Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Paisley’s bid to rewrite DUP history doesn’t bear scrutiny

What is behind the lingering friction between the Paisley and Robinson camps, asks David Gordon

Here's something a Belfast Telegraph journalist does not write every day. It's time to speak up for Peter Robinson.

The DUP leader has indulged in frankly silly attacks on this newspaper, accusing it of a "smear" campaign over its entirely justified coverage of the scandals and controversies that have dogged his household.

He has also personally lambasted the present writer.

But no matter - we managed to survive the experience.

The reason for this piece is the recent News Letter article by Lord Bannside - aka Ian Paisley - which contained an apparent swipe at Mr Robinson.

On the subject of whether he could accept a Sinn Fein First Minister, the ex-DUP leader this week wrote: "I have to accept the will of the people.

"For many years I had to accept that the Democratic Unionist Party that I founded and led was not the majority party. But, I worked at it and when I left off the leadership I left my party as having the largest mandate in Europe, the largest mandate in Westminster and the largest mandate in Stormont - we even had a few Lords!

"Sinn Fein didn't become the majority party on my watch."

It's difficult, to say the least, to interpret that as anything other than a jibe at his successor as party leader.

The sad truth for Lord Bannside is that his proud boast does not stand up to scrutiny.

There are many interlocking reasons why the DUP rose to the top of the Stormont stack.

The politician formerly known as Ian Paisley only refers to how he "worked at it".

Others in his party would doubtless point out that they "worked at it" as well. That includes the man who served as his able deputy for three decades.

Indeed, without Mr Robinson's strategic thinking and organisational flair, it's highly unlikely that the Paisley posterior would have got near the First Minister's chair.

Peter Robinson had more than a bit to do with the DUP's success in developing its urban strongholds and moving well beyond its religious roots.

As far back as the late-1980s, he was also seeking to move unionism towards some kind of power-sharing future through a Task Force report penned with senior Ulster Unionist figures.

Over the last decade, meanwhile, the DUP moved steadily onto the UUP's turf, taking a chunk of its votes and providing a new home for leading politicians from its ranks.

Peter Robinson had a major role in that, too.

The Paisley article is presumably referring to the 2009 European Election result, when Sinn Fein topped the poll. That was not due to a surge in support for SF, but a fracturing of the unionist vote caused by the - apparently short-lived - rise of Jim Allister's TUV.

But the TUV had polled strongly well before the European contest. The DUP lost a significant portion of its support to it in the Dromore council by-election in February 2008, leading to the UUP claiming the seat unexpectedly.

And who was DUP leader at the time of this council by-election?

None other than Ian Paisley.

It was on his "watch".

His article this week will do nothing to quell speculation about lingering friction between the Paisley and Robinson camps. There are many of us who believe the House of Paisley has yet to get over its abrupt fall from power in 2008.

David Gordon is the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor and author of The Fall of the House of Paisley (Gill & Macmillan)

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