From Socialist Voice, October 2007

Paisley under pressure

The decision by Ian Paisley not to stand again as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church but to retire when the election for the new Moderator takes place is an indication that all is not well between the DUP and the church.
     The Free Presbyterian Church was founded by Paisley himself more than fifty years ago and was the backbone both of the DUP and of Paisley’s power within the DUP. Paisley has chosen to jump rather than be pushed and face the humiliation of a candidate standing against him for leadership of his own church and quite possibly winning.
     Paisley’s church had its power base mostly in rural communities as well as some towns throughout the North. He built his church and his party on saying No to everything: no power-sharing with republicans, no ecumenism, no Popery—no anything that smacked of compromise to his politics or religion. Today Paisley is in government with the arch-enemy, Sinn Féin, and the strains are beginning to tell.
     The recent debate in the Assembly on the devolution of taxation powers to the Assembly and Executive opens up a possibility for progressive forces and in particular the trade union movement. Sinn Féin’s proposal that the power to decide and have control over taxes be devolved from London to the Executive had the support of the SDLP and the Alliance Party, while the DUP and UUP opposed it, on the grounds that it would give Sinn Féin an opportunity to implement its “Marxist” policies.
     Following a decision by the Minister for the Environment, Arlene Foster (DUP), to favour a proposal by a private developer to build a visitors’ centre at the Giant’s Causeway, it has emerged that the successful applicant, Seymour Sweeney, is a member of the minister’s party. He confirmed that he is a member of the DUP but claimed he had never met or lobbied the minister in relation to building this important infrastructural project.
     The minister made her decision to favour private development over an alternative proposal for building a publicly funded complex on this world heritage site. Her decision caused the unionist-dominated Coleraine Borough Council to unanimously support a motion in early September calling for the planned visitors’ centre to be kept in public ownership.
     Unionism, and in particular the DUP, which has a strong base in the Protestant section of the working class, is vulnerable on the issue of taxation and cronyism, which provides an opportunity to push for greater fiscal control being devolved to the Assembly. The demand for more fiscal powers would strike a chord with the DUP’s popular base and has the potential to develop contradictions between working-class Protestants and those who claim to represent them.

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