Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Beleaguered DUP leadership reeling from savage Paisley blow

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has been under attack from all directions this week and the last thing the party needed was the widow of its co-founder and leader for four decades joining in.

Baroness Paisley's words in two radio interviews yesterday were softly spoken but nonetheless lethal to the DUP leadership.

She blamed it just as much as Sinn Fein for the political stalemate at Stormont and she said that Arlene Foster should have stood aside last year after the cash-for-ash scandal broke. By stating that Mrs Foster should have stepped down, the Rev Ian Paisley's widow is effectively taking Sinn Fein's side in the RHI row.

That is all the more noteworthy because Sinn Fein itself has moved on from demanding the DUP leader stand down.

Had the DUP signed off the draft agreement between the two parties, Mrs Foster would have been heading straight back into government with Michelle O'Neill.

It's unlikely that the two women will be able to build anything like the strong working relationship that existed between Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness. But if they are in future returned as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, they will have to establish some sort of decent partnership for there to be any hope of power-sharing succeeding.

Faith in the devolved institutions is so low that they couldn't withstand a battle a month, let alone one a day.

The Paisley-McGuinness era is looked back upon with fondness by many people across the political spectrum. It will go down in the history books as the golden age of devolution at Stormont.

But it's important to remember that the two men were only in power together for a year. And that Dr Paisley was effectively ousted by his own party because he was too openly relaxed and friendly with the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister.

The chuckle brothers scared some unionists just as much as the spectre of an Irish Language Act does now.

Dr Paisley did set an example and lead his supporters to a political accommodation very few people would have foreseen. But he had considerably more clout both in his party and the wider unionist community than Mrs Foster currently has or ever did.

There is no love lost between members of the Paisley family and certain DUP leadership figures. The bad blood goes back to Dr Paisley's final months in 2008 as party leader and First Minister.

In a television interview in 2014, Baroness Paisley accused senior DUP members of treating her husband "shamefully". She said: "I think they assassinated him by their words and by their deeds and by the way they treated him." Particular criticism was directed at Nigel Dodds.

But when Mrs Foster became DUP leader in 2015, Baroness Paisley's son Kyle described her as "very capable". As the first female unionist leader, he predicted that she would "bring a breath of fresh air to it." Three years on, his mother is obviously bitterly disappointed.

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