Ulster’s oddest ever political dalliance?

Despite the fact that Ian Paisley’s deputy, Peter Robinson, had warned this would be “a work-in rather than a love-in” – last Tuesday his boss and Sinn Fein’s number two seemed relaxed in each other’s company, laughing and smiling. Indeed, the image was more one of detached affection than that of two old foes forcibly burying the hatchet. In this month’s Fortnight magazine, Malachi O’Doherty casts his weather eye over the new relationship upon which Northern Ireland’s shared future depends: By Malachi O’Doherty

It is hard to imagine Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness working well together. They are men of very different types. This has to do with more than the religious background of the two, though there will be those who will argue that it is that background which determines their separate ways of thinking about the world. Perhaps – a little.

But the big difference is in the manner with which these men face the world. McGuinness approaches the world coyly, Ian Paisley brashly. McGuinness has lived a secretive life, Paisley a public one.

McGuinness, for decades, has been making decisions on strategies and policies in small committees, in rooms that have been swept for bugs. Those decisions have concerned whether individuals would be killed, or at least whether certain categories of people would be killed. Town centre bombings, massive bombs in London or Manchester, that police woman at the courthouse in Derry, an outed informer (outed perhaps by another informer). Should this man be allowed to live in Derry? Are the weapons stores safe?

All his past experience will have equipped McGuinness to be quiet about the decisions he has taken, to seek no credit for them outside the coterie within which he has made them. He has played life like poker, and it shows.

Even so, he is a cheerful and playful man at times. But his relaxation, fishing, is the respite of a man who needs to think secret thoughts and who can not relax as other men do, garrulously, drunkenly.

Where we have seen the private McGuinness he has come across as emotionally naked. He relished his first public outing with Paisley like a child enjoying Christmas. It appears that he loves Ian Paisley now and loves being patronised a little by him. Paisley calls him ‘deoputy’ and though that is the official title, Paisley knows that a deputy is deputed, and respects his marshall. McGuinness will presumably have realised by now that he has to rein in that giddiness.

Ian Paisley has put his trust in Martin McGuinness’s ability to keep quiet about his work. From the end of March they had several meetings to plan for the formation of the executive and Paisley knew he could trust McGuinness not to be tempted by impulse or an annoying journalist to say more than he ought.

Paisley is the opposite of McGuinness. He has often said more than he ought. He is a man who is extravagant in his language and transparent in its emotions. Probably his sidekicks make his political calculations for him.

Paisley is, no doubt, capable of the ordinary discretion required of public life but he is not especially gifted in this. He has to be loud. He has to know that he is known. He wants you to know where that blast of rage is coming from. It is coming from him. Paisley could not to blow up a building then stroll whistling past the wreckage as if he has not even noticed the change in it.

He has been accused down the years of being the secret hand behind Loyalist killings. He just isn’t the type.

He could not approve the shooting of a man and then walk into a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how they both will face the problems arising from this latest murder. McGuinness can do that. McGuinness has gall.

Both men may have shifted the course of history with their anger, but McGuinness’s anger has always been private and Paisley’s has always been public.

The better match for Paisley would be Adams, another flawed show man. The better match for McGuinness would be Robinson, another man who can think deep thoughts and not feel the need to express them.

So what must the private working relationship of Paisley and McGuinness be like? Clearly it is better than those of Trimble and Mallon or Trimble and Durcan. David Trimble and Seamus Mallon could not get on. Trimble has an unpredictable edginess. He might be warm and pleasant in one meeting and surly at another. He has a temper but it subsides. Mallon smoked.

Paisley is better humoured than either. He is funny. He can laugh. He will not want to be photographed laughing with Martin McGuinness for a while, but he is a jolly clown. It will happen.

But how will McGuinness cope with Paisley’s religiosity? Paisley always tries to convert those he deals with. He sees it as his duty to remind you that salvation is on offer. It is inconceivable that he would not offer that to Martin McGuinness.

And McGuinness, of a more conspiratorial cast of mind, may always have assumed that Paisley was just another religious charlatan. He will find that he is not. Paisley is the real thing.

And Paisley, having assumed for years that Martin McGuinness was an evil killer, ought naturally to be curious about the journey he has made, the integrity of as motives, the quality of his conscience.

Actually, Paisley has little curiosity anbout other people and their subjective lives. One thing only matters: are they saved or not? Martin McGuinness is not saved. That makes him, ultimately, no better or worse than all the other people Paisley works with every day who are going to Hell too.

They’ll get on fine.

First published in the May edition of Fortnight Magazine.

, ,

  • Rory

    “First published in the May edition of Fortnight Magazine.”

    …and no doubt soon to be syndicated in Psychic News and Astrology Today. I’ll say no more – knowing how journalistic critiques are not especially welcome.

  • Porlock

    Pure and utter psycho-babble.

    A prime example of why Fortnight doesn’t pay contributors and why so few people actually read the rag.

    Porlock

  • Plum Duff

    ‘and who can not relax *as other men do*, garrulously, drunkenly’

    As the above quote refers to McGuinness, are we to conclude that Paisley is the opposite and gargles the devil’s buttermilk with gay abandon?

    Utter rubbish, as was O’Doherty’s verbal update on the same article on BBC lunchtime Sunday.

  • Is this the same Malachi O’Doherty who said today on radio to pay such men and Assembly members their professional worth and to give them more money?

    If so, you’re a fool if you want to pay these two more.

    Regarding the above, stop playing literary games by story-telling politics; instead, go into teaching English and the likes at schools and remain there with other English boffins.

    In fact, MLAs shouldn’t be paid anymore than an English teacher as they really don’t have much more responsibilty other than to legislate using their good English, debate it out like a little debating class (of which school pupils and NI MLAs are hard to differentiate) and upon debating they all get so impressed with their use of language that they rush home to read Hansard/NI Reports to pleasure themselves, similarly like marking assignments – being sure to pick up on bad grammar, etc.

    LOL – I’ve digressed somewhat and apologies.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    This style of incisive political writing makes me uneasy. Is it for the Yankee market? Is Malachi angling for a PR/PA job in Stormont?Is Malachi losing it? This is the style of writing that has made the Sunday Times a byword for bywords.

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all, it had me laugh….Martin McGuiness isn’t sinn fein’s number 2….why he is number one and gerry adams better take the back seat to ol’ marty.

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    after I posted the above I remembered Martin McGuiness as the minister of Education did not go to the Education building because it was in Unionist terrority…I wonder if he will go into any government office building in his new role or will he still stay away and not offend the unionist and go into a ‘Irish no go area” I wonder…????

  • Mick Fealty

    kathy,

    Rathgael House is close to several Loyalist Estates. Whilst there may be less of a problem now (though possibly not in absence of Loyalist decommissioning), he probably had perfectly legitimate concerns about his personal safety in 2000.

  • Blue Hammer

    So Rathgael House is close to Loyalist estates? In the same way that Parliament Buildings / Castle Buildings are close to Tullycarnet and Ballybeen?

    Catch a grip of yourself – Rathgael House is on a roundabout out of town in Bangor – what conceivable threat could there have been to our erstwhile Minister for Education as he wafted in in his bullet-proof ministerial car?

  • Shorter O’Doherty: Don’t worry, he’s like that to everyone.

  • UFB

    “Paisley could not to blow up a building then stroll whistling past the wreckage as if he has not even noticed the change in it.

    He has been accused down the years of being the secret hand behind Loyalist killings. He just isn’t the type.

    He could not approve the shooting of a man and then walk into a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how they both will face the problems arising from this latest murder. McGuinness can do that. McGuinness has gall”

    Jesus, you’d think it was election time or something with mad Malachi having a thinly veiled pop at McGuinness like that.

    Oh wait….

  • Mick Fealty

    BH,

    I only said that in all probability that he had legit concerns. You may not be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, and fair enough.

    I don’t want to argue this point to death, but the former minister would not have had to go anywhere near Ballybeen and Tullycarnet on his way to the office. Whereas it is difficult not pass Kilkooley on the way Belfast to Rathgael House.

    That said, I have no idea to as to how dangerous the actual threat might, or might not have been, back in 2000. Just that it was plausible.

  • I Wonder

    Actually, I quite enjoyed reading this.

    Ok, pinch of salt and all that but I wish those with a Malachi-chip on their shoulder would lighten up somewhat…

  • Too right. An enjoyable enought piece that probably isn’t too far off the mark.

  • seanzmct

    Irrespective of Malachi O’Doherty’s tabloid piece, McGuinness and Paisley are both cute hoors who should be ashamed of themselves for prolonging the turmoil in the North as long as they did. They have plenty in commmon such as being political knuckledraggers who have taken three decades to return to the template that they violently rejected ie Sunningdale. They should form a mutual brass neck society.

  • DC

    The Peace-Disbeliever vs The Armed-Peacemaker

  • Blue Hammer

    Mick

    To get from Derry to Stormont, Minister Mcguinness would have to pass by/through many “Loyalist” enclaves, not least the wilds of East Belfast. This he seemed content to do with impunity. To go that wee bit further, from Stormont to Rathgael House he would have not needed to stray from A roads.

    As one who works in Stormont and lives in Bangor, I travel that route daily, I would suggest I have a bit of an insight into this!

    Without seeking to extend the geographical argument any further, I do not and will not accept any crap about personal security. He simply didn’t want to go into a building full of those who despise him.

  • Gum

    [i]And McGuinness, of a more conspiratorial cast of mind, may always have assumed that Paisley was just another religious charlatan. He will find that he is not. Paisley is the real thing. [/i]

    Sorry – this is just more poor journalism from Malachi. Malachi can either be a commentator or a reporter but he cant try to be both. He hasn’t the first clue about what Martin McGuinness really thinks of Ian Paisley. I would doubt very much whether he would think him a ‘religious charlatan’. Anyone can see that the man believes what he preaches.

  • Gum

    [i] He could not approve the shooting of a man and then walk into a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss how they both will face the problems arising from this latest murder. McGuinness can do that. McGuinness has gall. [/i]

    We know from previous articles what Malachi thinks of Martin McGuinness, and it leads to nasty comments like this. But Malachi can do that. Malachi has spite.

  • SuperSoupy

    On the decision to leave Rathgael: Purdy’s ‘Room 21’ says the Department explained the decision was to reduce an already long commute from Derry and he did attend when necessary but others believe it was due to UVF protests.

  • D-C

    Purdy’s Room 21 book is great for political insight, very candid and is written in the same style as she would talk her politics on the TV; except – the brilliant part is – you don’t get that annoying accent.

    The best bit of Purdyism in the book is whenever Trimble and Mallon, on one of their grumpiest days, huff-out together and she simply states:

    ‘Misery loves company’ – And so it does! Summed up those two so succinctly.