Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party the DUP celebrates its 50th birthday today

The Democratic Unionist Party turns 50 today.

The party, which was founded by the late Rev Ian Paisley on September 30 1971, will celebrate with a dinner tonight.

The DUP was launched at a time when the Troubles was rapidly worsening, amid an escalating IRA terrorist campaign.

The party emerged out of the Protestant Unionist Party, also founded by Dr Paisley, who had established the Ulster Free Presbyterian Church 20 years previously in 1951.

The then DUP general secretary Peter Robinson and leader Rev Ian Paisley in the late 1970s, at what was at the time the DUP headquarters on the Albertbridge Road in Belfast. The party was founded by Dr Paisley several years earlier, on September 30 1971. Picture Pacemaker

Baron Bannside, as he would later become, led the party for 37 years.

It was then taken over by Peter Robinson, who led it until 2015 (and whose weekly column will appear in tomorrow’s News Letter), and then by Arlene Foster, who was ousted earlier this year.

Mrs Foster said at the time that she would leave the party, but it is unclear if this is still happening. The BBC is reporting that she will not be at this evening’s dinner at the Crowne Plaza hotel in south Belfast.

Her departure was followed by the leadership of Edwin Poots, which lasted only a matter of weeks, before the incumbent Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected.

Four of the DUP politicians who led the party, seen in 2007 when Rev Ian Paisley was still in that post. From left, the then DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, Dr Paisley, the then environment minister Arlene Foster, and the then Arts and Sports Minister Edwin Poots. Picture: Diane Magill

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The current DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, seen earlier this month

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Alistair Bushe