THE Enniskillen born deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Nigel Dodds, has denied claims that he ordered Ian Paisley to stand down as party leader and First Minister in 2008.
In a damning interview with journalist Eamonn Mallie, broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland on Monday night, Mr Paisley, also known as Lord Bannside, blamed Mr Dodds and current leader Peter Robinson for his departure from the party he set up during the 1970s and led for 37 years.
He claimed that Mr Dodds had issued him with an ultimatum during a meeting in 2008.
“Nigel Dodds said to me ‘I want you to be gone by Friday. I just more or less smirked and Peter [Robinson] said ‘no, no, no he needs to stay in for another couple of months’,” Mr Paisley told the programme.
Mr Paisley’s wife, Eileen said the party had treated her husband “shamefully” and described Mr Dodds as “a cheeky sod.” But Mr Dodds and other senior members of the Democratic Unionist Party, including Fermanagh-south Tyrone MLA Maurice Morrow, have repeatedly denied the claims this week.
“I am personally very saddened to learn of the tone and contents of the latest programme on Lord Bannside,” said Mr Dodds, “All of us who worked hard for him and with him for many years wished only the best for him and for our country.” Mr Dodds, whose father Joe Dodds served as a councillor at Fermanagh District Council for many years, added: “It is to be deeply regretted that at 87 and retired that this programme may be what is remembered about him rather than the good things that he did.” The former Portora Royal School student claimed that the “passage of time” had “diminished” Mr Paisley’s “accurate recall of events.” “What is being said now by Lord Bannside about meetings is inaccurate and stands in stark contrast to everything that he said and did at the time and, indeed, during the years since,” he said.
One of the last occasions in which Mr Paisley was in Enniskillen was in June 2008 when he attended the funeral of Mr Dodds’ father Joe at Bethel Free Presbyterian Church during which he delivered the gospel reading and sermon. The month before he stood down as First Minister.
Also responding to the documentary, Lord Maurice Morrow of Clogher Valley, who said: “I have served as Chairman of the DUP for most of the period discussed in the programmes. During that time, I have some great memories of Dr. Paisley.” “I am saddened by this turn of events. Throughout my political lifetime I was a loyal friend to Lord Bannside. I wish him well in his recovery. These latest utterances do not do justice to someone who was a giant in unionism in Northern Ireland.” In another statement issued hours after the interview was broadcast the Democratic Unionist Party said: “Nigel Dodds did not issue an ultimatum that Ian should be gone by Friday nor did Peter Robinson issue any two month ultimatum. That simply did not happen. The Party is saddened by this turn of events and has only chosen to correct some of the main inaccuracies. A running commentary is unedifying.” “The Democratic Unionist Party does not intend to comment further.” This newspaper attempted to contact Mr Dodds several times yesterday but was unsuccessful.
Monday night’s documentary also referenced Rev. Ivan Foster from Kilskeery, Trillick, one of Mr Paisley’s most fiercest critics. When asked by this newspaper for his reaction to the programme he declined to comment.
The journalist who interviewed Mr Paisley, Eamonn Mallie, said the “unbridled nature” of the attack by Mr Paisley on Mr Dodds and Mr Robinson “is unique.” “Having trawled the globe by way of studying high profiled interviews of former world leaders, prime ministers, first ministers, rarely has any ex-party leader or prime minister been so explicit about his or her demise. Normally historians and academics have to wait 30 or 40 years to gain access to papers to get a primary source insight into the life of that individual,” he said.