Ian Paisley and the Protean character of Northern Ireland

Prospect Magazine is carrying my portrait of Ian Paisley in their May edition, available in all good bookshops, etc., etc.. It’s a fairly wide ranging attempt to bracket a forty year long political career. It also attempts to answer why did he deal now, and not earlier. One reason, I suggest, is the changed economic context of the island, north and south:

The economic background matters too. Northern Ireland, and even more so the rest of Ireland, has changed. Paisley is still a man of intense evangelical faith. But his 1960s role of defending Protestant jobs or preventing the north being overwhelmed by what seemed like a third world country over the border no longer apply. The loss of heavy industry, the introduction of fair employment legislation (as far back as 1976) and the growth of cross-border business with the booming republic have changed the ground rules. As Paisley’s voter base moved out of the working class-ghettos, it changed and widened; and Paisley’s scope for political manoeuvre grew with his base’s expanding, middle-class interests and incomes. In the meantime, the once feckless neighbours to the south have taken up recognisably (if secular) Protestant traits, and are now far richer than the Northern Irish. As the writer Andrew Greeley has noted, “If number of hours worked is a sign of the Protestant ethic, then Irish Catholics are the last Protestants in Europe.”

  • SuperSoupy

    Does this argument not defeat itself? If the south wasn’t a serious economic competitor (60s/70s) then surely Paisley’s issue never had any basis in economics?

    For most of his career it was about intense anti-Catholic extremism. Suddenly it’s not or not as explicit. That’s the big change.

  • Mick Fealty

    Even in the short snipped piece above the argument is slightly more complex than you’ve portrayed it, SS… 😉

  • Shore Road Resident

    Any chance of the full text of your article, Mick?

  • The Dubliner

    “In the meantime, the once feckless neighbours to the south have taken up recognisably (if secular) Protestant traits…”

    That’s an interesting deduction. Instead of seeing the success of Ireland’s predominately catholic society as exposing the bogus claim that the so-called “protestant work ethic” makes predominately protestant societies more productive than predominately catholic societies as a self-serving sectarian myth, you appear to draw the rather bizarre conclusion that Ireland’s success actually affirms the myth.

  • ducks – way too scared to give real name

    “the bogus claim that the so-called “protestant work ethic” makes predominately protestant societies more productive than predominately catholic societies as a self-serving sectarian myth, you appear to draw the rather bizarre conclusion that Ireland’s success actually affirms the myth.”

    Perhaps Ireland has imported Protestant working practices from the profoundly protestant American Republic (1 catholic president in it’s history).

  • jaffa

    The National Statistics web-site on productivity amongst the G7 shows the US, France and Italy as having higher productivity (GDP per worker) than the UK, Germany, Canada or Japan.

    On applying Slugger standard statistical method and uncompromising philosophical rigour I have concluded that as the US, France and Italy are bourgeois republics and beat Royalist UK, Commonwealth Canada and Imperial Japan (is that still fair?) there must be a middle class republican work ethic. I’ve ignored Germany because I don’t know the sectarian split and it’s overrun by lazy Osties anyway.

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=160

    Pity about the pesky prod Scandinavian monarchies.

  • DC

    Mick,

    You journos are very good at sandwich-filling arguments in political magazines for tasty financial rewards, no doubt.

    But how about a simpler version and without the cash, one that was summed up in a few words by a certain Mr David Trimble some many years ago and that is, for unionism, “it’s as good as it gets” (i.e. the GFA and its outworkings).

    So why now? Well due process has ran its course with unionist concerns voiced-out to the max by the DUP throughout the course of such due process hence the backing at the polls. If an ethnic party talks and articulates the concerns of an ethnic group then endorsement at the polls would be a natural follow-on you would imagine. And maximising endorsement had to occur before Paisley could become the quasi-president of N Ireland. So the keys to power have only recently been placed in his hands.

    Where the DUP go from here will be interesting in so far as they can manage to bring their core constituencies along with them in a changing political environment, but I think that they will be able to carry the newly penetrated voters more easily, as they seem to like such political tough talk.

  • Mick Fealty

    DC,

    “You journos are very good at sandwich-filling arguments in political magazines for tasty financial rewards, no doubt.”

    That’s as elegant a put down as I’ve had in my five years of writing to Slugger… Whilst I’ve no argument with your laconic rendition of the main themes of the peace process era, some further detail is surely worth recounting (with or without remuneration), not least because it took him forty plus years to come in from the political cold and, in the final event only, go directly to the top of NI politics.

  • DC

    Well Mick, there is only so much time you can spend operating beneath the British and Irish governments, so you’ve got to come up for air at some point otherwise you die out.

    Not only have the DUP came up for air but they’ve knocked the wind out of the UUP in doing so!

  • Mick Fealty

    There is a view that that was not simply through the agency of the DUP. The invisibility of the IRA’s October 2003 decommissioning was like a lead weight to Trimble in that election. Had he come out significantly ahead in that election, the DUP may have had little choice but to do the best with what they had.

    Perhaps the most successful strand to this Process™, lies in the strategy of building and maintaining a professional political class that became increasingly ambitious for (and jealous of) its own longer term interests within an agreed constitutional settlement.

  • Southern Observer

    Perhaps Ireland has imported Protestant working practices from the profoundly protestant American Republic (1 catholic president in it’s history).

    Says more about historic anti-Catholic prejudice in the US than anything else.

  • helmets on

    “Says more about historic anti-Catholic prejudice in the US than anything else.”

    Why historic? That last Catholic was over 40 years ago.

    Pretty big productive prod elephant in the room you’re ignoring. What’s your hypothesis? Where from the enduring connection between national productivity and the protestant persuasion?

  • Garibaldy

    Mick,

    Your post on comment 10 hits the naked truth behind the reason for the deal right on the head.

  • Obscure Reference

    The notion of individual responsibility promulgated by the Reformation was hardly original and is obviously severable from Protestant faith. The continuing conflation of the two concepts always indicates a certain limp-wristed notion of ethnic superiority a la Samuel P. Huntington.

    “his 1960s role of defending Protestant jobs”

    So that’s what his role was. The jobs were Protestant, not the people, the whole time! How wrong I’ve been about the Rev. P!.

  • Mick Fealty

    OR

    Thanks for the Samuel P Huntingdon reference. Check out these Amazon reviews of Max Weber’s classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which, no doubt, first popularised the concept and related it directly to rise of capitalism. It may sound slightly corny or dated but it does, I would argue (and not entirely defensively), truthfully describe some underlying perceptions within hard line unionism.

    One of the difficulties in writing about someone as routinely caricatured (sometimes even by himself) as Paisley, is in finding a stable enough frame through which to view him. Going back to the sixties, seemed the most satisfactory way of getting a clearer perspective on his political career at least.

    In terms of the 1960s there was a perception that those jobs were Protestant: certainly amongst a large number of the working classes who had them. What lit the touch paper was the rise to prominence of two modernising leaders (both former Ministers of Finance) north and south, Sean Lemass and Terrence O’Neill, whose work, many feared (correctly in some ways) would see the end of mass employment in old industries in favour of new light industries.

    A large number of working class Protestants did not see things in such a black and white way, of course. At the time of Paisley’s rise, for instance, the only serious parliamentary challenge to the Unionist Party from within the Unionist community was the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Over the next forty years some of those people made their way from backing Michael Farrell in ’68/9 to fulsome support for the DUP now.

  • * helmet head

    “The notion of individual responsibility promulgated by the Reformation was hardly original and is obviously severable from Protestant faith. The continuing conflation of the two concepts always indicates a certain limp-wristed notion of ethnic superiority a la Samuel P. Huntington.”

    Exactly. And while the “catholic” republics may be late developers their republicanism is testament to the same drive for self realisation and the overthrow of despotism that motivated the reformers in earlier centuries. Full marks.

    [* just ease off on the personal references – moderator]

  • me

    sorry mr moderation – was referring to meself!

  • PaddyReilly

    As I pointed out once before, the current wisdom is that the upturn in the Irish economy was not caused by the actions of its politicians, but by its birthrate.

    http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/11/13/8393173/index.htm?postversion=2006110710

    Thus, it is arguable that the current prosperity enjoyed by countries such as (26 co) Ireland, France and Italy is due to the fact that their inhabitants have adopted a contraceptive ethos that parents and grandparents would have shunned, on grounds of Catholicism, and which was adopted earlier by Protestant countries. Looking at the world in its entirety, it is fairly obvious that countries with low birth rates (say for example, Japan) enjoy higher prosperity than those with high ones, and that this is a much more reliable indicator of present or developing prosperity than religion.

    However, before we drown ourselves in self-congratulation, it should be observed that a low birth-rate brings with it its own problems: it becomes necessary to import people from abroad, which can eventually lead to ethnic confict.

  • Southern Observer

    .pretty big productive prod elephant in the room you’re ignoring. What’s your hypothesis? Where from the enduring connection between national productivity and the protestant persuasion?
    This suggests a lack of connection between national productivity and the Catholic persuasion- one of these lazy stereotypes that has bitten the dust with the advent of the Celtic Tiger.Of course,as has been alluded to above, this has been rationalised away by re-configuring the present generation of southerners as crypto-Protestants.There are other examples of course -postwar France and Belgium and the present rapidly expanding Polish economy.

  • Aquifer

    The implosion of the Catholic church in Ireland: child abuse, a collapse of authority assisted by the likes of Bishop Casey having a love child and then denying it, its surrender of much child protection to the state, and finally a recruitment crisis, will have relaxed Paisley.

    The economics are interesting. The Atlantic tiger effectively denationalised the economy and made it part of a wider market system, making assimmilation much less culturally claustrophobic, giving the republic a window on the world and economic muscle that could compare for unionists with that provided by the british commonwealth. The negative sum politics of the thirties boycott against Belfast is now illegal under european law.

    Ireland in terms of its rural roots, paternalism, and extended families is perhaps now less foreign to Paisley than metropolitan London and the southeast.

    The roots of Paisleys drives may not lie in the political though, which may throw up problems as succession looms.

  • Paradoxically, the social values of Paisley’s own particular rural base and that of old Catholic Ireland look more akin now in the context of those changes Aquifer. I recall him exiting rapidly after being asked a blunt question on RTE, just after ’86 referendum on divorce about what his guidance might have been to his own religious flock when the proposal to liberalise Irish law failed.

    As for Paisley, he is a unionist without doubt. But he has never been an entirely conventional one. In the launch issue of the Village magazine, Vincent Browne recalled Liam Hourican’s interview with him when he said,

    “…if the people in the south really want the protestants of the northn to join them in a united Ireland then they should scrap entirely the 1937 constitution and ensure that the Roman Catholic hierarchy could no longer exercise an improper influence on politics”.

  • lib2016

    Rather than the rise or fall of ‘Catholic Ireland’ the Rev. may be more concerned with the fall of the ‘Protestant Crown’ in Britain. What have the Six Counties in common with modern Britain that matters?

    Northern Ireland hasn’t left the union yet but it doesn’t need to….the Union will leave instead.

  • jaffa

    “As for Paisley, he is a unionist without doubt. But he has never been an entirely conventional one.”

    I’d have said the objection to religous influence in Irish politics is mainstream unionist.

    Nationalsits have to be honest in accepting that a secular, prosperous Ireland is only a recent option for unionists’ consideration. The IRA never offered this. Right up to the collapse of communism it wasn’t just a united ireland that was on offer but a choice thereafter of socialist sequestration or religious domination.

    When it comes to republicanism we have either this:

    http://www.hibernianmedia.com/

    or the gentle language of Sinn Fein’s Unionist outreach chief:

    http://www.sinnfein.ie/news/detail/13119

    Have to say neither is very attractive to me and my own pro-unity/agreed accomodation position is very much in spite of this really, really bad PR.

  • DC

    “or the gentle language of Sinn Fein’s Unionist outreach chief:

    http://www.sinnfein.ie/news/detail/13119

    Yea thanks for the link I have just finished jotting down what I think about the whole Martina Anderson affair with unionism.

    But I have to say I really dispise the way in which such statements are worded on the SF website with the Brits this n that. I suppose it is at least some what gentler and I guess we must call that progress.

  • Mr Wilson

    http://www.amazon.com/Back-Future-Protestants-United-Ireland/dp/1853716928/ref=sr_1_1/104-4941879-1273529?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1177883796&sr=1-1

    in fact, he assumed that modern capitalism had its origin in various social, political und scientific developments of the West completely independent of Protestantism

    which J Bowyer Bell did not appreciate.