Just because the party has laboured hard to modernise does not mean Theresa May will find them a pushoverby Andy Pollak / June 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Democratic Unionist Party, uniquely in the United Kingdom, is a political party founded on the basis of fear of an outside enemy and fanatical adherence to the Protestant religion. Its formation was announced in September 1971, on the night of one of the first major Provisional IRA bombings in Belfast, by Rev. Ian Paisley, then known largely as a rabble-rousing ultra-Protestant preacher and scourge of any unionist government that contemplated even the slightest move towards liberalism in Northern Ireland. Early internal debates were over whether it should be called the Protestant Unionist or Democratic Unionist Party.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s its electoral support grew steadily, as fearful Northern Ireland Protestants gathered around its charismatic leader at a time when the very nature and existence of their sectarian statelet, under murderous pressure from the IRA, seemed to be at stake. In the early 1980s, it was estimated that 90% of its elected representatives were members of Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church, a small fundamentalist denomination in a province of such denominations. The main difference was that its leader’s aim, ultimately realised, was to replace the old Ulster Unionist Party as the province’s dominant political force, and to become its first minister. As it turned out (in 2007), Paisley’s overweening ambition meant he would be prepared to do the unimaginable: to go into power-sharing government with the bitterest of unionism’s enemies, the political party of the IRA, Sinn Féin.