Ian Paisley leader of all the people?

Brian Walker’s been keeping an eye on some subtle changes at Westminster. Not least the greater attendence of Ian Paisley, who is now styling his interventions on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, Walker suggests is now consciously enlarged from the previous normative definition of protestant Northern Ireland.

Noteworthy amongst everything else was Peter Hain’s advocacy for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly (subject to approval by referendum:

Peter Hain’s claim that he can handle double-jobbing has been put to an early test. Trying to settle squabbles in the (Welsh) Assembly by giving it greater powers is, indeed, a bold move. Last week in the Commons, he also learned that trying to forge closer north-south links – in this case with a vague and under-funded Welsh transport plan – can be a thankless task. The truth is north and south Walians traditionally don’t care for each other much. All very instructive when it comes to dealing with Northern Ireland, perhaps.

  • Keith M

    With the assembly in limbo and his dual mandate gone, Paisley can concentrate on Westminster. As for speaking for all the people of Northern Ireland, let’s not forget the DUP accounts for almost 70% of the NI MPs who represent Northern Ireland in Weestminster.

  • Fraggle

    Keith, no matter how you twist facts, Paisley will never speak for ALL the people of Northern Ireland.

    He doesn’t speak for me.

  • Charles

    So, some 50% of the NI population has 70% of the representation. No great cause for celebration IMHO. Nationalists will never feel that their interests can be represented by the DUP, least of all by such as Ian Paisley. His parliamentary posturing cannot undo the hurt and the damage of his 50 years at the forefront of unionist intransigence. We know who he speaks for, and we know who it excludes.

  • Charles

    That should have read 40 years. It only feels like 50

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    “No great cause for celebration”

    But its their own fault, since they refuse to sit the DUP cannot be blamed for taking most of the power. If they got of their fat behinds and stopped scabbing of the rest of the country then the DUP would not have such control. They can blame no one but themselves.

  • George

    If Big Ian represents Northern Ireland, he should be on his way down to Dublin this weekend to see U2 at Croker as part of the bridge building process and getting to know his neighbour and largest trading partner.

    Back in the giddy days of 1998 Trimble and Hume were feted by Bono and both even held the singer’s hand.

    No doubt Paisley isn’t yet ready to touch a Irish southerner’s dirty little mitt for reasons best known to him but an appearance at it would be a step in the right direction.

    Ideally, he should head down for the Northern Ireland sporting event of the year so far, the Ulster final, which I believe will be held in Croke Park again this year.

    Probably on a Sunday so even if he demonstrates against the Godlessness of it all that would be something.

  • Jo

    I wonder if some sort of computer model of the last 40 years could be run WITHOUT the Paisley factor – what would the result have been?

    One factor – Catholic support or acquiescence in the Union would surely have been much stronger without him.

  • Thomas

    Good point Jo. What would this country be like if Paisley had not existed at all!:0)For one Sinn Fein’s influence would not have been so great. SDLP would still be a major player. etc etc…
    Your thoughts?

  • Jo

    Thomas,

    Counter-factual history is always fascinating!

    1. There would not have been the same focus to the civil rights counter marches and rallies.

    2. Had Sunningdale still happened, perhaps earlier than it did, there would still have been opposition, but Unionism would have become increasingly fragmented, possibly coalescing around Bill Craig? People tend to forget what he was like – much less of the religious element and much scarier in some ways (rallies, etc) Then again, Vanguard did produce Trimble…

    3. There would have been some sort of centre of gravity other than Official/Ulster Unionism, but it would have had no “Free P” input, as that church wouldnt have existsed!

    4. Maybe there would not have been the same fear factor in successive Ulster Unionist leaders as it seems dififcult to imagine a more colourful focus of oppsition to the Unionist establishment in any of the figures then – or now. My conclusion is that Unionism would have remained closer to centre over the last 3 decades due to a lack of a suitably charismatic figure in touch with *traditional Unionist* values -whatever they are!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Am I missing something in Walker’s analysis? He says Paisley is putting more emphasis on representing all the people of NI at Westminster but offers no supporting evidence. Paisley has ALWAYS talked about “the people of Northern Ireland” and he has always meant the Protestant people of Northern Ireland – implying that Catholics are NOT “the people of Northern Ireland” in that none-too-subtle way of his.

    So what does Walker hang this thesis on? The DUP call for the Shankill bomber to be rearrested? The hissy fit over Monica McWilliams?

    Whatver the rights or wrongs, how can either instance be held up as an example of Paisley doing his best for the fenians?

    Hmmm, I think what we’re seeing here is an example of the media rehabilitation of the big man. To the victor the spoils and all that. Never mind counterfactual history – here we’re seeing counterfactual reporting.

    (Incidentally, if little IRK Paisley had been dropped on his head or something in 1928, another Paisley-like figure would have emerged within unionism to take his place. Ian Paisley has been the dominant figure within unionism for forty years – either as tribal chief or as the terroriser of O’Neill, Faulkner, Molyneaux, Trimble or whomever the nominal tribal chief was – because he is closest to the dark heart of unionism. Decent unionists are embarrassed by him because he is the truth about unionism. Sorry Jo, but in the words of Col Nathan Jessop, you can’t handle the truth.

  • Charles

    ‘But its their own fault’
    FYU

    You’re ignoring the first-past-the-post system in which winner takes all. Even allowing for the (futile and outdated) abstentionist policy, there would still be disproportionate representation in Westminster. That’s why I say it’s no cause for celebration. The personal culpability of “Dr” Paisley is a separate matter (about which I can bang on at great length). That he should try to present himself as a representative of “all the people” of the north is merely laughable. Except it’s not funny. Nothing connected to Paisley is.

  • Jo

    Billy,
    Well then I think you must believe that some unknown figure, possibly one still alive, would have fulfilled that role. I can only go by looking at the other figures who really were around during the same period. Craig is possibly the leading contender, but what I am saying is that the Paisley-shaped space might never have been filled by anyone else.

  • beano; EverythingUlster.com

    Personally, I can’t think of anything more distasteful than Paisley going down to watch U2. One bloke who thinks he’s Jesus meeting someone else who believes it’s him.

    Would be interesting at least, I suppose.

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Charles,

    You are avoiding the simple point.

    You said:
    “some 50% of the NI population has 70% of the representation”

    So I say if SF took their 5 seats then the 50% would have 50% representation in unionist/ nationalist terms approx. So dont go winging that nationalists are unrepresented for if most of their elected MPs actually done the job they were paid to do then they would be fairly represented.

    Also,
    It should be noted that SF are doing themselves no justice in their MPs constituencies, if they honestly think it is helping their image among unionists and sensible nationalists then they are greatly mistaken!

    In 2009 unionists will have control in 12 out of the 18 constituencies.

  • Dr Snuggles

    It’s nothing new for Paisley to talk in those terms. As long as I can remember, he’s claimed to speak for the “people of Ulster” or the “people of Northern Ireland”.

  • Charles

    Hardly avoiding the point, FYU, and certainly not whinging. I responded to KeithM’s point that DUP had 70% of the representation in the north and commented that it was no great cause for celebration. I further made the point that first-past-the-post is incapable of providing equal representation. OK, I may not have said it explicitly, but I think the point was clear.

    Even if SF abandoned its abstentionism, it wouldn’t redress the balance. It’s in the nature of the electoral system. I think I also made it clear that I don’t support abstentionism. But you make my point for me when you say that unionism controls 12 out of the 18 constituencies. How can that be right? That’s half the population having two-thirds of the seats.

  • Jo

    “In 2009 unionists will have control in 12 out of the 18 constituencies…”

    Wishful thinking. Plenty more voters will turn 18 before then: if theyre Catholic, theyll vote SF.

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Well Unionists are nearly guaranteed their present 10 seats and SB and FST will be sorted out by then so the way things are going at the minute it looks like 12 unionist MP’s and 2 nationalist MP’s and then 4 selfish people which should not be called MP’s.

  • aquifer

    BW:

    ‘In the coming weeks and months, will our own people seize the chance to tell DUP and Sinn Fein that in spite of – no, because of – the public support they’ve been entrusted with, people long for something broader and better?’

    How?

    Is Walker suggesting the government pay for permanent opinion polls or go over the politicians heads with a referendum? or, writing for a flabby Unionist paper, is he just saying trust the biggest baddest Unionist of all. The Tellfast Bellylaugh is a great paper. Its editorials used to wiffle through a number of the greatest issues of the day and take a strong position on none.

    Don’t want to risk the advertising revenues?

  • Mick

    Billy, I think it was someone writing in the Irish Examiner about a year ago (Noel Whelan I think, but it could have been one of his colleagues), who suggested that Ian Paisley had traditionally been characterised as the ‘mouth of Unionism’, but the challenge for him politically now was to become the ‘voice of Unionism’. The distinction may seem slight, but it’s important nonetheless.

    Walker may not have quoted relevant evidence, but it is plain to see for anyone watching them closely enough that the DUP (like Sinn Fein) is not content to sit on its electoral laurels. The party is clearly working to broaden its claim beyond the (politically) fundamentalist origins of the party, to a wider audience within Unionism and beyond.

    It has been careful not to publicly fall into the trap that its rival did with publications like It’s not fair – that foreground a zero sum struggle with Nationalism. Whilst it clearly does not speak for the whole of Northern Ireland it does make sense to speak to that constituency as though it were a singular whole, if your aim is to proslytise and increase the overall pro-Union vote.

    Holding 9 seats out of the 13 MPs who actually turn up at Westminster would seem an ideal place to promote that kind of impression.

  • Baluba

    Beano,

    Couldn’t agree more. Bono and Big Ian – phew, what a combination!

    I have to say that part of me cringes at the thought of the assembly getting up and running and people all over the world seeing who ‘our’ First Minister is. Laughing stock springs to mind.

    The thought of Big Ian singing hymns in Stormont is too much to bear. ‘I thank almighty God and the PSNI, not necessarily in that order…’

  • George

    FYU and Charles,
    as enemies of abstentionism and obvious fans of all that Westminster has done for the good people of Northern Ireland, maybe either of you could furnish a single Westminster bill put forward by MPs from Northern Ireland since 1972 which the government of the day has implemented.

    Why bother turning up to hear the lip service.

    For most Irish people, north and south, whatever else about Sinn Fein and its antics and attitudes towards democracy, it is, for them, more than understandable that the party don’t take their seats in Westminster.

    Maybe somebody could outline the advantages it has brought to the SDLP because I can’t think of any.

    Nothing has changed to make abstentionism outdated or have I missed a raft of successful DUP Private Member Bills in the last couple of weeks?

  • Baluba

    Abstentionism is policy because that is what the thousands of people who vote for Sinn Féin want. I would no more want my reps to sit in the Bundestag than Westminster.

    SDLP take their seats and all the time they spent across the water could probably have been better put in on this island in their constituencies. People might see them working hard on the ground then and vote for them (but probably not).

  • Tochais Síoraí

    In the interests of democracy in FST, I’m sure FYU wouldn’t really want Unionism to win a seat where there wasn’t a Unionist majority!

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    George,

    “maybe either of you could furnish a single Westminster bill put forward”
    I couldn’t tell ya.

    “Why bother turning up to hear the lip service”
    Because they were getting paid vast expenses to. In a way it was theft.

    “advantages it has brought to the SDLP”
    The knowledge that they are serving both communities and that they are not inciting more hatred.

    Baluba,

    “Abstentionism is policy because that is what the thousands of people who vote for Sinn Féin want”

    And what about the tens of thousands of unionists stuck in stuck in SF consistencies, have they not got the right to be represented like the vast majority of people from NI?

    Tochais Síoraí

    “I’m sure FYU wouldn’t really want Unionism to win a seat where there wasn’t a Unionist majority”

    What about SB? Lord Maginnis served FST for 18 years and he had no problems with nationalists. Obviously a unionist MP here is favourable but even a SDLP MP would not be met with such anger.

  • Jo

    FYU: I reckon Barney Eastwood or his ilk would give you good odds for FST 2009, whatever way you wanted to wager. Its probably not allowed, but I wonder what the odds are on a by election in north Antrim before then? 😉
    (Getting back ontopic!)

  • PatMcLarnon

    Walker has got this wrong. Paisley and indeed most other unionist leaders have always used the term the people of Northern Ireland, so to try and read anything subtle into it is bogus.

    Dodds is also following in this peculiarly illusionary mode. Speaking of the re routing of the coat trailing exercise from the Springfield Rd on Saturday he stated it was causing great offence and concern to the people of Belfast. Wrong!

  • George

    FYU,
    care to give me any evidence of anybody from NI achieving anything in Westminster to serve their community.

    You yourself can’t name a single bill put forward by a NI MP in the last 30 years which was passed but in the next sentence imply going to Westminster is serving both communities.

    Perhaps you are confusing servile with serving?

    As for theft, I hate to break this to you but abstentionism is not unlawful and is a proud tradition in Ireland which developed a while after the 1801 annexation of Ireland by Britain(speaking of theft).

    End of digression from thread.

  • JT

    I would imagine that the next MP for North Antrim will have the same name with Jr after it

  • Jo

    I doubt somehow that Jnr will have the same influence for the next 40 years as his Dad had for the last 40. 🙂 Its just a feeling I have.

  • 6countyprod

    Love him or loathe him you have to admit that Big Ian is a pretty tough old cookie! He seems to thrive on being criticised.

    Look what a couple of years of demonization have done to Bush and Blair. They have changed into old men before our eyes.

    Paisley has endured over 40 years of misrepresentation, and, of course, a good bit of self-inflected criticism, but he is still going strong. Looking better every day, God bless him.

    Of course he speaks for the people of NI (but not the 6 county type), just as he speaks for the people of North Antrim. (that should get some people stirred up a bit)

  • bill

    The purple paramilitary beret was quite fetching,i thought.

  • VerucaSalt

    I do agree Jo, Jnr appears to be a much weaker, watered down version of Ian snr. Its said that Ian Snr’s daughter Rhonda channels the Paisley spirit much more so than jnr.

    Furthermore jnr stands accused of sexual harassment against younger female members of the DUP, he’s really not the man his father is.

  • Jo

    Veruca,
    Thats quite a serious charge you make there. Shouldn’t we be careful about saying things like that here?

  • slug

    A great working class leader, who brought the ruling elites to their knees.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Jo

    “you must believe that some unknown figure, possibly one still alive, would have fulfilled that role. I can only go by looking at the other figures who really were around during the same period. Craig is possibly the leading contender, but what I am saying is that the Paisley-shaped space might never have been filled by anyone else.”

    What I’m saying is that had Paisley never emerged, someone else would have taken up the mantle of far-right unionism at every stage of the last forty years. Maybe that person would have been less charismatic than Paisley, maybe more astute. Maybe he (surely not she) would have been less religious, maybe more fascistic (a la Craig.) Maybe there would have been a succession of Paisleys, maybe just one, I don’t know. My point thought is that Ian Paisley has never tried to persuade the unionist people of things they didn’t instinctively support anyway. He has thrived in shooting down rival unionist leaders who did. Go back to the 60s, where you had a unionist leader who tentatively introduced a policy of treating Catholics like human beings – Paisley didn’t persuade the unionist population to oppose this, he emerged as the spokesman for popular feeling that existed anyway. If he hadn’t, someone else would have. His career continued as the opponent of civil rights, and again he was able to command wide support. He then opposed power-sharing, peace talks, a peace agreement, an inclusive executive and so on. At every stage he appealed to unionism’s natural instincts and at every stage been rewarded. At every stage, had IRKP never existed, someone else would have emerged to to appeal to the dark heart of unionism. Some of the details might have been different but we wouldn’t be living in a substantially different place today.

    Mick

    Jesus, thanks for the “It’s not fair” link – I didn’t know whether to laugh or just to give a sympathetic sigh. Calling it “It’s not fair” made me think it was a wind up. Did no-one in Cunningham House realise that it makes the UU sound like a spoilt 12-year-old girl stamping her foot at her parents? (Actually, that’s a fairly accurate metaphor for unionism, but I digress…)

    Your point is that the UUP have produced an idiotic document and the DUP have not done so in a while – that this supports the thesis that the DUP are “reaching out”. Your threshold is low, that’s all I can say.

    “Walker may not have quoted relevant evidence, but it is plain to see for anyone watching them closely enough that the DUP (like Sinn Fein) is not content to sit on its electoral laurels. The party is clearly working to broaden its claim beyond the (politically) fundamentalist origins of the party, to a wider audience within Unionism and beyond.”

    I would agree that the DUP are serious about making the adjustment from being the sniping sidekick of unionism to being the master but that is very far from being the point that Walker makes. Yes, I’ve seen evidence that the DUP are trying to tone down the nutcase quotient but how that equates to doing his bit for the fenians I have no idea. I’ll say again, Walker’s article is all about the journalistic rehabilitation of the man who, for better or worse, it in unionism’s driving seat. The point Walker makes is unsubstantiated – but I don’t blame him for that, no evidence exists to support his thesis. It’s wishful thinking. It’s bullshit.

    “The party is clearly working to broaden its claim beyond the (politically) fundamentalist origins of the party to a wider audience within Unionism…”

    I agree.

    “…and beyond.”

    If, by “and beyond” you mean a British audience in Westminster then maybe you have a point. If you mean nationalism – which I thought was the nub of Walker’s analysis and the purpose of this thread – then all I can say is that I’m astonished that you think this is the case. But maybe I have missed something – as I said, I’d be delighted to hear any evidence of Paisley and co doing their bit for me and mine. I’m just not aware of any and neither Walker nor even the incomparable Slugger has been able to provide me with any. (Even though Walker’s column and this thread would appear to be helping propagate a new myth of nationalists sitting around saying “fair play to the Paisleyites”.

    Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Just wanted to pull you up on this:

    “What about SB? Lord Maginnis served FST for 18 years and he had no problems with nationalists. Obviously a unionist MP here is favourable but even a SDLP MP would not be met with such anger.”

    (Just a wee note: you should avoid the “what about” formulation at all costs. It’s the ultimate no-no in pseduo intellectual company in the north of Ireland. We call it “whataboutery” and being called on whataboutery is a rebuttal in itself around these parts.)

    But on your point about how even an SDLP MP “would not be met with such anger”. Let’s be absolutely straight about this: Michelle Gildernew is the MP for FST because she was democratically elected. Neither unionists nor anyone else is entitled to be “angry” about their democratically-elected MP. They’re entitled to vote but when the ballots are counted up they are obliged to accept the result. Michelle Gildernew is the legitimate MP and the “anger” of a minority is NOT a substantive political issue. That “angry” minority should get counselling or something.

  • Jo

    Billy, But who? It must as I have suggested be someone unknown. Not Willy McCrea ffs? He is a follower, not a leader.

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Billy Pilgrim,

    “Just a wee note: you should avoid the “what about” formulation”

    Actually it was not a case of whataboutery as you call it but a simple contradiction of what Tochais Síoraí said.

    “Michelle Gildernew is the MP for FST because she was democratically elected”

    Maybe this time round, but what about 2001? (not a case of whataboutery)

    “Neither unionists nor anyone else is entitled to be “angry”

    Whys that? She does what only a minority in FST want.

    “Michelle Gildernew is the legitimate MP”

    Technically they should not really be called MP’s. IMO

    “anger” of a minority is NOT a substantive political issue”

    Actually its anger on the MAJORITY.

  • objectivist

    ”As for speaking for all the people of Northern Ireland, let’s not forget the DUP accounts for almost 70% of the NI MPs who represent Northern Ireland in Weestminster.”
    Exactly 50%,Keith,- 9 out of 18.
    ‘Paisleyism is a highly dangerous and pernicious political philosophy’
    -Michael McDowell,1998.

  • Keith M

    objectivist : 9 of 13 (MPs who represent Northern Ireland in Westminster).

  • the truth

    You can go in to the details all you want but the underlying fact is that the british occupation of Ireland was and is illegal according to UN rules.
    If we completely disobeyed these rules what would the world come to?
    So thus to support the british presence would be to support an illegal presence in N.Ireland.
    If there was a complete brirish withdrawal from N.Ireland one cannot suppose that the protestant population would be misrepresented. There would be an uproar and the brits would be straight back in there to prevent civil war. Tne nationalists would not risk this.
    The 32 counties of Ireland are historically and geographically one country. Every man has the birthright to his own coutry. Due to the greed of the British empire this right was taken away.
    Everyone knows deep down that invevitably in times to come the natives of Ireland will once again take sovereignty of their country whether they be protestant or catholic.