Exclusive: Ian Paisley’s belated acknowledgment of David Trimble’s legacy: the principle of Consent…

Now, this is interesting. No really, it is. And for a couple reasons. One is what it says. And two, though I am not sure whether it made the print edition of today’s Belfast News Letter, that it was only on the site for about a hour last night before it disappeared.

It’s Doctor Paisley’s weekly column. And (thanks to an eagled-eyed reader) it makes for fascinating reading, especially for those of you who are historians of the peace process.

In a week when Basil McCrea broke party lines to vote against an amendment to dump reference to the Belfast Agreement, Dr Paisley delivered a solemn warning, seemingly to his own party colleagues, although not by name, for its attempts at re-writing history, and ignoring the bedrock principle of the current peace, ie consent:

I could fill this page with what I see when I lift up my eyes and look beyond our shores. But what do others see when they lift up their eyes and see us?

I am sure this week they must wonder why some want to unpick copper fasteners and ask for a border poll! Having won the principle of consent and secured our place within the United Kingdom, we ought to be very careful to hold the prize and not be glib about “calling the bluff” of others as though it were something of little value.

Our secure position today as part of the United Kingdom didn’t come about by a false display of confidence in a hand of poker. The removal of the articles in the Irish Constitution laying claim to Northern Ireland as that jurisdiction’s territory, was, we should never forget, hard won.

It was also a substantial act of goodwill by the people of Southern Ireland to vote to have the claim removed from their constitution in order to facilitate neighbourly relations. It played no small part in disarming the political justification of the Irish Republican Army’s reign of terror.

Why, when we are seeing a period of deeply felt concern regarding our flag, and for which no solution has yet been found, would anyone think it sensible to throw a bucketful of time, energy and money at a border poll for which there is absolutely no need or even demand?

Better to spend that time, energy and money on our real future, our youth, and solve the greatly vexed question of their education regarding transfer tests. Eyes down might be the better option on this one![Emphasis added]

Unwonted, but fulsome praise for the government and the people of the Irish Republic. But just as interesting in the context of this week, surely a belated, and long overdue acknowledgement that it was David, now Lord, Trimble who delivered the key element of a long settlement rather than his own party.

Which inconvenient truth may go someway to explain why the piece no longer appears on the News Letter’s website?

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    “It’s all very well and good reading about moderates and their take on the flag and how it is acceptable to them, but does it really deal with the view by some that such a removal or restriction is seen as nothing other than cultural asset stripping …. There’s nothing tribal about the constitutional flag….. It really sets a precedent that a constitutional flag must come down as a result of an unbeknown detriment and adverse impact …. How can you convince people of the Union whenever the flag of that Union is adjudged to have caused offence and needs restricted it’s a fallacy you’re waffling on about not reality, …. It’s pretty embarrassing for unionism and its voters if the constitutional union flag is adjudged to have caused some sort of offence or adverse impact or detriment, ……”.

    DC – You appear to be unsure whether the Union Flag is merely a constitutional flag or it is also a cultural asset. Either way you appear to categorically rule out that the Union Flag could in any way be viewed as something at which to take offence.

    If the Union Flag is not a cultural asset then why the hue and cry over the implementation of the designated days policy? It is the same constitutional flag that operates under a designated days policy elsewhere in the UK.

    However if the Union Flag is also a cultural asset and the stripping of cultural assets is what this wanton destruction is all about, then what is the argument against flying both the Union Flag (a cultural asset to loyalists who see themselves as culturally British) and the Irish Flag (a cultural asset to Nationalists who see themselves culturally as Irish) at Belfast City Hall on all 365 days? Are you in support of the right to display cultural assets in the form of flags at Council buildings or are you not?

    As regards the flag being a non-offensive object, why is it that the flag is flown at every lamppost in my community a territorial marker by those who are members of sectarian paramilitary organisations? I don’t really have a strong view on whether the Union Flag is a cultural asset or not, but what is without any doubt whatsoever is that in the area where I live the Union Flag is both a constitutional flag and a flag that is used as a sectarian territorial marker. No question about it. It is flown provocatively from buildings upon whose walls have been dubbed blatently sectarian and offensive sloggans such as “KAI” and ‘taigs out’.The question for you therefore is why do you have such difficulty in accepting that items used as sectarian territorial markers (in this case an item in the form of a Union Flag) might be offensive to those from the other side of the commmunity’?

  • “At the very least when an alternative liberal pro-union voice is articulated it will take a percentage of votes off the DUP making them think twice about their behaviour.”

    Red Lion, why would the DUP lose votes? Even if it did lose some votes the position of First Minister might change but nothing else much changes. Perhaps the OFMDFM roles could be rotated once a year and that could be beneficial to the UUP-AP-SDLP spectrum and Peter and Martin could drop their silly and hypocritical ‘reaching out’ lingo.

  • DC

    If the Union Flag is not a cultural asset then why the hue and cry over the implementation of the designated days policy? It is the same constitutional flag that operates under a designated days policy elsewhere in the UK.

    The constitutionality of it comes first the culture comes second but both are related.

    And if NI is so like elsewhere in the UK why were water cannons used on those protesting against its removal, whenever they weren’t used in Tottenham?

  • Submariner

    And if NI is so like elsewhere in the UK why were water cannons used on those protesting against its removal, whenever they weren’t used in Tottenham?

    Indeed. And will those convicted of rioting during the flag protests be given the same five year sentences as their fellow British citizens in England were?


    DC – you appear more keen to ask unrelated questions than to answer the questions put to you. There were two further questions which were put to you namely:

    Are you in support of the right to display cultural assets in the form of flags at Council buildings or are you not?

    Why do you have such difficulty in accepting that items used as sectarian territorial markers (in this case an item in the form of a Union Flag) might be offensive to those from the other side of the commmunity’?

  • DC

    Why do you have such difficulty in accepting that items used as sectarian territorial markers (in this case an item in the form of a Union Flag) might be offensive to those from the other side of the commmunity’?

    Because of the GFA and St Andrews, which was about respecting constitutional realities. I thought political nationalism had moved on at taking offence at those kind of items clearly not and based on the consultation returns the respective party positions are harder than broader catholic sentiment out there in Belfast.

  • DC

    Indeed. And will those convicted of rioting during the flag protests be given the same five year sentences as their fellow British citizens in England were?

    No probably not because they were water cannoned instead.

  • Red Lion

    David Crookes, re the union don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There would be more than 3 men in a Lib Union party, imo it would soon attract more and would serve as a stark contrast to what the DUP get up to. We just need those 3 men to take the initial brave first steps…

    Nevin, because there would be a choice. A percentage of pro-union people vote DUP simply as an attempt to counter and match or stay slighly ahead of SF. They don’t like the DUP (or carve up politics) but make do with them. A Lib Union Party is closer to a range of people’s politics, including some who vote DUP.

    Now to sit back and enjoy Oldham in the FA Cup!


    DC -You certainly didn’t answer the first question and I certainly didn’t understand your answer to the second. I’m not sure how constitutional realities relate to sectarian territorial markers. The constitutional reality is that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK which has been accepted, reluctantly or otherwise, by most within the broad church of Nationalism. Neither the GFA nor St Andrews made any mention of the issue of sectarian territorial markers as far as I am aware.

    Notwithstanding your consistent failure to respond to the question regarding the Union Flag as a cultural asset, my interpretation of your responses is that you appear to want to claim the Union Flag to be purely a constitutional flag in some circumstances when it suits and to claim it also to be a cultural asset in other circumstances when the first interpretation doesn’t. When the Union Flag is wrapped around a protester throwing petrol bombs at the police or hanging from a lamp post in a sectarian manner then you appear to claim it to be purely a constitutional flag – not a blatantly sectarian marker – and then ask with a sense of astonishment why can’t nationalists respect the constitutional flag? When the Union Flag is voted to be partially taken down from BCH you appear to claim it to be a cultural asset (cultural asset stripping is the term used); but when the Irish Flag is proposed to be flown, then you appear to claim that the Union Flag is purely a constitutional flag and there’s then no mention of cultural assets being flown.

    Such a position hints at the real issue with unionism; it’s the demand that their cultural assets are recognised and accepted but that the other side’s aren’t.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks for that carefully crafted dose of cold reality, Gopher. Sometimes I wish I could understand Cromwell, but mostly I’m glad I can’t. Of course we can’t purge anyone. It all comes down to persuasion, and maybe that will be impossible. If so, it’s a matter of trust in HMG, and put up with the mob.

    I met a #flegs protester tonight who repeated a Brysonesque script, over and over again, word perfect, as if it was a new religious creed that had been learned under hypnosis. Didn’t make me very hopeful.

    I’m sorry for utopianizing. My best friends are the people who shoot me down when I talk nonsense. Still, it would be nice to live in a mob-free world.

    Red Lion, if a new LUP can attract votes from ordinary working people who are fed up with the disruption of their own areas, there’ll be something big to play for.

  • Mick Fealty


    Via Mike Downes (http://goo.gl/EquVR)

    “During the riots many politicians called for the use of water cannons to drive looters away and as the riot activity intensified David Cameron PM said that the cannon would be available at 24 hour’s notice to deal with “despicable violence” being seen in cities. Whilst the water cannon was not deployed, it was authorised and on standby should the police have needed it. This authorisation by the Prime Minister suggests a change in tides for the way police may deal with future violence that plagues the streets of England.”

    He concludes: “If the water cannons had been deployed it would have been the first time they had been used on the British mainland. Water cannons have been used by police in Ulster this summer and have been a regular sight at disturbances in the Ardoyne area of Belfast since 2001. Whether these high-pressure hoses, that fire jets of water or vapour, will be seen on British mainland in the near future is questionable! The viability of water cannons in cities such as London still remains a topical question and consequently we are delighted to have one at this year’s exhibition.”

    Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Gary White said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been using the Water Cannons in large scale public order operations for over ten years. Like any use of force by police, all use of a Water Cannon is governed by strict criteria and is only used when necessary and proportionate. I am convinced that over the years, the Water Cannon has saved many lives. It is an extremely effective tactic that allows us to maintain a safe operating distance from riotous crowds.”

  • DC

    I don’t buy your sectarian line about the flag but that’s the contested nature of Northern Ireland.

    My point is that if a constitutional flag is allowed to fly then secondary to that is the tradition and the reality, the culture of a life lived as part of the UK. Whether people accept and bond to that is a matter of choice but the constitutional reality is there, Belfast is the capital why not fly it there?

    What we have is John Hume’s ‘you can’t eat a flag’ turned on its head because it was deemed as having some sort of detriment or causing an adverse impact somehow.

    I didn’t know a constitutional flag had such powers and influence!

    BCH flag position must surely be temporary based on the long standing position of no union flag from councils that are under majority nationalist control.

    Unless there is some sort of designated days law produced at Stormont to regulate this under the new shared future policy that’s the only way to prevent this compromise from being junked once there is a solid nationalist majority at BCH.

    It all seems so unnecessary and I think there must have been more to it, why bother? The cover was blown once the leaflets went out, why proceed.

    If constitutional politics aren’t your thing why become involved once the temperature was put to boiling point. Strange.

  • Gopher

    @David Crookes

    Cromwell in my humble opinion was self aware of his limitations as opposed to say Hitler or Napoleon. That I believe made Cromwell unique and a very dangerous adversary.

    HMG always has the advantage over the mob as a Christian you should know “God is on the side of the big battalions” When the mob is bigger than your battalions you don’t have stable governance.

    I don’t have the answer to the flag protest unfortunatly. Our elected representitives screwed up. Summer of trouble in prospect unless our idiots can start implementing a stability program. I think big house unionists should take a symbolic unilateral step to get that process rolling and nationalists should respond favourably.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Gopher. I haven’t thought seriously about Cromwell for a long time. Yes: a leader who knows that he has limits can be more dangerous than a megalomaniac. Have you ever tried comparing Stalin-and-the-kulaks with Cromwell-and-his-adversaries?

    Someone who knew Thatcher pretty well once told me that she came to believe herself to be invincible. (Having crushed the miners and beaten the Argies and faced down the Ulster unionists, she would certainly defeat the poll-tax rioters.)

    The Christian position on keeping the law is articulated in Romans 13. That chapter is hardly ever read in loyalistic churches. In 1971 I attended an Orange Sunday service in Kilkeel. The preacher encouraged his audience to leave matters of security to the government. “They know more than we do,” he said at one point. His message didn’t go down well.

    Summer of trouble in prospect, sez you? I fear so. Many of the people who say FOR GOD AND ULSTER are Crowleians in their hearts. To them, DO WHAT THOU WILT is the whole of the law.

  • Cromwell, a republican reviled by republicans in Ireland. Interesting character. Mr Crookes, mixing religion and politics has seldom worked out well here, would you agree?

  • David Crookes

    Agree 100%, Bangordub. The mixture of professedly evangelical Christianity and what we may politely call constitutional politics is little more than a form of syncretism.

    Let me hit you with a few unrelated things before I run off to bed.

    When Ian Paisley did the Christian thing and did the deal, he was pretty well pushed out of his own church.

    Lots of things that people associate with old-fashioned Ulster Protestantism, like sabbatarianism, have no Scriptural warrant.

    A man bolder than myself might ask whether inbreeding has tended to amplify an innate Calvinist proclivity for disapproving of nearly everything. Take that kindly from a man who believes the Bible to be God’s inspired Word. Where in Scripture do you find mad legalistic joylessness? In the hearts of the scribes and the Pharisees, the professional theologians, the most religious people of their day.

    Beware of religion. Religion is about controlling people. Any politico-religious mixture that encourages its votaries to take themselves and their own notions with total pietistic seriousness is the merest devilry. The balloon of excessive earnestness needs to be pricked every so often. That’s why we were given the ability to laugh.

    A creed that contains no laughter is anti-human. But when we learn to laugh at ourselves, we can reach out merrily to every kind of ‘other sort’.

  • PaddyReilly

    Cromwell, a republican reviled by republicans in Ireland.

    Crap, I’m afraid. Cromwell headed a military junta, which at that time was spelt junto. Having seized power he sought various ways to change the electorate so that it would return him, but all of them were disposed to restore the Stuart monarchy. So he abolished all vestiges of parliamentary power: “Remove that bauble”. He was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. The office of Lord Protector came to resemble that of king, and his son succeeded him.

  • Gopher


    Cromwell and Stalin different beasts for me. Stalin played the percentages while Cromwell managed fate. My favourite Stalin story is recounted in Chester Wilmot’s opus “The Struggle for Europe” certainly the best pre declassification of enigma history of the war in Europe if not the finest overall.

    The Polish Prime Minister was dining with Stalin at the Kremlin in December 1941 at a lavish banquet come party, the German army was at the gates of Moscow, Sikorski the Polish PM thought he had found some “mellowness” in the man but Stalin turned to him and said “Now we will talk about the frontier between Poland and Russia”

    Cromwell never thought that far ahead, Cromwell rode fate while Stalin executed anything and everything that could influence fate.

    Stalin like Cromwell took a modest title General Secretary to Cromwell’s Lord Protector so they were both quite perceptive of where they had come from. Hitler and Napoleon loved titles and the trappings of power.

    Stalin inherited the Soviet Union, Cromwell had to gain England one step at a time. I could never have seen Stalin letting Fairfax live nor could I ever seen him given latitude to subordinates like Cromwell.

    Could discuss all night so I better shut up now

  • A-ha, as Alan Partridge would have [as opposed to would of] exclaimed, the DUP are in Stormont since 2007 under false pretences. They insist that the Good Friday Agreement was rendered null and void and replaced by the St Andrew’s Agreement. This ruse was the figleaf that allowed them into the peace process. Paisley, in his News Letter article has pulled the rug from under his sucessor in admitting that the GFA is the legal framework of the peace process, so Robinson sat in Dublin Castle watching the Queen and President MacAleese telling the truth that the Good Friday Agreement still applies. Yet, as Basil McCrea pointed out, the DUP vetoed a bill which cited the GFA, and exposed in the process, Robinson’s pretence that the GFA is dead, thanks to the DUP.

  • David Crookes

    Gopher, many thanks for another contribution to my education. Not for the first time, I should be paying you money.

    Cromwell did indeed ride fate, as Hitler followed the course dictated by Providence with the assurance of a sleepwalker.

    You make a very interesting observation about the titles used by Cromwell and Stalin. Always remember where you come from is a good rule.

    Did you ever see the clip of Peter Sellers as Dalek? That clip helps me to understand Stalin. “I exterminated them.”

    Lord Protector. Big Brother?

  • David Crookes

    Copy and paste into YouTube:

    Spike Milligan – Pakistani Daleks

  • Gopher


    Thanks for the clip.

    Not sure that Cromwell ever believed in the big brother concept. True his influence extended to all areas but he knew where his power resided which was in the army. If he destroyed his enemies or totally controlled them he could not tax them to support the army. Stalin had no such problems in the Communist system he could be your Dalek. The relatively peaceful restoration proves there was not the same depth of root to the commonwealth. Monk and Fairfax gained control of the army and restored Charles II.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Gopher. I sometimes wonder why the Restoration worked as well as it did. Was it helpful to have people thinking that the monarch really was merry? The Trimble-and-Mallon partnership didn’t catch the public imagination, but the Paisley-and-McGuinness partnership did. Merriness was part of its success.

  • Gopher

    Nope the restoration worked well because you had effective moderates who did not mind getting their hands dirty and did not want power for themselves.

    Trimble and Mallon did not work because they were scared to work together. Everybody said Paisley-and-McGuinness could not work together so both did and the population was amazed. True Paisley-and-McGuinness had personality but the people just wanted the thing to work and Trimble and Mallon bottled it.

  • David Crookes

    So what we need here and now, Gopher, is a group of “effective moderates who won’t mind getting their hands dirty”. Bring them on.

  • Gopher

    My apologies David for replying sooner but I needed some time to consider the juxtaposition of an effective moderate and Northern Irish politics. In the seventeenth century one must believe that it would be no easier not to be fired by the flames of “enthusiasm” for any particular cause and do great service in troubled times. We lack men that have the individual or collective capacity for moderation in our present age which is no surprise to me. We have representation that cannot be prorogued, troops are no longer billeted on the populace. Our 21st century equivalent of ship money water charges is fought by every faction, The remonstrance is universally denied by secretaries of all religion here so there is little likely hood of abortion or gay marriage causing a divided house to fall.
    The people’s one cry of opposition for our “rump parliament” is unheard because our politicians heads are so deep in the trough they pretend not to hear. “They have been sat there to long there for any good they have doing” How can a moderate defeat sloth, ignorance and unbridled arrogance when it is defended waving the butchers apron or criminals camouflage net against each reasonable motion. This unholy alliance of vested interest is supported by the fundamental stability now ingrained into Northern Ireland. Thirty thousand people every year no longer enter the labour market. Multitudes of angry young unemployed men are thankfully a thing of the past and Jamie Bryson is no John Lilburne and he has few levellers, so we can breath easy that sky tv, Facebook and a hefty mortgage and loan repayments pacified our tribes beyond anything our politicians can turn into a conflagration over flags or Ardoyne roundabout.
    No longer are the housing estates teeming and writhing cast your eyes down the “notorious” Belfast wards, Protestant and Catholic in 2011 census and compare with 2001 and you will see the bankruptcy of our politicians campaigns. The turnout is no longer there yet we are now governed by 1038 less in Anderstown and 1025 less in Sydenham, the story is the same virtually everywhere there is little immigration. So as they can no longer seriously effect the “middle” except by keeping crooks in office and the middle cares little,
    Why should the middle care, why bother why stand, what are you actually standing for except aggravation from our accepted parties? A parliamentarian once said to a Royalist “Your friends the cavaliers are very dissolute and debauched.” “True” replied the Royalist “They have the infirmaries of men: But your friends, the Roundheads have the vices of devils, tyranny, rebellion and spiritual pride” What would get the most aggravation in Northern Ireland, being photographed with a terrorist or being photographed with a reefer?

    Once again sorry for the delay David and hope that makes some sense.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks a lot for that substantial reply, Gopher. A comparison of some historical conflict with our present situation is useful up to a point, but once we get past that point we run into the fact that two lots of people separated by several centuries believe very different things, and are excited by very different things.

    The world of the New Model Army is not the world of America’s Top Model. Our ancestors lived without double glazing, central heating, mobile phones, powered vehicles, and washing machines. We might have found them uncouth and unfragrant in many respects. But they were able to find comfort in great doctrinal certainties, and they would be astonished to know that we believe so little in areas that were important to them.

    I ask myself sometimes what side I should have been on during the English Civil War. Although I’m an evangelical Christian, no admirer of Charles I, and not a great Legitimist, I reckon that I’d have been with the Laughing Cavaliers, BECAUSE THEY LAUGHED. Many of the Roundheads were activated by the kind of religion that produces a tyranny and a fanatical thought police.

    A liberal at bottom is someone who doesn’t want to kill the people who disagree with him. Part of being a liberal is being able to distinguish between serious and trivial matters. Another part is being able to laugh at yourself.

    I worry both about the DUP and about the AP in this respect. The DUP are terribly solemn about their uncompromisingly pure unionist doctrine, while the AP have produced a ludicrously detailed creed that governs pretty well everything apart from breathing. Neither party is interested in giving us either orderly schools by day, or quiet streets by night.

    We need a new party which is unafraid of compromise, able to laugh, and interested in real things. Let me give you a trivial example of how its leader might live. He goes to a GAA event, and participates courteously in the prelusive goings-on. If people on that account call him a traitor or a lundy, he tells them to grow up and get a life.

    The genuine vacuum-about-the-future which characterizes SF may actually help that party to deal boldly and constructively with a new liberal party. It may even be that wise members of SF, FF, and FG realize that there’s no point in defining a future UI until unionists set out their own ideas for the new nation.

    We don’t need a dictator like Cromwell. We need a severe outbreak of geniality. Such a thing is possible. West Germans became very genial about Americans after the Berlin Airlift.