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ANALYSIS: DUP leader will now seek to buy time

When Peter Robinson became first minister he promised stability and the end to stop-start government. He insisted that he and Sinn Fein could work together

When faced with a crisis, Peter Robinson's favoured tactic is to buy some time.

It takes the heat off, allows him and his advisers to regroup, while at the same time ensuring the party's MLAs all get on message.

There is little doubt that the DUP leader must have been left unnerved by Mike Nesbitt's decision to seize the initiative by pulling out of the Stormont executive last week.

Mr Robinson is often portrayed as unionism's master strategist and will have been reeling as he watched the former news anchorman hold court last Wednesday in Stormont's Great Hall.

It's difficult to believe that the DUP would not have considered exiting the executive themselves, but once the UUP made the move, they could no longer follow suit for fear of appearing to be led by their smaller rivals.

In recent days, therefore, the DUP criticism of the Ulster Unionists has focused on the latter "letting Sinn Féin off the hook". According to Sammy Wilson, it should be republicans who are being forced out of government rather than unionists.

While this has a ring of authenticity, there is a sense that the DUP have been outwitted and are merely putting a positive spin on a weak position.

So what does Peter Robinson do now? He buys time, of course.

As with the long-abandoned Unionist Forum and last year's equally forgettable 'graduated response', talk of tough action and strong leadership is likely to give way to a more pragmatic approach a few weeks down the line.

It emerged last night that in the event of its efforts to exclude Sinn Féin failing, the DUP are hoping for adjournment of the assembly and a fresh round of talks.

This may not appease the hardliners who want the whole Stormont edifice to crash but the gesture should be significant enough to quell disquiet in the party ranks.

If Stormont's track record is anything to go by, there'll be a fresh crisis along soon enough and the DUP leader's latest initiative will just be a fading memory.

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