The Fall of the House of Paisley

As Christmas approaches and the invariably subtle and not so subtle fishing questions are asked from loved ones as to what type of gifts you might like, make sure that David Gordon’s The Fall of the House of Paisley
is name dropped so that you don’t miss a great read (or, failing that, just buy the darn thing yourself.)It has been suggested that the political and media class in the north of Ireland have yet to fully adapt to the changing demands of a normal political scene, appearing more comfortable in peace process mode and regurgitating the narratives which defined political discourse for forty years.

In this regard, David Gordon stands out from the crowd, and this book confirms his status as the pre eminent journalist of the post-Peace Process era. His dogged pursuit of the Sweeney-Paisley Junior story ultimately precipitated the first major political casualty of the devolution era, and the retelling of that story from start to finish forms a major theme of the book.

Through the pages of Gordon’s impressive book we get a picture of a cocky, self-assured Junior whose consistently aggressive and threatening tone with civil servants as transmitted through correspondences betrays one who clearly felt he had the whiff of infallibility about him (I know, plenty of irony in that one.)

But the book charts the demise of father, as well as son, Paisley. Gordon provides an insight into the mindset of the once loyal Free Presbyterian flock who ultimately would turn on the Leader. Having already delivered a crushing blow to the faithful flock by making the historic decision from St. Andrew’s to enter coalition alongside the Martin McGuinness-led Sinn Fein, a trio of episodes succeeded in fatally wounding Paisley within the Church in a revealing manner. Paisley’s warm words offered to Dana at the launch of her autobiography caused uproar due to her being a prominent catholic; his allegedly reconciliatory remarks made to Rev David Armstrong, once forced from his home by loyalists after he made the grave error of befriending the local catholic priest; and, finally, Paisley’s participation in a scout service in which a catholic priest was invited to say prayers.

For the record, Paisley vociferously denied apologising to Armstrong, claiming the newspaper which reported the story was ‘wicked,’ ‘salacious’ and ‘immoral.’ He also stated that he would have walked out of the scout service upon realising a catholic priest had a role in the service but for the fact that the scouts were about to pledge allegiance to the British Queen.

The incidents- and Paisley’s response- perfectly illustrate the failings of the DUP leadership which continue to plague the party and political process in general.

Gordon’s book is dripping with satire. After noting the findings of a preliminary enquiry by parliamentary standards commissioner, John Lyon, in which Paisley Jnr. was cleared following a public complaint about the public money paid to Junior as a parliamentary assistant, Gordon wryly notes:

“According to Lyon’s findings, Paisley Jnr was working 9 to 10 hours a week in his Commons related job. That is the equivalent of around a day per week- alongside the demands of his minister’s job and his own MLA constituency work. That would surely drain the energies and focus of any mere mortal, if not Paisley Jnr.”

Of the revelations that no fewer than six members of the Robinson family were in the employ of the party, Gordon noted the repeated warnings by Peter Robinson about the dependency culture and over bloated public service by remarking:

“Maybe a radical shift towards the public sector might even reach his household some day.”

After quoting from Martin McGuinness’ speech made at the New York Stock Market (NASDAQ), Gordon dryly observes:

“Sinn Fein’s revolutionary socialist rhetoric must have been left back home in Ireland.”

Gordon outlines the considerable lengths the Paisleys went to satisfy the desires of their fellow DUP member and businessman, Seymour Sweeney, and how the drip drip exposure of that relationship eroded confidence in the Paisley dynasty to the point where the unthinkable would occur: namely, Paisley Senior would fall victim to a political and religious coup.

The careful manner in which unknown senior party figures devised and executed the plot to remove Ian Paisley as leader is retold, and in years to come it will be fascinating to ultimately discover a copy of the to-date elusive resignation demand letter, not to mention finally find out who initiated the idea and actually penned the letter.

It is worth noting Gordon’s forensic trawl through many of the trenchant Paisley speeches, something he uses to convincingly argue the case that Ian Paisley’s fall from grace was a by-product of his failure to prepare the grassroots for compromise.

But the book is more interesting for what it tells us about where we are today.

Political unionism remains at a heart- head moment. At elite level it has finally recognised that a political dispensation which does not entail working alongside the political leaders of northern nationalism (read for that Sinn Fein) is not possible. Ian Paisley knew it, Peter Robinson even more so. In fact, Gordon’s book includes interesting observations from other political figures- including Seamus Mallon and Jim Allister- indicating that some believe the DUP decision to enter the Executive after the Good Friday Agreement was the first major sign that the party would do a deal with republicans in time.

But the full outworkings of that have not been explained to the grassroots, nor have they been properly thought out by the DUP’s leaders. The party’s enthusiastic adoption of the battle a day strategy has led to the largely accurate perception amongst nationalists and many unionists that the DUP has had the better of Sinn Fein at Stormont since devolution was restored in May 2007.

But it has also raised the expectations of many unionists unrealistically and also has meant that the party has failed to prepare the grassroots for the future of political give and take necessary to ensure the continued survival of the institutions. Crucially, this failure has meant the party remains exposed and vulnerable to an intelligent dissident unionist voice like Jim Allister.

The DUP remains most comfortable in conflict mode, even when the price of that has included equipping the dissident unionist champion, Jim Allister, with yet more ammunition to chip away at the DUP’s electoral base.

Gordon’s concluding chapters focus on Paisley’s legacy as viewed by allies and protagonists, old and new. Unsurprisingly, some conclude he has sold out on all he once believed in, whilst others reach diametrically opposite conclusions.

Yet at a time when the political process would appear to be increasingly held to ransom by the DUP’s anxiety over the electoral threat of the emerging Traditional Unionist Voice, Gordon’s summative remark that “..the ghost of Paisley past will be stalking politics for a while yet” would appear to be an accurate assessment.

Click here and here to read other pieces on David Gordon’s ‘The Fall of the House of Paisley,” avaiable from Gill and Macmillan.

  • aquifer

    God’s gifts to Irish separatism

  • Toffee Nose

    Catholic is spelt with a capital C, when it refers to the one holy catholic (universal) and apostolic Church. If this is part of your reaching out to the UVF, it is a bad show.

  • Thank you Chris,

    I will definitely read that book

  • Jo

    I recall a prominent (former) Free-P blogger denouncing Ian Snr and describing how he walked out of his local church.

    So, that was nothing to do with Paisley’s encounters with Catholics, then.

    Just a matter of principle, nothing to do with being a sectarian bigot.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Unfortunately few who are Slugger regulars will learn much from this book as most of it has been widely discussed here, Nevin has been a mine of information in that regard.

    It is however a useful reference book for North Antrim in the next election for Allister and the CU candidate. They will have a treasure trove of information that the electorate need to know.

  • Gadaffi Duck

    Is the book fully up to date on Ian Junior’s revelations about the PSNI spy ring in Libya?

  • oneill

    Another review here:

    Interesting tussle in the ensuing comments where one of the remnants of the Paisleyite Imperial Guard takes on Gordon mainly on the basis of that he used his democratic right to FOI requests and Jim Allister turned up at the book launch.

    The author himself turn up to give a spirited defence.

  • joeCanuck

    Did the fall start with those four, economic with the truth, words “I know of him, or did they just accelerate the process?
    If so, it would be a rare case of the sins of the son being visited upon the father.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Got my copy last week – it’s in the 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones. Hurrah!

  • Couldn’t comment – shouldn’t

    The fall started once the members of the church decided they had been lied to.

    Think what you like about the Free Ps but in essence they are god fearing, honest folk, who believe your word is your bond, if Sinn Fein is the enemy to day then they’ll still be the enemy tomorrow. If you say they will never be in government then they believe they will never be in government.

    All the fancy words and spin, as far as the Free ps are concerned, are for the UUP.

    Once Paisley Snr did the somersault of greed he was finished and unfortunately for jnr his enemies were closer at hand! His arrogance ensured his fall but the reason the dad fell and remember he fell first – in the church – was the church no longer believed him they believed he had misled them.

  • Diffrent Drummer

    Thanks Chris….at least somebody is reading my post (only joking).

    One point for Loyalist Ultra in decline there are two – or three – or more – on the rise.

    But as I said of the TUV and Jim-Ulster-Alister – one furher at a time sweet jesus…one furher at a time..

  • Carson’s Cat

    Whatever about the book – at least its a first…

    Has to be the first FOI book in history. Churnalism turned author.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  • Dan

    Hyperbole, poorly written, and as fresh an insight as the earth not being flat.

  • PUDabout

    The earth is flat and round like a disc. I’ve seen pictures of it.
    People who disappear like Lord Lucan have probably fallen off the edge; no one comes back to tell.
    It’s also only 5 or 6 thousand years old.

  • Jo

    So: did the church desert him? I think not. I think the MM is still full of a Sunday.

    Q2: why did those who deserted, desert?

    …because of the “principle” that they felt deceived – or because they don’t like Catholics?

    I suggest, the latter. These are people who believe that democracy means having your own way as long as you have sufficient numbers – as long as you can define the boundary wherein those numbers are counted. They are living in the past. I expresed, some time ago, that I wanted IPS to live a long life, so he could lead his people to a new, better future. That he has done.

    His legacy (what he might have done) won’t be fought over. Allister, for all his bluster, would become as acquainted with “realpolitic” if he was to be successful electorally.

    With the DUPs success and the pinnacle of IPS’s career, came: compromise. Recognising that Catholics have rights too. Even if they’re all going to Hell in a handbasket for not being “saved”.

  • Different Drummer

    Everything very jocular at the moment – won’t be so when TUV take the ex dearleaders seat in westminster election…

    But in marking the decline of the Paisely’s the Belfast Telegraph is actually a returning to form It was not supportive when the Protestant Party was on the rise – so much so that IPsnr took the step of founding his own ‘Telegraph’ – the Protestant Telegraph.

    One wonders how long the BT will hold out before it too backs our new Ultra and his party.

  • Jo

    …who will then have to deal with a UK and Irish government united on powersharing.

    An arrangement which, for the pigshit-thick, cements NI in the UK forever.

    Its McCartney all over again: bluster about “principle” – detest Taigs – and walk out of talks. Some democrats, eh?

  • loki

    I enjoyed it. David Gordon is a good writer and while there were no real surprises it was well- written and kept me amused for a day or two. As Frustrated says above, it’ll be bedtime reading for all North Antrim candidates before the elcetion

  • pith

    Well done to Gordon for showing that there is potential for a good book on this subject.

  • Anonymous


    16.So: did the church desert him? I think not. I think the MM is still full of a Sunday.

    No, it isn’t.

  • RepublicanStones

    I expect the fear, doom and gulit will be dripping of the pages of this moreso than Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

  • RepublicanStones


  • Driftwood

    Brilliant Roger Corman film with Vincent Price.
    Always thought Vincent would have made a great DUP MLA.
    Although I’m not sure of the relevance. Poe’s novel is all about a hate filled nutty dysfunctional family that visit cruelty and ruin on their surroundings.

  • Different Drummer

    Hey! Jo…

    ….’detest taigs” ……I think Jim-Ulster-Alister and the TUVs are more ambitious than that.

    BTW they have a great plan for solving the economic crisis – but I detect a strong smell of corporatism in the air…

    Any way have a good Xmas and Yule tide everyone and enjoy yourselves before the five thousand fingers of Dr ‘T’ begin their work in the new year.

    Ahhhhhh beautiful Weimar enjoy it while you can….!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I don’t think Carson’s Cat really knows what ‘churnalism’ refers to. I’d recommend Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News, but a DUP man might take it the wrong way…

  • Carson’s Cat

    I’m well aware what churnalism is – don’t need a former Alliance Press Officer to tell me either.

    I’ve read the “news” which Gordon treats us to in the Telegraph and we can all hope it gives him some sense of job satisfaction. Must be great to never have to go further than an FOI request to compose a ‘story’.

    His personal hatred of all things Paisley seems to have been the perfect combination for this book.

  • Mick Fealty


    Your criticism would hold more water if you gave examples. And you tried to play the ball once in while. You do your own party no credit.