Comment - Warren Little - The ego that quashed the morals

Published: 17 Jan 2014 09:300 comments

On a winter’s night in the 1980s, Ian Paisley led a motley band of militant followers through the streets of Enniskillen. He stomped along like an overgrown boy scout, leading a troupe of men with surly expressions just visible beneath their Parka hoods.

Share this image

It was an example of Paisley’s oft-repeated game of flirting with the paramilitary, impregnating young loyalists with sectarian rage and then pretending he wasn’t the father. He validated violence upon the prospect of it but then denounced the actualities. His Enniskillen jamboree, like all his others before and since, dissolved in angry chaos. Nothing achieved.

Footage of those scenes imparts something of the genuine menace that was Paisley’s aim, but something of Dennis the Menace too. There was an uneasy mix of farce and malevolence about the whole thing, like some Channel Five documentary When Good Boys’ Brigades Turn Bad, and it offers a neat snapshot of Paisley’s character. Even now in the gloaming of his years, just like that night in Enniskillen, he has the capacity to bemuse, offend and threaten in equal measure.

At the root of all this marching up to the top of the hill before promptly disappearing was an insatiable ego, and it is that which seems to have driven Paisley to these final interviews. The media has indulged his desire to read his own obituaries, though unfortunately for him they don’t quite amount to the elegies he tried to provoke.

The big revelation of Monday’s broadcast came in a statement that was well elucidated, exposing the lie that he’s too old to know what he’s saying: ‘It wasn’t fair’, he said of the system that returned a unionist council in majority nationalist Fermanagh. ‘Fair government is that every man has the same power to vote for whatever he wants. If you vote down democracy you are responsible for bringing in anarchy, and they brought in anarchy…the whole system was wrong. It wasn’t one man one vote.’

With that, you could almost hear the WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY THIS AT THE TIME collective despair. For an image so crafted on notions of candour and courage of conviction, this is fatal. We haven’t witnessed a Damascene conversion. This was no enlightenment in the quiet of a pre-death hiatus. Paisley held these views all along and just didn’t have the guts to say so. ‘I would rather be British than fair’ was the best he could muster in 1968.

For all his narcissism he hadn’t the confidence to lead by conviction. Worse than that, he led absolutely counter to his conviction and became a criminal for it, jailed for an illegal demonstration against a civil rights protest he privately regarded as justified. How different things might have been if he and other unionists of the 50s and 60s had been principled and intelligent enough to pare away civil injustice and right it; to drive a wedge between that issue and the republican terrorists that exploited it.

What are we to do with Paisley’s admission now? The unjust policies were corrected by 1973 but the seeds of the ‘long war’ had already been sown. Paisley’s johnny-come-lately revelation is like the designer of the Titanic pointing out, as it lay on the sea bed, that there were plenty more lifeboats hidden in a cupboard under the stairs.

We can try to spot those Paisleys still active in politics today – those without the courage to do and say what they know to be right. We can also be wary of language and delivery. Paisley knew how to use his distinctive voice. He bellowed and barked several decibels above the low rasping we heard on Monday night. If only he had told the truth in the caterwaul of his prime as in the fading wheeze of his going.

Paisley readily deploys the big guns of emotive poetry honed from the Old Testament. But his gift for language comes with a dangerous addiction to the incendiary effect of it. He was the pyromaniac pastor, the pyrotechnic preacher. A man with a recall for proverbs but a perversion of Proverbs, that book of the Bible that centres on wisdom and appeals to human reason and from which Paisley twisted the ‘dog returns to its vomit’ quote to reference the Pope.

A flair for language does not always make a man’s use of it wise. Highly skilled oration and charisma can offer false beacons, and God knows many men have been battered on the rocks of Paisley’s rhetoric.

As the Paisley interview was being broadcast, the Belfast poet Sinéad Morrissey was quietly winning the TS Eliot, described as the ‘world’s best poetry prize’. The daughter of a nominally Irish Catholic father and an English Protestant mother, who both eschewed religion altogether, Morrissey embodies a certain triumph in the failure of Paisley’s life’s work. Her very being is Paisley’s dystopia, a child of ‘spiritual fornication and adultery’ and agnosticism at the same time.

It is Morrissey, not Paisley, that offers hope in this place. Her collection is entitled ‘Parallax’, a word meaning the difference in the apparent position of something when viewed from different angles. Paisley has proved to our surprise that the parallax inherent in our politics is not a concept that is alien to him, merely that he was too weak and scared to express it when it mattered most.

Jump to first paragraph.


comments powered by Disqus

Get more stories from our Roundup section

23 Apr 2014 13:15

Castle Archdale hosts Dawn Chorus event

LOCAL people are invited to meet at Castle Archdale at 5am on Saturday, May 3, to listen to the birds welcome the new day in fine voice.


23 Apr 2014 11:30

Radio DJ includes Fermanagh stop in marathon challenge for charity

A radio DJ will bring her fundraising marathon challenge to Fermanagh this June in aid of Cancer Research UK.


23 Apr 2014 09:30

Arsonists responsible for 15 gorse fires since beginning of April

Arsonists are being blamed for starting around 15 gorse fires in the Garrison and Belcoo area since the beginning of April.


22 Apr 2014 17:00

Mallards slip into bottom two

Ballinamallard United slipped into the bottom two in the Danske Bank Premiership on goal difference following today's 2-2 draw with Dungannon Swifts at Ferney Park.


22 Apr 2014 15:00 • Editorial Department

Opinion - Kylie Noble - Why I’m excited to vote for the first time

The rites of passage of growing up vary from person to person but throughout my own life events such as turning 13, my first formal, my GCSE and A level results, my 18th birthday (and my first and to date only hangover that followed), getting into university and moving away from home are just a few which I imagine are pretty common landmarks among my generation.

Social: Comments0 comments

22 Apr 2014 15:00

Rucksacks stolen in car break-in

A car was broken into at Navar Forest near Derrygonnelly last night (Monday).


22 Apr 2014 13:00 • Rodney Edwards

Stormont Files: Farm Watch designed to prevent rural crime - O'Neill

FARMERS in Fermanagh are being encouraged by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Enniskillen to take part in the Farm Watch Scheme, an initiative endorsed by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.


22 Apr 2014 12:00

Lisnaskea home attacked

A house in Lisnaskea has been attacked.


22 Apr 2014 11:00 • Rodney Edwards

Stormont Files: Litter droppers approach MLA to quash £75 fine

A NUMBER of people in Fermanagh have been fined £75 for “dropping a cigarette butt or a sweet paper” on the street, according to UUP MLA Tom Elliott.

Social: Comments0 comments

22 Apr 2014 09:00

Motorist knew insurance shown to police had been cancelled

A 47-year-old factory worker has admitted fraudulently using a certificate of car insurance by showing it to the police, knowing it had been cancelled.


21 Apr 2014 22:30

Man(20) took father's car without consent

A 20-year-old man thought he was being “sensible” when he got behind the wheel of a crashed car to drive it home.


21 Apr 2014 19:00

Jail sentence for driver caught without insurance four times in two weeks

A 30-year-old car dealer caught driving without insurance four times in two weeks despite paying out £3,500 in premiums has been given a jail sentence.


21 Apr 2014 17:30

Number out of work in Fermanagh fell by 2.4 per cent in March

Unemployment in Fermanagh fell by 2.4 per cent last month.


21 Apr 2014 15:00 • Meadhbh Monahan

Steering a safe path of expansion through the downturn

Liam Connolly Road Freight (LCRF) provides groupage services (i.e. from single pallet collections to full double-deck trailer collections) for over 300 customers throughout Ireland and the UK each day.

Social: Comments0 comments

21 Apr 2014 13:00 • Rodney Edwards

Irish President is latest to commend work of Enniskillen church leaders

THE work of Enniskillen’s two main church leaders, the Very Rev. Kenneth Hall and Monsignor Peter O’Reilly, has received a warm acknowledgement from yet another head of state.

Social: Comments0 comments

21 Apr 2014 09:00 • Editorial Department

Not against a community centre but not on ‘our doorstep’

“WE are not against a community centre, we just don’t want it on our doorstep.”

Social: Comments0 comments

20 Apr 2014 19:00

'We want to do it for the supporters' - Davy Black

Clogher Valley coach David Black has vowed to make up for their All Ireland Junior Cup Final defeat by winning the Ulster Towns’ Cup for their supporters when they take on Donaghadee at Ravenhill on Easter Monday.


20 Apr 2014 15:00 • Julie Kenwell

Family ‘sick of thought’ of third round of heart surgery for Alfie

THE family of Bellanaleck toddler, Alfie Keys are nervously looking ahead to this September.

Social: Comments0 comments

20 Apr 2014 13:00 • Editorial Department

Trust identifies ‘extreme risks’ that could kill patients

Extreme risks have been identified by the Western Trust which could “compromise client safety” or even lead to “injury or death of patients or staff”.

Social: Comments0 comments

20 Apr 2014 09:00 • Editorial Department

‘End of an era’ for Leslie and McCrea family

Tempo Primary’s long serving caretaker - whose family has a long connection with the Fermanagh school - was paid a warm tribute at the start of the school’s Easter Holidays.

Social: Comments0 comments