Has the doc perished on the sword of his own ego?

Published: 23 Jan 2014 09:300 comments

Like many people, for years I thought that Ian Paisley wasn’t just the leader of the DUP. He WAS the DUP.

Turns out, so did he. And still does.

So does “Mammy”, or Eileen, or the Baroness. Whatever you like to call her. Perhaps the real power behind the “king of Ulster.”

For years Paisley has been box office, so the toxic television interview in Eamonn Mallie’s true exclusive was fascinating to say the least.

While the political commentators are picking over the bones of the interview in terms of the implications for the DUP, many of the rest of us are reflecting on Paisley’s life and times.

From the fiery preacher who chucked snowballs at Taoiseach Sean Lemass for daring to set foot in Northern Ireland to the First Minister who went south to firmly shake the hand of another Taoiseach, his pal Bertie Ahern.

From the political leader who flirted with loyalist paramilitaries to the churchman who preached the gospel.

From the firebrand never never man who promised to smash Sinn Fein to the parliamentarian who chuckled with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness.

You may well think, this is a man of contradictions, and ask would the real Ian Paisley please stand up.

There are no contradictions; in the interviews we saw the real Ian Paisley. His ego is still intact and he still wants to destroy anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him.

For as long as I can remember, the Rev. Ian Paisley has been an imposing figure, a domineering figure, in Northern Ireland politics.

Comedians and impersonators have had plenty of mileage out of the Doc, the big man with the booming voice, and there is no doubt he has charisma. But is there anybody who let his undoubted charm, personality and good humour disguise the true nature of the man? He’s a bully and a destroyer when he wants something and has been for years. He didn’t think twice when it came to a scattergun approach to his former colleagues, presumably knowing fine well he risked damaging them as well.

Ian Paisley is, by nature, anti-establishment, a protester and an effective one at that.

As far back as the 1960s, he was demanding that an Irish tricolour was taken down from an office in west Belfast and washed his hands of the trouble that followed. Last week, he admitted that the discriminatory and unfair treatment of Catholics and Nationalists years ago was wrong. It wasn’t him, of course, yet any mild reforms in society were met with O’Neill must go, Faulkner must go, etc. etc.

The great thing about being Ian Paisley is that nothing is ever his fault.

While he was described as the IRA’s best recruiting agent for his perceived bigotry against Catholics and Nationalists, his real ire was directed against those from his own community who disagreed in any way with him.

He attacked, of course, the ideology of the Catholic church – the Pope was a man of sin, even the anti-Christ; he also savaged the unity leanings of any Anglican. But let us not forget that many other Protestant churches bore the brunt of his opposition.

So he formed his own church. And his own newspaper; and he opposed the Orange Order in favour of the Independent Orange Order. Not to mention his own political party. It is hard to imagine how that church and that party has turned against him.

In the years of the most serious violence of the Provisional IRA, there is no doubt that Ian Paisley gave comfort to many of their victims, not just by visiting them personally but giving them a voice when they needed a strong advocate.

I genuinely don’t know if he visited many victims of loyalist violence, but would find that dripping with awful irony considering how many young men say they went down that route after being stirred by Paisley rhetoric.

There is also no doubt that without Ian Paisley, the final step towards the present power-sharing peace, however imperfect, would not have taken place. He did the right thing, in my opinion.

One might argue that his motives don’t matter; at least he did it.

After his brutal gutting of the latest Ulster Unionist opponent in David Trimble, many of us suspect that only when Paisley was top dog himself would such a deal with Republicans be acceptable to him.

Mrs. Paisley would have us believe that he did it to bring peace to the country. Ian Paisley the peacemaker is a bit of a stretch, is it not.

Every one of us must make their own judgement on that, I suppose. I just wonder why power-sharing with constitutional Nationalists wasn’t acceptable years ago; and why a relationship with the Republic was such anathema when it was only on a friendship basis rather than having input into the “internal” affairs of Northern Ireland.

But eventually he did it, and the titles followed. First Minister. Lord Bannside, Baroness Paisley.

But he has paid a heavy price. I know, for example, that his former close ally the Rev Ivan Foster was left genuinely sad at the actions of his former friend, and Mrs. Paisley’s revelation of the end of their friendship with Desmond Boal showed a real regret. I know also that the disillusion within the Free Presbyterian church isn’t limited to their Ministers; there are many ordinary church members who would have followed Ian Paisley to the end of the earth but are now left mystified at his relationship with Martin McGuinness.

I never ever thought I would see the day when members of the Paisley family would not attend the Free Presbyterian church.

The days when the big man led with pomp his own church and party finished some time ago. We knew that and it was a major turn of events; but the velocity of the bitterness of the Paisleys is really shocking.

Particularly when it comes to erstwhile political colleagues. Peter Robinson is a beast, apparently, and there was a cruel and unbecoming jibe about his marital difficulties. The “mighty” Nigel Dodds is a “cheeky sod.”

Quite apart from the fact that Baroness Paisley’s language in this, and her talk of “ramming a document down his throat” is hardly the lady-like talk of a Minister’s wife, I thought the attitude towards former political allies told a real tale. Paisley “gave” Dodds a position in Europe, and he now dismisses Robinson’s electoral performance, and it would seem that both men owe him.

But are political relationships not two-way? Without Nigel Dodds’s intellect and Peter Robinson’s organisational skills, and indeed the long-term loyalty of both men, the DUP would not be where it is today. Paisley was the prime factor, but he needed them.

What is Ian Paisley’s legacy? Make up your own mind.

I think he was a negative destructive force on the Protestant community for years, who possibly by default helped bring peace to the country. But now he is almost alone, frail and old and will have little sympathy from wider society.

Mrs. Paisley agreed that he was undefeated by his enemies, betrayed by his friends.

It’s a dirty game, politics, and nobody played dirtier than Ian Paisley. He lived by the sword, has his reputation now perished on the sword of his own ego?

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