By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)
For the first time in his 50 years in politics Ian Paisley snr is facing a reality he probably thought he would never have to face.
For the first time in their 36-year history the DUP are also facing the same reality.
They have now to decide whether to share power with republicans and nationalists in an administration which is firmly set in an all-Ireland framework.
Over the last few months, especially since the meeting at St Andrews, the most Ian snr has done using his own words is hint at the possibility that he is willing to share power.
Until Monday when he accused the British prime minister Tony Blair, of ‘misrepresenting’ his party’s position, he permitted others, including the Assembly speaker Eileen Bell and Tony Blair to interpret his intentions in the most favourable way.
It could be argued that this was the DUP’s version of ‘creative ambiguity’, a formula they denounced when it was used by others at various times during the peace process to remove road blocks of one form or another.
However, creative ambiguity has a limited life span. It is only credible if the underlying intention of those using it is to move the situation forward or to allow those who are having difficulties with moving forward time to come around.
It is obvious, more so since St Andrews, that what is troubling the DUP is the very idea of power sharing as defined in the Good Friday Agreement. It is the implications of supporting this agreement which is wreaking havoc inside the DUP.
The issue of policing is but a smokescreen, an excuse, one of many already used by the DUP to try to block political progress.
If a Sinn Féin special Ard Fheis were to back the new policing arrangements then the wreckers inside the DUP would seek another excuse to try to delay.
Not for the first time since the IRA’s cessation in August 1994 the party leading the unionist people is in turmoil.
The rebellion led by Nigel Dodds is not without precedent in the last decade. It is a disguised version of the numerous heaves led by his party colleague Jeffrey Donaldson when he was a senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party.
This contemporary dilemma with this particular brand of unionism is not new. David Trimble expressed and faced the same dilemma.
It has a resonance stretching back over four centuries to the Protestant plantation of Ireland.
These centuries were dominated by a power struggle between the minority Protestant and unionists who held Ireland for the British crown and the majority nationalist and Catholics who seek Irish independence.
There were of course many Protestants who were nationalist and republican. Irish republicanism owes its origins to those from a Protestant background.
Over the centuries it was the power elite within Protestantism and unionism who had their power slowly wrested from them by struggling nationalists to the point where the DUP now see themselves as the last unionist redoubt.
The unionist population invested in Ian Paisley in the hope that he would fare better than Trimble at containing nationalist expectations as expressed in its support for Sinn Féin.
They hoped that Ian Paisley’s leadership would undermine and dampen the nationalist community’s confidence.
It seemed not to matter to him or his party leadership that his message of ‘no surrender’, ‘no power sharing’ was completely at odds with the terms, conditions, needs and requirements of the peace process and negotiations.
Ian Paisley and the DUP are where David Trimble and his party were prior to the Good Friday Agreement.
Trimble’s mistake was he failed to understand the dynamic and imperative of the peace process.
Political insecurity clouded his vision. He missed the opportunity the peace process provided nationalists and unionists.
He ultimately sought refuge in the failed politics of the past, the politics of exclusion.
Will Ian Paisley make the same mistake as Trimble?
Or can he lead unionists into the 21st century and the new dispensation on offer?
Can the DUP shake off their ‘no’ men and provide the leadership unionists need and deserve?
We will know soon enough.