A party formed by Ian Paisley in September 1971 - the ultimate outsider, a radical firebrand loyalist preacher who would later be brought in from the cold.
Ian Paisley led the counter-demonstrations to the Civil Rights marches in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.
He was a fundamentalist Protestant preacher who formed his own ministry with the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951. He preached at the Martyrs Memorial Church on the Ravenhill Road, Belfast.
His influence was wide-ranging and his fiery orations from both the pulpit and the street gave him a mandate at the polls when he formed the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971 to rival the Ulster Unionist Party which had governed Northern Ireland much like a one-party state for nearly 50 years.
He was very much an outsider.
He was not a member of the established order nor was he a member of the elite.
He was however elected to the House of Commons as a member of Parliament and also as a Member of the European Parliament
He found his niche in voicing and then representing the more conservative and hardline unionist voters, comprising many fundamentalists, anti-Catholic, Protestant Reform brethren, in unison with loyalist extremists and paramilitaries aligned with the Orange Order.
Paisley himself was a member of the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and addressed rallies of the Independent Orange Order.
He was very much a man of his time. Many accuse him of inciting violence and prolonging the conflict.
He eventually gained the prize he treasured most when he became the joint First Minister of Northern Ireland in the regionally devolved assembly at Stormont.
From maverick to minister, with many deaths in between.
With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 David Trimble, Ulster Unionist Party and Seamus Mallon, Social Democratic Labour Party, entered Stormont as joint First Ministers. They were ultimately replaced by Paisley's DUP and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein the following decade. The ultimate prize in politics locally of being First Minister of Northern Ireland led Ian Paisley and his DUP into government with SF. He was First Minister between 2007 and 2008 alongside Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.
He was ousted and some felt he was betrayed by the party when he was forced to stand down as party leader, and Peter Robinson, one of his closest allies, took over the reins in 2008 as party leader and First Minister.
This coronation ended when Peter Robinson lost the support of the party and Arlene Foster became the first female leader of the DUP in 2015, becoming First Minister in 2016.
There have always been two factions within the DUP. Most parties have a left and a right.
The DUP could be described as having a right-wing and even farther right-wing.
There is a fundamentalist, pro-creationist orthodoxy, never on a Sunday, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, element within the party. And then there is the ever so slightly more pragmatic, slightly more progressive element.
Arlene Foster was deposed as a leader recently when a letter was circulated saying she had lost the support of the party over the Northern Ireland Protocol and, accordingly, she stepped aside.
Her replacement is Edwin Poots: a member of the farming community who has been described as a fundamental creationist.
His leadership position was ratified at a recent meeting of the officers and elected members of the DUP.
However, his candidacy has come at a huge price.
He only narrowly defeated his rival in the Leadership election, Jeffrey Donaldson, an ex- Ulster Unionist Party stalwart, now DUP MP for Lagan Valley, by the narrowest of margins.
He won by 19 votes to 17 votes. Chosen by the elected MP’s and regional MLA’s.
At the meeting called to ratify his appointment, there was a walkout by those opposed to his elevation to the position of party leader, including his main protagonist Jeffrey Donaldson, alongside others closely aligned to Arlene Foster the outgoing party leader.
This fracture could well see the voting base for the DUP disintegrate.
As hardline traditionalist fundamentalists and creationists, together with more sinister elements of loyalist paramilitaries, rally around Mr Poots, those who are uncomfortable with this heady cocktail mix of a bible in one hand and the threat of loyalist paramilitary violence in the other, may very well move towards the more progressive and comfortable unionism offered by the Alliance Party.
Some senior members of the DUP have claimed they were intimidated by elements of the proscribed Ulster Defense Association, loyalist paramilitaries, during the recent leadership contest, and police investigations are ongoing.
Where do we find ourselves now?
To many, this might seem to be choppy unchartered waters.
Believe me, we have been here before.
The symbiotic relationship between unionism and loyalist paramilitarism and indeed many of the state structures is nothing new.
It has been the case since the partition of Ireland and the inception of the state in 1921.
Has Ian Paisley reached out from beyond the grave to replace his imprimatur on the party he founded?
As the party was slowly, very slowly, becoming slightly more progressive under Foster, was this coup masterminded by Ian Paisley junior?
Is he the hand behind the throne?
What we have witnessed may very well lead to the fracturing of the DUP into yet another Unionist breakaway party, propelling both Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party into the two top government positions of Joint First Ministers with Sinn Fein taking the lead role in the 2022 elections.
As the DUP hardliners circle the wagons for their inevitable defeat over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and as loyalists threaten a summer of violence if the Protocol is not removed, we could be witnessing the final rattle of the partitionist unionist snake.
As the song says, ‘there may be trouble ahead, but let’s face the music and dance’.
Better days lay ahead, once the toxic boil of unionism is lanced by their own electorate.
|Fra Hughes is a Freelance journalist-author-commentator-political activist.|
Follow on Twitter @electfrahughes