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DUP marks its half-century, but will it still be around in another 50 years?

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This month, the DUP celebrates its 50th birthday. That this extraordinary coalition of political unionism and older religious fervour marks its half-century as the biggest Assembly party — for a few more months, anyway — is remarkable.

As a Paisleyite vehicle to oppose UUP “moderation” and a political outlet for Free Presbyterianism, the DUP might have been expected to have all the longevity of an Edwin Poots’s party leadership.

Less than one month in, the Belfast Telegraph carried a letter (October 19, 1971) from a reader who had “attended a meeting of the party in Rathcoole… and after hearing what is, presumably, their programme, it is my opinion that they have nothing to offer”.

And that was from a former B Special and Army soldier.

Much early Press interest focused on whether Ian Paisley would be joined by future Vanguard leader, William Craig. But there could never be room for two autocrats.

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The DUP was the anti-party party. It rarely bothered with trifling matters like annual conferences in the early years. What to debate?

Paisley’s edicts formed party policy. While there was formal separation of Church and party matters, Free Presbyterianism was pervasive.

Survival depended on generous donations. Not for the DUP the alternative fundraisers of raffles (gambling), or licenced premises. Paisley’s popularity and the intense activism of many members gave the party a foothold.

A rudimentary........

© Belfast Telegraph

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