Ian Paisley on tough times for unionism, the DUP leadership, and hopes for the future
The DUP’s Ian Paisley has conceded that the Northern Ireland Assembly election marked “a bad day at the office” for his party and unionism generally.
However, the North Antrim MP once again refused to consider that there might be a vacancy at the head of his party, let alone that he himself might throw his hat in the ring to fill it.
Mr Paisley joined Marc Mallett in the UTV studio on Saturday to reflect on the election results.
The DUP suffered big casualties in the form of party chairman Lord Maurice Morrow and former minister Nelson McCausland.
“Not a good day at the office, I think everyone has to accept that,” Mr Paisley said.
However, he said the party would address any issues, behind closed doors, regroup and then “get on with it”.
TUV leader Jim Allister has, however, been scathing of the position the DUP finds itself in - blaming “the arrogance and bungling” of leader Arlene Foster for making Sinn Féin stronger at Stormont.
“We have lost a unionist majority in Stormont and that goes down to Arlene Foster, who inflamed the Sinn Féin vote, maximised the Sinn Féin vote by her tactics and brought it out,” Mr Allister said.
“And now we’re going to live with the consequences.
“Unionism needs to very seriously consider whether this Stormont is worth keeping. It seems to me it is not.”
He insisted that if “concessions” to Sinn Féin were the price of Stormont, it was “not worth paying”.
Jim Allister on the problems facing unionism, and where the blame lies
Mr Paisley also addressed that, branding the TUV leader ‘No Answers Allister’.
“Look, I could sit here and ooze out all those complaints about everything – and I could do it far better than him as well – but Jim has no answers …” he said.
The DUP MP said it had to be accepted that Sinn Féin were being backed by the electorate and that the only option for unionism was to sit down and work with them.
“We can have direct rule and direct rule would suit me very well, as a Westminster MP, for a few years,” Mr Paisley said.
“But, you know something? That always turns and it will turn ultimately against the unionist people.”
Mr Paisley said negotiations were now needed and, while they had to be respectful, that did not mean that they had to be soft on the issues.
He said he felt there were two or three key issues which were “not insurmountable”, and which would require “brains not brawn” to resolve.
Mr Paisley did express disappointment for party colleagues who had lost their seats, and for others like the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, adding that they had lost out “largely by the fault of unionists”.
He added: “Let’s learn from that. Let’s not poke at each other anymore over it.”
Turning to the DUP’s inability to now wield the petition of concern without outside support, having failed to reach 30 seats, Mr Paisley noted that direct rule would resolve many issues “overnight”.
Northern Ireland has not, for example, legislated for gay marriage, putting it at odds with the rest of the UK.
The DUP has previously blocked all attempts to change that, but could no longer do so alone.
However, as Mr Paisley suggested, such legislative discrepancies would be unlikely to continue under direct rule.
With many issues to address before there can be a chance to get Stormont up and running, the question for some has been whether or not Arlene Foster will lead the DUP into negotiations.
Mr Paisley feels certain that she will.
He insisted that he was not interested in the leadership at all, adding: “There is no vacancy. I’m not even expecting a vacancy.”