Ian Og in his da's shoes?

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

The DUP is a curiosity as a political party.

It possesses some of the outward and visible signs of a political party: elected representatives, spokesmen (and Iris Robinson), annual conference, press releases - lots of them - and a consistently high public profile.

What does this facade conceal? Is it really a political party, or the political wing of a religious sect, or a family business? Who knows?

It's true you don't have to be a member of Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church to be a member or even to progress in the party. Look at Peter Robinson.

Still, it helps - there's a predominance of people who are 'saved' or are members of Paisley's Church in top party positions.

Who controls the party?

The answer is Ian Paisley. He founded it. He's leader for life, just like his Church.

The title of the party, Democratic Unionist Party, is a contradiction in terms. It's a bit like the Leninist notion of democratic centralism, a fancy phrase for dictatorship.

We hear talk of division in the party, with a so-called 'modernising' wing led by Peter Robinson - who denies it - and a 'fundamentalist' or nutter wing which seems to be the majority.

The problem for the British and Irish governments is how to get through to Paisley.

Who can influence him?

Who does he trust?

The answer to that question unfortunately seems to be Ian Og.

Paisley's no dope. He's been around in politics one way or another for about 60 years since he cut his teeth in a sectarian campaign in Belfast's Dock constituency in 1949.

He knows you can't trust anyone, certainly not anyone in your own party and definitely not the serried ranks of grinning assassins who swarm behind you when you come to the microphones to speak at Stormont.

Two facts he can be sure of are that Ian Og is going nowhere without him and that blood is thicker than water.

For those reasons Ian Og has assumed greater importance in the general scheme of things in the last couple of years. It's even rumoured that British officials used him as a go-between during negotiations this year to try to assure his da everything would be all right.

Now wouldn't that fill you with confidence?

As a blow-in from Belfast young Ian, who will only be 40 in December, has worked hard in north Antrim to become a carbon copy of his da.

Just like his father, young Ian never misses a chance to attack republicans and the Irish Republic.

In his website he's at pains to mention twice 'lead protests', which might make you think it's something to do with the environment but it's because whoever wrote the website doesn't know there's an English verb spelt 'led'.

Ian Og believes protesting is important because his father has done so well out of protests but young Ian's protests never registered on the political Richter scale.

Whatever it is Paisley Mark I has that makes him such a dangerous political animal is conspicuously missing in Ian Og.

He doesn't spot the gaffes he utters, the gaps he leaves open for ridicule. For example, when Denis Donaldson was killed earlier this year, Ian Og issued a statement asking the taoiseach what threats to Donaldson the gardai had heard of and what did the taoiseach and his (sic) police know?

This from a guy who professes not to know or care about anything in the Republic. Was young Ian suddenly supporting Sinn Féin's demands for speaking rights in the Dail?

He warned of trouble should a republican parade go through "this Protestant town" of Ballymena. It never occurred to him that was the same argument nationalists used to oppose Orange parades going through Catholic towns.

We'll pass over his suggestion that some sectarian attacks in Ballymena were "self-inflicted by republicans".

So it would be really comforting to know that the oul' curmudgeon was relying on this mighty political brain for advice about whether to link up with Sinn Féin in contradiction of everything he'd ever done or said in his life - that in the final analysis, any official party structures that may exist and all the MPs and MLAs count for nothing compared to Ian Og.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News