DUP enduring first serious public pressure?

So there is dissent within the DUP. The question is what is it all about. The DUP is almost as hermetically sealed as Sinn Fein on anything to do with internal relations. Allister does not appear to be entirely bound in in that regard. But there are some strange, somewhat counter intuitive aspects to this ‘row’. Not least that ‘freelance’ statement on Friday.The significance, as Noel Thompson put it to Jeffrey Donaldson on Newsline on Friday, is that we “haven’t seen for many, many months or even years a press statement that is not issued through the DUP Press Office” The statement was banal enough, and seemed rather more concerned with the way the media were relaying the story than anything Paisley had said in the House:

“Given the total lack of movement on behalf of Sinn Fein on the issue of support for the rule of law, the courts and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, nothing that we have said or done today can be taken by the Government as an indication that they can imply shadow, designate or any other status to anyone in relation to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.”

They are not the most likely bunch of rebels either. Four MPs: Nigel Dodds, the Rev William McCrea, Gregory Campbell and David Simpson. And eight MLAs: Lord Maurice Morrow, Diane Dodds, Paul Girvan, Stephen Moutray, Nelson McCausland, Mervyn Storey, Tom Buchanan and assembly deputy speaker Jim Wells.

They comprise so-called ‘fundamentalists’ and some ‘progressives’. Despite endless speculation in the press on the subject, this does not have the mark of a ‘fundie rebellion’.

First thing on Friday morning, the Great Hall was awash with rumblings about the DUP Assembly Group meeting. Press talk was of strained internal relations and difficulties at the constituency base. The one clear indication I got at that time was that of all the MLAs Sammy Wilson was the one encountering stiffest resistance in his East Antrim constituency, though he is not on the list.

Friday’s truncated session will be rounded out tomorrow. No doubt all eyes in the press gallery will be scanning this group for the slightest indication of dissent or harmony. We probably have a few points of order to take from UK Unionist Bob McCartney and Ulster Unionist Dermot Nesbitt amongst others to get through. But since there is no provision for a full debate, whatever difficulties there are within the DUP are unlikely to surface. So they have about another week before the party requires a convincing public show of unity from its MLAs.

This certainly doesn’t constitute a split, not even an embryonic one. But the rumblings look set to continue in the first period of sustained public pressure the party has had to endure since it came into its leadership role after the last Assembly election in November 2003.

Keep watching this space.