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Ian Paisley response an early test for DUP leader

Ian Paisley Jnr hugging Sir Van Morrison on stage at the Europa Hotel in Belfast on Thursday night
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IT was a tale of two singers but very different tunes yesterday as two faces of the DUP were once again on full public view.

In Fermanagh, Arlene Foster's swan song as First Minister included an unlikely serenade of journalists with the Frank Sinatra classic That's Life.

The relevance of the lyric "You're riding high in April, shot down in May" would certainly not have been lost on other political leaders at the British Irish Council meeting.

It was a witty, graceful coda to an often turbulent time in power for Mrs Foster, whose brutal unseating by Edwin Poots will now see her pursue interests outside frontline politics.

An entirely discordant note was meanwhile being struck in Belfast, where video footage emerged from a dinner event showing Van Morrison launching an extraordinary attack on Robin Swann - with enthusiastic backing from Ian Paisley jnr.

The singer, angry at the late cancellation of four gigs at the Europa Hotel due to Covid restrictions, began shouting 'Robin Swann is very dangerous', in an apparent reference to previous criticism by the health minister of his anti-lockdown music.

While those involved in the cancelled concerts are fully entitled to raise questions about the clarity of guidance from Stormont, the very personal targeting of Mr Swann was as disgraceful as it was unprecedented.

And for Mr Paisley to join in the chant on stage represents another very serious error of judgement by the North Antrim MP.

The health minister has won widespread praise for his performance in incredibly challenging circumstances, and his response to the video yesterday was typically measured and dignified.

Whatever anyone's view of restrictions on live music and other gatherings over the last year, they were put in place by a cross-party government - including DUP ministers - after careful deliberation and with the clear goal of saving lives.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Paisley sought to play down the controversy by describing the chant as "parody and sarcasm".

Mrs Foster has been criticised in the past for failing to rein in senior party figures when speaking out in clear contradiction of agreed Executive positions on Covid and other matters.

Having been closely associated with Mr Poots during his rise to the top of the DUP, it now falls upon him to make abundantly clear that Mr Paisley's actions are unacceptable.

To fail this early test of leadership would the truly dangerous message to emerge from this ignominious affair.

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