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Sammy Wilson, DUP, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Red-necks and rabble-rousers. Or is the DUP human after all?

(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

They might be intensely, and even understandably, disliked by many nationalists but there's no stopping the DUP. With half the North's Westminster seats and 34% of the vote, they're the runaway voice of unionism.

Most Catholics have little personal contact with them and they're an unknown quantity to the Irish government. The Taoiseach is said to be intrigued, particularly by the Rev Ian Paisley.

His party's nine MPs, who arrived in the House of Commons in some style last week, are a mixed and fairly lively bunch. The DUP is many things but it's seldom dull.

Nigel Dodds
North Belfast

Nigel Dodds reckons new babies won votes for Mark Durkan and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Wife Diane is warned that, if Sinn Féin threatens to snatch North Belfast next election, she must "take full advantage of modern technology" to produce a baby for the campaign trail.

"I've done my bit for God and Ulster, I'm not doing that!" replies the Shankill Assemblywoman. A Cambridge graduate and former barrister, Dodds, 46, has a strong rapport with Paisley.

This, and his Free Presbyterianism, mean he could be a future party leader. More cautious than Peter Robinson, he is also a very sharp operator. In 1996, the IRA tried to kill him while visiting his son in hospital. Andrew, who had Spina Bifida, later died.

Jeffrey Donaldson
Lagan Valley

Jeffrey Donaldson doesn't mind being called the DUP's Daniel O'Donnell. His mother loves the singer so the MP regularly refers to "his cousin from Kincasslagh".

His defection to the DUP hugely helped his new party among middle-class unionists. His approach is the antithesis to the DUP's traditional blood-and-thunder style. Donaldson, 42, is unfailingly polite to opponents.

Born in the fishing village of Kilkeel, Co Down, he now lives in Dromore and misses the sea. Two police officer cousins were killed by the IRA. Donaldson joined the UDR and the Young Unionists at 18.

A former engineer, he is a workaholic with no hobbies outside politics. He is married with two daughters.

Gregory Campbell
East Derry

Gregory Campbell's hardline law-and-order stance means that while he loves watching 'The Bill', he demands changes to the programme. "I want more baddies caught," he says.

Campbell, who justifies Bloody Sunday, knows he arouses strong emotions: "Sinn Féin councillor Barney O'Hagan, who had threatened to rip my head off a while back, just lost his seat.

"I wondered if this represented his community moving away from violence. I was informed nationalists were punishing him for not carrying out the threat."

Campbell, 52, a Glasgow Rangers' supporter, formerly owned a publishing company which specialised in Ulster-Scots books. He enjoys country music "although more Alan Jackson than Tammy Wynette".

David Simpson
Upper Bann

Large and tanned with an easy charm, David Simpson resembles a politician in California more than one in middle Ulster.

A Free Presbyterian gospel singer, he is a millionaire from meat processing. Strongly anti-racist, he has three adopted teenage children from India and Paraguay.

As Mayor of Craigavon, his pragmatic inclusive approach impressed some Catholics who previously distrusted the DUP. Simpson, 46, will turn his hand to anything, even bin-collecting for a day.

A down-to-earth man, he is hard to dislike. He spent the weekend after his election victory "cutting the grass, driving the kids around and enjoying a big Chinese". He was once a proficient horse-rider - "it was a very large horse".

Peter Robinson
East Belfast

Anybody in the DUP who makes a mistake is warned by colleagues: "Expect a phone call from Peter Robinson".

The party's deputy leader is more approachable than his ruthless reputation suggests. Formality with strangers is due to shyness.

Robinson, 56, is a gadget geek, "you name it, I've got it". He has 1,000 Japanese koi fish and the same number of ties. He likes dancing (badly) and Julia Roberts.

The outstanding strategist in Northern politics, he leaves even Sinn Féin's movers and shakers miles behind. More than anyone, he can take credit for DUP success.

Too much the moderniser for some, he is nevertheless Paisley's natural successor, having been the Big Man's bridesmaid for 23 years.

Iris Robinson

Iris Robinson loves driving fast on the motorway in her black-and-white mini, "although always within the speed limit", blasting Abba or Patsy Cline.

Not one of the DUP's well-known heavy hitters, her vote (56%) was the party's best. Her forte is constituency work. Once seriously ill after a hysterectomy, she continued to work from her sick bed.

Robinson, 56, met husband Peter when they were college teenagers, and still adores him: "He is my best friend, he is everything to me." Politically, she is more emotional than him.

They have three grown-up children. She talks openly about suffering post-natal depression and is passionate about health issues. Her hobby is interior design.

Willie McCrea
South Antrim

The Rev Willie McCrea, who found the Lord when he was eight, practised preaching by reading gospel tracts while bringing in the cows as a boy.

He retains his homespun charm. His church, originally a zinc hut with a congregation of 12, is now a showpiece building holding up to 1,000.

The UK's most successful gospel singer, he has received gold, silver and platinum discs. His three daughters have biblical names and son Ian is called after Paisley.

McCrea, 57, insists he works hard for Catholic constituents but no DUP-er inspires more nationalist hate. Sharing a platform with LVF leader Billy Wright, and a jail sentence for disrupting Mass at Canterbury Cathedral, didn't help.

Sammy Wilson
East Antrim

DUP wives have jokingly told Sammy Wilson not to lead their husbands astray in London.

Wilson, 51, is the party's wild child, which sounds much more radical than it is. He prefers nights tending his garden than on the town. He has bought a book, Walking Tours of London's East End, and can't wait to do them.

Much loved in the DUP, he was the only new MP for whom colleagues organised a surprise celebratory party. He is more liberal than other DUP-ers.

Very outgoing, he can also spend days alone, with just the radio for company. He's a big Elton John fan. He once dated Paisley's daughter Rhonda.

Ian Paisley
North Antrim

In his eightieth year, the Rev Ian Paisley, is peaking politically as contemporaries wind down in old folks' homes.

The voice is less booming but the spirit stays as strong as ever. A rabble- rouser to some, Ulster's saviour to others, he can't be accused of inconsistency - 'No Surrender' remains the message.

He rarely constructs a moderate sentence. Post-Agreement, his career looked over. "I was treated like a creature that should have died before Noah's ark. But things have never been better for this dinosaur!"

He still holds wife Eileen's hand in public and, despite his age and ministry, enjoys harmless flirting with female voters.

May 19, 2005

This article appears in the May 15, 2005 edition of the Sunday Tribune.