conferences consist purely of pre-planned, set-piece speeches by MLAs.

Nigel Dodds whipped up the 400-strong audience before Peter Robinson arrived onstage to the strains of the Verve's 'Bittersweet Symphony'. The choice of music was quite apt given that Robinson's joy at stepping out of Paisley's shadow after a quarter of a century has surely been marred by the derailment of devolved government.

The issue of devolution of policing and justice was unsurprisingly a hot topic, with the DUP leader saying that his party wanted it to happen, but only when that most immeasurable of things- unionist community confidence- is sufficient.

Overall, the DUP will surely be happy that their first conference since Peter Robinson became leader went smoothly, but the one question that wasn't answered over the weekend was 'Who's going to be the DUP candidate for Europe'? Diane Dodds might have some time on her hands since she lost her West Belfast Assembly seat and Edwin Poots hasn't fallen out of favour with the leadership- indeed, Robinson said he wanted to see the Lagan Valley MLA back in the Executive before too long.

Whoever they select, they'll have to make their mind up pretty soon.

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