The already acrimonious relationship between the current leadership of the DUP and its founder, Ian Paisley, is bordering on poisonous levels in the wake of last night’s BBC interview in which Lord Bannside claimed he was ‘forced out’ of the party he founded (writes Ballymena Times editor, Des Blackadder).
The former North Antrim MP and his wife Eileen told their side of the story in graphic terms in an interview which amply illustrated the sense of bitterness felt by the former leader.
A formal response from the DUP was issued just before 1am on Tuesday morning and there was nothing conciliatory in its tone.
The party statement read: “At no point were those colleagues named in the programme involved in any meeting where Dr Ian Paisley, as he was then known, was given an ultimatum to step down as Democratic Unionist Party Leader. Nigel Dodds did not issue an ultimatum that Ian should be gone by Friday nor did Peter Robinson issue any two-month ultimatum. That simply did not happen. Nor did any meeting involving those named by Dr Paisley take place in February as claimed in the programme.
“A delegation was charged by Assembly Members to express their views on a range of issues to Dr Paisley. This meeting took place on 31st January 2008. When the delegation relayed the opinions of Assembly Colleagues (they did not express their own views) Ian did not accept that the account represented the position of colleagues.
“Dr Paisley asked that a survey of MLAs and MPs be conducted by his Special Advisor to give “a general view” of his standing in the Party. That survey was carried out on 4th and 5th February 2008. The survey when completed in the manner he requested was given to him marked “Strictly Private and Confidential” on 6th February 2008.
“On 4th March 2008, Dr Paisley sought a meeting with his Deputy Leader where he indicated he intended to announce his retirement but said he first wanted to host the International Investment Conference some two months later.
“As Lord Bannside has said in several interviews and in correspondence, he chose his time of retirement, not anyone else, as has now been suggested. The Party is saddened by this turn of events and has only chosen to correct some of the main inaccuracies. A running commentary is unedifying.
“The Party is grateful for the good things that Dr Paisley did to bring about political progress in Northern Ireland and continues to wish him well. The Democratic Unionist Party does not intend to comment further.”
There has been a muted reaction in the Ballymena area - long regarded as Paisley heartland.
On the political front, there has been no breaking of ranks from the local DUP membership. This is hardly surprising given that most of the Paisley old guard have either passed on or have signed up to the ideals and policies expostulated by the new leadership.
The DUP in Ballymena and North Antrim is now a radically different animal in comparison to the no compromise, no surrender party based in grassroots loyalism of Paisley’s charismatic glory days.
It was once a party which relied on pre-election parades and robust, megaphone amplified roaring of old school loyalist cliches to harness votes. Nowadays, DUP councillors are much more likely to be members of a Chamber of Commerce than hurling chamber pots of invective at opponents.
Many of the new faces in the DUP’s political frontline were mere children in the days when Paisley’s ‘not an inch’ rhetoric was the staple diet for his followers.
They are of a different breed to the ‘Paisleyites’ of yesteryear and it seems that they will, despite their sense of irritation and discomfort, remain firmly within the party fold.
So far, the current North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley Jnr. has maintained a stoic silence on the issue, but his name did feature prominently in the revealing BBC interview and social media, which now has a powerful and often brutal impact on poltical life was packed with questions about his position.
At the last elections, Ian Junior romped home with a classic Paisley-style tsunami of backing in North Antrim. Many will now be wondering how he can ride out the cyclonic storm which has father and mother have unleashed.