The DUP has been a vital force within Northern Ireland unionism for five decades

Happy birthday to the DUP, which reached it half century yesterday!

By Editorial
Friday, 1st October 2021, 8:59 am
Updated Friday, 1st October 2021, 9:07 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The party has been a vital force within unionism for five decades.

The late Reverend Dr Ian Paisley was an orator of international repute. His rise within the world of fundamentalist Christianity, at the start of the 1950s, came almost two decades before his political success of 1970. That year he became an MP at both Stormont and Westminster. The next year, Dr Paisley founded the Democratic Unionist Party.

For three decades it never eclipsed the Ulster Unionist Party, except in limited instances such as the 1981 council elections, and in all the elections to the European Parliament.

The latter successes were due to the huge personal vote for Rev Paisley and his firm line on terror, even from people who did not share his religion or approve of his detailed policies.

For a while after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the DUP seemed marginalised on the Northern Ireland political scene, and adopted a strange position of working the new power sharing arrangements as ministers, while rejecting its ethos and refusing to attend executive meetings with Sinn Fein.

Peter Robinson, whose bi weekly News Letter column is opposite, was almost as influential in the DUP as Dr Paisley. A close reading of his politics in the 1980s suggests that he was on a long journey to accepting a new dispensation, which in 2007 saw the party agree to share power with SF.

For the better part of a decade, despite constant hiccups, the DUP seemed to be defying gravity in achieving stability with political irreconcilables, but now mandatory coalition seems to mired in problems as to be barely feasible any more.

DUP pragmatism has often been appropriate and at times led to good government. After Brexit, and particularly after the 2019 protocol, its pragmatism went too far. It also was too pragmatic on legacy, and went further even than some casual unionists could bear. It has toughened its stance on those issues, as was needed — it is a duty of the largest unionist party to set out clear boundaries beyond which it will never go.

In the meantime, we wish the DUP well on its big anniversary and look back with gratitude at its vast achievements.

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