Analysis: Getting tough with Paisley will suit some in the new DUP

Ian Paisley being interviewed by Eamonn Mallie
Ian Paisley being interviewed by Eamonn Mallie

Less than two months ago, Peter Robinson chided journalists who were reporting rumblings of unease within the DUP.

His comments then seem wildly inaccurate, given what is now tumbling out into public view.

Speaking to Mark Carruthers on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme at the DUP conference, he said: “I think that there is a tendency in the media to look at the DUP as if it’s just any other political party – it’s not. It is a very special creation; it is a family much more than it is a political party.

“You don’t have the backstabbing and so forth that you have in other political parties.”

If Ian Paisley is to be believed, the only difference between the DUP and other parties is its ability to keep the back-stabbing under wraps for years.

Given the strength of Dr Paisley’s comments (and that based on just a handful of clips, thus far), the DUP finds itself in territory rarely chartered by any leading political party.

Labour can largely disown Tony Blair, Fianna Fail can attempt to airbrush Charlie Haughey from its history and the US Republican Party can attempt to forget George W Bush. But while each of those had long stretches at the top of their parties, none came close to Dr Paisley’s role in the DUP.

He founded the party, led it for more than three decades and, at home and abroad, was to many people the personification of the DUP.

Such a figure cannot be lightly stamped upon by his successors.

Nevertheless, there may be some modernising figures in the party who will see in this potential crisis an opportunity to finally cut the last ties to Paisleyism.

Mr Robinson has tried – or at least was trying until recently – to move the DUP from the right to the centre, effectively making it a more disciplined version of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Throwing Lord Bannside out of the DUP, while it would provoke deep unease for some traditional DUP members and would carry great risk in the mouth of two elections, could be as symbolic a break with the past as Tony Blair’s decision to ditch Clause IV of the Labour constitution.

Mr Robinson has made limited progress in putting his stamp on Paisley’s party. With his time as leader perhaps running out, he may decide the time has come to ditch the family image.