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DUP conference: Party enters genuine post-Paisley era under Arlene Foster

By Noel McAdam

The weekend’s DUP conference took place almost a month sooner than usual - and could be even earlier next year.

For at least some in the party leadership want to move the event closer to the main national party conference season in September.

Somewhat ironic for a party often accused of wanting to go back in time.

But in almost every other sense and given the extent of the adulation bestowed on leader Arlene Foster this is a DUP firmly focused on the future. 

In a way which Peter Robinson never quite managed to achieve, it is now a genuinely post-Paisley party.

The earlier time slot, however, meant a number of senior figures were absent from this year’s conference because they had already made other plans.

But shifting the gathering would underline that the DUP is now co-equal fourth large party at Westminster, along with the Liberal Democrats, behind the Conservatives, Labour and Scottish Nationalists.

Insiders deny the real reason for moving the timing is to get away from constantly happening the week before Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice gathering - often providing the fuel for the TUV leaders’ fire.

It often left the impression of Jim having the last word.

Instead he was dismissed in a single line from DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds as a “one man band” who has “run out of tunes”.

In contrast the theme song as Arlene entered the conference hall for her keynote speech was the funky chart hit “We Are Family”.

The DUP likes to characterise itself in family terms, even though everyone knows what dysfunctional and unhappy places families can be.

Yet for the moment at least, and to use the phrase of former US President George Bush, this DUP is much more the Waltons than the Simpsons.

Or, closer to home, much more Corrie than Eastenders.

DUP members have, of course, many reasons to be cheerful - the results of the May Assembly election retaining all 38 seats and within shouting distance of a 39th in west Belfast, of all places.

And as MLA Gordon Lyons pointed out - along with some of the other parties - the DUP now has a significant proportion of young people in its membership.

These are changed times. Significantly in her speech Mrs Foster failed to criticise her Stormont power-sharing partners Sinn Fein and even deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who can usually be relied on for the more traditional form of tup-thumping - was rather muted when it came to going on the offensive against republicans.  

Not that there will be an invite going out to Martin McGuinness in any foreseeable future.

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