We’ve witnessed a seismic shift in Northern Ireland politics. What would Ian Paisley Sr make of it all?

The ‘old’ Ian Paisley of 2003 who grabbed me by the throat to tell me he wouldn’t even talk to Sinn Fein, never mind share power with them, must be spinning in his grave today.

or the party he founded is now staring at their unsettling reality of playing second fiddle to the ‘Shinners’ at Stormont after the seismic shift in Northern Ireland politics at the polls.

Eighteen years ago I had ‘dared’ to ask the Doc on live TV at an election court in Ballymoney if he would speak to Sinn Fein in light of their rising support among voters.

But he took me by the lapels of my suit jacket, looked me in the eye and said an emphatic ‘no’ adding that anyone from the DUP who did talk to Sinn Fein would be out of his party.

Some years later of course the ‘new’ Paisley not only talked to his erstwhile enemies but also went into government with them.

But I wonder if he ever imagined the day dawning as it has done now that SF would outstrip the DUP and earn the right to have the First Minister title… and probably a woman in the job to boot.

It hasn’t been hard however, for many of us to foresee the inevitability of a SF victory, not only because of their strategies, but also because of the DUP’s own problems. Personally I was bemused by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s pre-election assertions that his party could still finish ahead of Sinn Fein.

I always look to the bookies before the commentators to gauge who’s going to triumph.
This most pragmatic band of brothers are rarely swayed by the boasts from parties about what they’re going to achieve.

And the odds they offer are powerful indicators of the winners, losers and no-hopers.

The bookies had Sinn Fein runaway favourites to be the biggest party — 1/25 in fact.
And the odds of 10-1 on the DUP’s chances of finishing top said a lot about the party’s position.

And sure enough the ‘Shinners’ have romped home. And the DUP is left to ponder its ‘difficult’ campaign which was hampered by divisions and claims of dirty tricks.


DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson

But they were also guilty of the cardinal sin of believing and trusting the DUPlicitous Boris Johnson who sold them more pups than a rogue dog breeder.

The party is undoubtedly in trouble but many folk thought it could have been a meltdown.

Its leadership disasters and their mishandling of internal crises have obviously raised doubts that they could deal with outside issues like Brexit and the protocol and clearly nudged them in the direction of the TUV who made significant inroads into the share of the unionist vote.

The one party that the bookies didn’t see coming up so well on the rails were Alliance who have prospered at the expense of the the UUP, the SDLP and the Green Party. The fact that Naomi Long has seen such a surge in her number of Stormont seats is a testimony to her consistently strong leadership and a hopeful sign that many people here are brassed off with orange and green politics.

But is a united Ireland closer than it was? Of course it is. Maybe not round the corner because there is still an overall unionist majority but Sinn Fein must be laughing all the way to banking a border poll sooner rather than later despite their distancing themselves from that as a priority during their campaigning.

We’ve undoubtedly just seen history in the making and the results show politics here have come a long way from the days when the election of a first Sinn Fein councillor in Belfast had unionists up in arms.

And when Alex Maskey became the first SF Lord Mayor of Belfast the fallout among loyalists was furious.

But what’s next now?

The DUP say they won’t be returning to the Executive to give Michelle O’Neill her ‘crowning’ glory until the protocol is sorted out to their satisfaction.

An ex-DUP insider however told me last week he has no doubt that they will go back before too long.

“You can bet on it,” he said.

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