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MichUnmistakable signs of DUP panic

The DUP is the largest Stormont party, albeit by a slender margin, and clearly has a key role to play in the search for political and economic progress in complex wider circumstances.

It is not the only Assembly group which occasionally offers noticeably poor judgment, but its increasingly erratic stance is becoming an issue.

What is particularly concerning is that the DUP's sudden lurch back towards the darker side of loyalism has been largely triggered by a single opinion poll a month ago which suggested that it was losing some ground to the intransigent but fairly tiny Traditional Unionist Voice.

There has been an unmistakable trend not just in surveys but in actual recent elections which indicated that many former DUP supporters were embarrassed by the party's wilder moments, especially during the repeated strategic blunders over Brexit, and have been migrating in significant numbers to the more measured approach of Alliance.

While the DUP appeared unwilling to tone down the angry rhetoric, a hint that it could be even temporarily outflanked on the right by the TUV provoked unmistakable signs of panic.

Jim Allister is the sole MLA for his small band, which managed little over two per cent of the vote in the 2017 Assembly election.

The LucidTalk survey carried out in late January perturbed the DUP by surprisingly placing it on only 19 pc with the TUV suddenly rising to ten pc, but the party's strategists gave the impression that Alliance's continuing surge to 18 pc was of no interest to them.

Sinn Féin got 24 pc, a relatively flat rating which still left its northern leader Michelle O'Neill very much in line for the first minister's post, with the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists further back on 13 and 12 pc respectively.

It was an intriguing set of figures, but the only result which really counts, the next Assembly election, is still more than a year away, leaving plenty of time for the DUP to steady its nerve.

Instead, the party has gone from one stunt to another in response to entirely predictable post-Brexit developments, culminating in its hugely aggressive and possibly unsustainable attempt to prevent government officials working on inevitable new border control facilities.

It is striking that the DUP seems intent on pushing us all into a crisis rather than facing up to its own internal tensions.

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