Belfast Telegraph

DUP edges away from firebrand politics of Paisley era

By Liam Clarke

The DUP conference was, as usual, tightly stage-managed. There were no debates or questions from the floor. Yet this is a party which knows its members very well.

It doesn't wash its dirty linen in public and those who try, like Ruth Patterson or Jenny Palmer, get chopped.

Yet the DUP does closely monitor members' opinions through informal polling, focus groups and simply going round the branches.

It started off as an outgrowth of the Free Presbyterian Church and an extension of Ian Paisley's big personality.

Now it is moving beyond that, but its fundamentalist roots are still deep and strong.

Most want the Bible reflected in law on sexual morality and, after his heart attack, Peter Robinson made it clear that his deep religious faith is sustaining him.

There is almost a sense of mission.

"My race is nearly run; advancing years and failing health bring with them a sense of mortality and counsel me that in time - though I hope not too soon - I must pass beyond the reach of earthly powers," he said.

Later, he added: "I thank God He bound me, in this cause and in this party, to like souls who felt that same conviction and devotion," suggesting that providence had been shaping his political career.

That born-again religious outlook is fading a little and the party may look different in the coming years.

As Mr Robinson sees it, politics constantly changes, while religious truths are eternal.

Still, there were a few DUP politicians who told me at the conference that they believed there should be a free vote on same-sex marriage so that they could support it. It is a minority, but still a sign of re-evaluation in the DUP.

Mr Robinson points out that the party's support base is now more liberal on religious issues than its membership. Eventually, the two must come into line.

Mr Robinson has left the party in good shape for his successors, most likely Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster.

It is more broadly based and stronger than ever before, but politics do keep changing.

Belfast Telegraph

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