MP Jim Allister is the person best positioned to
lead the DUP when Paisley gives up the post through
retirement or death.
the Paisley party now occupying the political parking
space previously held by Trimble's Ulster Unionists,
the unionist family now needs a radical and confident
leader who can steer the DUP back to its traditional
Right-wing stance and into a coalition with the
North Antrim-based MEP would also make an excellent
replacement for Paisley himself as Westminster MP
for the constituency. Allister has already made
his seat in the European Parliament a 'safe one'
for the DUP.
the 2004 European election, Allister increased Paisley's
personal 28.4 per cent vote of 1999 into a DUP vote
of 31.9 per cent - up almost 4 per cent. The new
MEP certainly scotched all rumours that the party's
success in Europe was entirely based on 'The Big
Man's' popularity vote.
Allister surprised many pundits in Northern Ireland
by handsomely winning the DUP's European nomination
in the first place, fighting off stiff challenges
from Paisleyite 'big guns' such as Maurice Morrow
from Fermanagh South Tyrone, and the present South
Antrim MP, the Free Presbyterian Gospel-singing
cleric Rev William McCrea.
surprise was because Allister had bowed out of politics
in 1987 to concentrate on his legal career following
the decision of the two unionist parties not to
oppose one another in the General Election of that
years earlier, Allister had been pipped as MP for
the new East Antrim seat by Roy Beggs senior of
the UUP by a mere 367 votes. Ironically, in this
year's General Election, Beggs lost the supposedly
'safe' UUP seat to the DUP's Sammy Wilson.
first effectively shot to political fame in 1982
when he took an Assembly seat for North Antrim.
He became the party's Assembly Whip. A barrister
by occupation, he had been a European Parliament
personal assistant to Paisley and DUP Press officer
from 1980 to 1982.
further established his unionist credentials as
joint organiser of the UUP/DUP 'Operation USA' publicity
campaign in the United States in January 1982. When
the boundary changes created the new East Antrim
seat, it had been widely anticipated that Paisley
would contest the new seat, leaving Allister to
campaign in what remained of the North Antrim constituency.
it has been suggested that Allister was parachuted
into East Antrim at the last minute because Paisley
wanted to remain in North Antrim. Had Allister been
the original DUP runner for East Antrim, there is
no doubting that with more time, he could have beaten
Beggs for the seat.
returning to the political arena last year, Allister
has gained himself a reputation of being a tough-talking
yet articulate exponent of the traditional unionist
ideology. His greatest strength is not simply his
extensive popularity amongst the DUP's grassroots,
but also his growing stature amongst Right-wing
sections of the UUP, who are keen to see a coalition
- even a merger - of the two unionist parties.
secured the European seat, under the dual mandate
ruling, he could not hold a Westminster seat, too.
He would have to give this up if he won North Antrim
as a Westminster seat.
many traditional Paisleyite fundamentalists assume
Paisley's son, Ian junior, will be his father's
natural successor as North Antrim MP, many in the
party's modernising wing see Allister as the man
to not only hold the seat, but also win the DUP
he has given a lifetime of service as leader of
the DUP since its inception in 1971, Paisley senior
cannot continue forever. Although his successor
might be expected to come from the ranks of the
DUP's expanded Westminster team, Allister's strong
rank and file popularity amongst both unionist parties
could be the deciding factor in tipping any leadership
race in his favour.
present, the leading contenders are deputy leader
Peter Robinson, North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, and
McCrea. Former UUP man Jeffrey Donaldson, now Lagan
Valley's DUP MP, is the hot tip for the deputy leadership
as well as a grassroots favourite as a future Grand
Master of the Orange Order.
extensive legal background and experience would
give Allister a keen sense of responsibility and
maturity in intense political negotiations, especially
if the DUP has to 'do the business' with Sinn Fein
to get the Stormont Assembly up and running again.
many grassroots unionists want is a united front
amongst the various unionist parties. At the very
least, they want a return to the 1970s and the United
Ulster Unionist Council, or Unionist Coalition,
which operated a very effective 'one seat, one candidate'
are a number of Ulster's 18 constituencies which
are presently in nationalist hands because of a
split unionist vote. Ideally, many unionists want
to see a return structurally to the early 1960s
when there was only one unionist movement, simply
known as The Unionist Party.
know what they want - formal unity. What they lack
is a unionist leadership capable of successfully
delivering that vision. That dream could become
a reality if three people were put in position -
Allister as leader of the DUP, Donaldson as Orange
Order Grand Master, and Reg Empey remaining as UUP
can be no doubting that unionism will re-align itself
once more when Paisley senior is no longer in control
of the DUP, whether that situation is brought about
by his retirement or death.
real fear amongst some DUP grassroots is that if
the party does a deal with Sinn Fein to restore
legislative devolution, a post Paisley DUP will
become a cozy liberal unionist version of the late
Brian Faulkner's old pro-Assembly unionist movement.
the UUP is starting to adopt the stance held by
the former Vanguard Unionist Party in the mid 1970s.
Whilst Paisleyism is now the majority voice in the
unionist family, a post Paisley era will more than
likely see the re-emergence of a strong radical
form of traditional Protestant unionism.
a radical movement will require a clear and unambiguous
leader. That man is Jim Allister. Many in unionism
feel he should have stuck to his guns in 1983 and
remained in North Antrim. Many felt in 1987 he should
have insisted on running again for East Antrim.
Paisley senior finally relinquishes the DUP leadership,
many in both parties hope Allister has the political
will to allow his name to go forward as a leadership
contender. Paisleyism is in its twilight years politically.
The time has come to awaken to a new dawn - that
of Allisterite Unionism.