Peter Robinson is not my favourite Northern Irish politician. I find it hard even to admire a man who has completely U-turned on the position he held when he first entered politics, who is so devoid publicly of grace and kindness, and who has failed in seven years to deliver anything approaching the social and economic reforms we need to be a more open and prosperous society.
Yet we will miss him when he is gone.
With Paisley and now Robinson as Leader, the DUP was a party others could deal with. Dealing with it was tough, of course, and the outcome was often a let-down. But it was possible.
Internally too, the machine worked – it was Robinson, in fact, who delivered the DUP’s best ever election result in 2011. It was relatively clear who directed Unionism, even if we were often left baffled by its direction.
Even in the past month or so, the DUP has been coherent enough – just – to hold on in the Assembly when collapse must have been politically tempting (but would, for all its foibles, have been seriously damaging to all of us, economically and socially).
I am not convinced the post-Robinson DUP will be anything like as effective a machine. It will surely degenerate into factions; into incoherence between Westminster and Stormont; and into unmanageable instability between its religious and more secular wings.
This is good news for its electoral opponents, of course. However, it may in the long run make Northern Ireland’s slow political transition much harder to manage. There will be times – many times – when that is a very bad thing. Uncertainty and instability will become the absolute norm.
I do not believe, honestly, that Peter Robinson is a good man. However, he was capable at least of managing some good things. We may not believe it today, but a year from now someone somewhere will comment on how we miss him.