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DUP Analysis

Political journalist and Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter, while stressing the DUP will play a key role in the formation of a Stormont Executive before the 24 November deadline, poses major questions - is the party fully united, or are there factions bidding for control of Unionism's largest political party?

Dr John Coulter • 19 June 2006

The formation of a power-sharing Executive at Stormont will be decided solely by which of the three factions within Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party is in control of the party by the 24 November deadline.

Founded 35 years ago in 1971, Paisley has remained the undisputed DUP leader and has built his movement during this political generation into the leading voice for Northern unionism, eclipsing both Bill Craig's Vanguard Unionists and David Trimble's Ulster Unionists.

The secret of its success electorally is that Paisley gave a voice to two very muted sections of Northern society – the religious fundamentalist Right-wing, and the Protestant working and lower middle classes.

The primary Paisleyite strategy has always been party unity before progress. From a couple of Protestant Unionist MPs in the original Stormont Parliament axed in March 1972, the DUP has now passed the UUP representation in Westminster, Europe, the Northern Assembly and local government.

With only a matter of weeks to go to the summer recess, Paisley is firmly in control of his party and barring a sudden collapse in the 80-year-old leader's health, a political coup may be the only option if the North is to witness the creation of a DUP/Sinn Fein government by November.

Across the party, three clearly defined factions have emerged, but it is in the 32-strong Assembly group the internal divisions can be identified. This observation is strengthened in that all nine DUP Westminster MPs are also MLAs.

The three factions have been dubbed the modernisers, fundamentalists and the ultras, but at this precise point in time the dynamic driving the party is not to split.

The controlling fundamentalist faction has been trying to convince members of the other two groupings that all the party's gains have been achieved by purely targeting the UUP in elections.

The fundamentalists believe if the party remains united, it can finally finish off Reg Empey's UUP in an expected Assembly election next May.

The modernisers want to create an Executive with Sinn Fein because they fear failure on 24 November will see Stormont permanently scrapped and joint authority between London and Dublin imposed on the North.

The so-called ultras – representing traditional hardline, Right-wing unionist opinion – does not want to deal with republicans within the Assembly and is more akin to a new millennium version of the highly successful Vanguard Movement of the mid Seventies.

In a situation where either the fundamentalists or modernisers form an Executive with SF, the ultras would most likely split from the DUP to form a New Vanguard Party, which would probably enjoy considerable grassroots support in rural traditional unionist areas, especially in Co Antrim.

Of the existing 32 DUP MLAs, 16 could be considered modernisers, 12 in the fundamentalist camp with four ultras. However, given the amount of negotiations and political bartering which will be taking place in the next six months to November, you could see some 'side switching' among the factions.

Paisley senior is the fundamentalist champion, and key members in his clique would be his son, Ian Junior from North Antrim; Paul Girvan from neighbouring South Antrim; Independent Orange Order Grand Master George Dawson from East Antrim; former Lord's Day Observance Society spokesman Nelson McCausland from North Belfast; Gospel singers David Simpson from Upper Bann – the man who toppled Trimble, and Free Presbyterian cleric Rev Willy McCrea from Mid Ulster, who is also South Antrim MP.

The fundamentalist clique is also boosted by husband and wife team of Nigel and Diane Dodds from North and West Belfast respectively. Their ranks could be helped if Independent Unionist – and himself a former Gospel singer – Paul Berry from Newry and Armagh – was allowed back in the DUP ranks in spite of high profile allegations about his private life.

This would give the fundamentalists 13 – three short of the estimated modernising faction's tally of 16 MLAs, headed by another husband and wife team of deputy leader Peter Robinson from East Belfast and his wife, Iris, from Strangford.

Other leading MLAs perceived to be in the modernising wing are former Carrickfergus mayor David Hilditch from East Antrim; Lagan Valley dissident duo defectors Jeffrey Donaldson and Norah Beare; Foyle's William Hay; former Belfast Lord Mayor Sammy Wilson, now in East Antrim, along with two other UUP defectors – Peter Weir in North Down, and Arlene Foster in Fermanagh/ South Tyrone.

MEP Jim Allister is being viewed as the ultras' champion should the party enter an Executive. If there was no Executive by November, the four ultra MLAs would most likely join up with the 12 fundamentalists plus Berry to outgun the modernisers by a single vote.

His impressive European election victory has given Allister considerable clout and respect among traditional rank and file rural unionists, concerned the DUP may give away too many concessions to SF in the formation of an Executive.

They could view the need to establish a new Right-wing party because it could be perceived the DUP had adopted the power-sharing policies of Trimble's UUP.

A hot tip for deputy leader of the ultras would be popular North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey. Such is his grassroots support, it has been mooted he could even challenge Ian Junior for the Westminster nomination when Paisley senior retires as MP.

Should the ultras emerge as a significant grassroots movement in the next 12 months, his popularity would make Storey a prime candidate to dump out fundamentalist Dawson as Independent Orange boss.

Other leading ultra contenders also enjoy tremendous rank and file support in their respective constituencies – Wilson Clyde in South Antrim; East Derry's Gregory Campbell, and West Tyrone's Thomas Buchanan.

The ultra camp would also be helped if vehemently anti-Agreement QC, North Down's Robert McCartney of the fringe United Kingdom Unionist Party teamed up with Allister, also an eminent QC.

There can be no doubting an Allister-Storey-McCartney coalition could be an electoral dream team ticket for thousands of disillusioned unionists concerned about what further political ground unionism – and particular the DUP - would have to conceded to maintain a power-sharing Executive.

Three key questions will also decide which of the DUP factions emerges as top dog on November 24:

  • Do the modernisers under Peter Robinson have the guts to stage a coup, and join forces with Empey's UUP to form a United Unionist Coalition?
  • Will Paisley's fundamentalists hold the present line of maintaining party unity above political progress?
  • If the DUP does cement an Executive deal with SF, how quickly can the ultras and their perceived champion Allister build a movement to provide a Right-wing voice for unionist concerns?

Summary of the three camps:

Fundamentalists: 12 MLAs – headed by Ian Paisley senior; joined by Paul Girvan, Ian Paisley junior, George Dawson, Nelson McCausland, Edwin Poots (Lagan Valley), Stephen Moutray (Upper Bann), Maurice Morrow (Fermanagh/South Tyrone), Nigel Dodds, William McCrea, David Simpson, and Diane Dodds. Paul Berry would give them 13.

Modernisers: 16 MLAs – headed by Peter Robinson; joined by George Robinson (East Derry), Alex Easton (North Down), David Hilditch, Jim Shannon (Strangford), Mark Robinson (South Belfast), Robin Newton (East Belfast), George Ennis (Strangford), Norah Beare, William Hay, Iris Robinson, Jeffrey Donaldson, Sammy Wilson, Jim Wells (South Down), Peter Weir and Arlene Foster.

Combined with the UUP Assembly Group of 24 UUP and David Ervine of the PUP, a United Unionist Coaliition could have at least 41 MLAs – enough to break through the required parallel consent level of 50 per cent of unionist designated MLAs.

Ultras: four MLAs and one MEP – headed by Jim Allister; joined by Wilson Clyde, Mervyn Storey, Gregory Campbell and Thomas Buchanan. Along with Robert McCartney, this 'Gang of Six' has the makings of a traditional grassroots Right-wing New Vanguard Party.



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