The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Question of Paisley's Legacy

Political journalist and Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter assesses the chances for success less than 100 days to go to the crunch 24 November deadline when a power-sharing Executive must be formed at Stormont

Dr John Coulter • 19 August 2006

With less than 100 days to go to Super Friday, DUP boss Ian Paisley is the North's Man of Destiny.

If there is no agreement on a power-sharing Executive by 24 November, Northern Secretary Peter Hain will chop the salaries and allowances for all 108 Assembly member – a sure sign that Stormont will be permanently mothballed.

As the 100-day political clock ticks away, Paisley remains firmly in control of his party. In spite of all the evidence his MLAs are beavering away on the Preparation for Government Committee, Paisley alone will make the final decision on any green light for an Executive with Sinn Fein.

The real crunch will come on 23 November – 24 hours before the deadline – depending if Paisley remains as firmly in control of the DUP.

30th October marks the 35th anniversary of Paisley forming the DUP at an Ulster Hall rally in Belfast in 1971. Now in his 81st year, the Big Man of Unionist politics and Protestant fundamentalism will surely be deciding what his legacy to the Northern community will be.

Judging by his 'Never, Never, Never'-style vintage Paisley speech at this year's Twelfth, there is not a snowball's chance in the flames of Hell of a DUP/Sinn Fein power-sharing Executive on the cards by the November deadline.

His negative speech sparked tough criticism of the DUP leader's political stance from one of the most influential Northern Protestant clerics – Dean Houston McKelvey.

If Dean McKelvey's sharp rebuke of Paisley in a letter in the Belfast Cathedral Digest was to spark a groundswell of public opinion against the DUP boss, it would be the only lever which would forcibly nudge him into an Executive.

Paisley's Achilles' Heel is that the Unionist electorate would turn against him personally. As the hours tick away steadily to Day Zero, his party will paw over every opinion poll to monitor the level of support for the DUP boss.

Despite constant rumours his two main political confidantes are his son, Ian Junior, and the Free Presbyterian Gospel-singing cleric and South Antrim MP William McCrea, Paisley has always been a politician who makes his own decisions.

If the McKelvey letter became a bandwagon of criticism, Paisley could become worried if the polls confirmed the public would abandon him personally if he did not make a deal with Sinn Fein.

The question of Paisley's legacy revolves around two scenarios. Does he want to be the man who was shackled by the iron straitjacket of his own making this Twelfth, collapsed the Assembly, and sold Northern Unionism down the drain to joint authority with Dublin?

Or will his legacy be of the man who became bigger than his own negative history to date, formed an Executive and gave Northern Unionism hope for the future?

If Paisley is in total control of the DUP, what is equally clear is that the so-called modernising wing around deputy boss Peter Robinson has been neutered in terms of political influence.

However, in recent weeks since the start of the July summer recess at Stormont, a small group of DUP people, dubbed the new realists, have been steadily emerging.

They are believed to have their ears close to the rank and file Unionist family. The so-called new realists recognise the dilemma Unionism will find itself in if Stormont is chopped and joint authority imposed.

In this respect, the opinions of popular Foyle MLA William Hay and East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell are fast gaining ground among the new realist wing.

If the new realists could convince Paisley he faces a coup from the Unionist people if there is no Executive, this could be the one and only chance to shock Paisley out of his present 'not an inch' corner and into a power-sharing scenario.

Ironically, the Sir Reg Empey-led rival Ulster Unionists will be looking to their former dissident MP Jeffrey Donaldson to possibly save the day.

One senior UUP MLA has told The Blanket: “Wee Jeffrey has already split one party; why can't he split another?”

Donaldson was bold enough to continually stand up to then UUP boss David Trimble in the years following the Belfast Agreement before eventually defecting to the Paisley camp where he has become a voice of moderation.

During this final 100-day era, if Donaldson could convince enough DUP MLAs to defect to a United Unionist Coalition with Empey's UUP and David Ervine of the Progressive Unionists, Hain and Tony Blair may be prepared to give the new Unionist Rainbow grouping a chance to form the Executive.

The Paisley camp is petrified a deal with Sinn Fein will split the DUP, with the hardline religious fundamentalists leaving to form their own radical Right-wing movement.

However, even Paisley would be prepared to face down his own religious Rednecks if he feared the overall Unionist electorate was going to desert him.

It is likely discussions to form an Executive will go right to the wire on 24 November when one of three outcomes will happen:

Paisley will finally buckle under the poll pressure and form the Executive;

Paisley won't budge and Stormont collapses to be replaced by joint authority;

Donaldson, Hay or Campbell can convince the new realists in the DUP to defy Paisley and either lead a coup themselves, or force Paisley senior into an Executive.
















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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