Paisley must tell us more about how the Spirit is moving him

The conundrum over Ian Paisley’s reasons for cutting a political deal may never be fully answered, but the tributes that accompany each step he takes towards full retirement are fully justified. I’m becoming convinced that the change in Paisley has much deeper roots than seizing the right political moment. The joshing, evasive interview he gave to William Crawley at Queen’s and his Newsletter pronouncements give strong clues of something profounder than the ripening of a political strategy. They suggest a genuine change of heart towards people who are not only nationalists and republicans but Catholics. Paisley seems to have experienced something close to a Damascus conversion which coloured his political judgement and can’t be explained away as an old man looking after his legacy. Without it, it must be doubted that he would ever have concluded the St Andrew’s agreement. Mick is right to say that he was a churchman first and a politician second. Not all tin chapels go political; but deep conscientious opposition to their image of Catholicism lies at the heart of most of them, none more so than the little congregation founded in the village of Crossgar Co Down in the 1950s. Because Paisley’s career is so long like Michael Foot’s and the context has changed so remarkably, it’s easy for tribute payers to forget – or with their secular casts of mind never to know – that it was the religion that bred the politics. Paisley loved to remind us of the God of Wrath rather than the God of Love. As late as 2004 after the Leeds Castle talks, Paisley’s biblical “ sackcloth and ashes” language appeared to sink the process. Two years later he did the deal at St Andrew’s. He has yet to explain why he could do so in the absence of atonement by the IRA.

For all that his flock started out small (like Someone else’s?) he was quickly accepted by much of the Protestant rank and file at his own evaluation as the keeper of the Protestant conscience. Vatican 2 he depicted as a devious plot to gull naïve Protestants, just as the cry of civil rights masked rebellion. The hate word was “ecumenism.” The Church was authoritarian and expansionist, its people were dupes of the clergy. What he couldn’t see was that as his own Pope for far longer than any bishop of Rome, he was every bit as dogmatic, evoking endorsement from “Biblical truth” in the ranting pages of the Protestant Telegraph. Calvinist predestination by faith and the doctrine of the Elect cramp the human spirit every bit as much as anything in the Catholic magisterium. Later he seemed to see no contradiction between his flirtations with paramilitarism and equal justice for all and between his coat-trailing efforts to get arrested and respect for the rule of law. Paisley the prophet was always right.

The tricolour riots of 1964 were part of pattern which included the later demonstrations at the Presbyterian General Assembly against any gesture towards Catholics. They achieved their object. Rising from the frequently craven unionist and Protestant church establishment, Paisley smelt the fear – of their own right wing as well as of obstreperous Catholics. Time and again, they conceded moral advantage to him. He never ceased to exploit that fear until he had gained the leading role in unionism. “O’Neill Must Go” was his first and probably most important target, for it gave him the measure of his own capacity. The Paisley of that era would have hounded to extinction any Protestant politician or churchman who would have met a cardinal – (staggering to remember that none of them did) – never mind prayed with an IRA man of the fifties. As a politician he hung loose, as a mainly one man band, ready to sting and withdraw, switching tactics without the encumbrance of a bigger party with slower minds.

It’s disquieting to see this essential background being airbrushed out of history. Yet as history it should remain. I’m the last to recommend re-living it. Yet to understand Paisley’s change of heart, the religious background must be understood. I hope he will reveal much more of it, now that he has the time. It would be valuable for example if he gave his own account of the changes in the Catholic direction of travel from Ne Temere to the present day. The change seems greater in him than in the professions of the Church. Perhaps he thinks the laity are all good Protestants now. But the main contemporary interest in Paisley today lies in whether both sides will take inspiration from his intriguing if very costly journey towards peace of mind.

  • scarecrow

    Did something move you Brian and you had to dash away quickly?

  • Marcionite

    is The Holy Spirit double jobbing between Paisley and the Pope?

  • Alias

    Brian Walker has yet to strike that happy medium between writing too much and writing too little.

  • Brian Walker

    Yes ok, my computer froze at the wrong moment. Apologies.

  • martin r

    There have always been two Ian Paisleys, the MP for North Antrim known by few outside his church or constituency, and on the other hand the Paisley who was leader of hardline unionism/loyalism/protestantism/sectarianism (delete as appropriate) and known world-wide. One was essentially a decent man who worked tirelessly for his constituents (very much a cliche nowadays I know, but he really did) and attracted their support accordingly, the other was either a godly figure or the devil incarnate depending on your outlook.

    A few days ago I mentioned his catholic voters which was instantly rubbished by a few who supposedly knew better in their sage-like wisdom, but those who live here know that they always existed because for all the headlines, the fact was that a family needing help in Waterfoot, Martinstown, Cargin, or Loughguile attracted the same effort from “The Big Man” as a family in Kells, Ahoghill, Cullybackey or wherever.

    My guess is that the man who was MP for North Antrim eventually won the day and pushed the other one aside.

  • Framer

    Helping constituents is usually no more draining than passing their letter on to the Minister for a reply.

    As to the mellowing of the Doc, I suggest look to the Baroness. She was the one who became moderate first.

  • Prionsa Eoghann

    >>[Describing Paisley’s background]It’s disquieting to see this essential background being airbrushed out of history.<

  • Paddy

    Paisley should get the treatment Saddam Hussein got, but with no masks and with Catholic prayers to send him on his way.

    Mick Hall, among other posters, has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

    Paisley should get his day in (a non British) court. His connections with the earliesat bombings and his attacks on the Civil Rights movement, his attacks on the Quinn family and on other Catholics hacked or torched to death in his constituence should all be brought to account.

    Some Nazis have shown remorse. They are stil being hunted down though in their 90s. The Paisley family should swing.

    And let us not forget that the ordinary decent Protestant voted for him and his brand of terrorism in huge numbers.

    Let us hope a public urinal is built over his grave and that of his awful wife.

  • Alias

    If you are to credit Paisley with sincerity then you’d have to conclude that he only embraced the GFA when he knew that it guaranteed the union but that the price of the guarantee of the unionist right to self-determination at the expense of the former nationalists right to self-determination was that they could no longer exercise it within the consolidated British state because the other nation would have an internal veto over that its expression, so they settled for a state that would no longer be a de facto nation-state for his tribe.

    The other version is that he was a classic sociopath, and like all such pathologically dysfunctional types, he advanced his own interests at the direct expenses of others, and rode the fickle wind wherever and in whatever back and forth direction it took him, being guided not by principle or morality but by dynamics that are best determined by those who how look after Iris.

    At any rate, god riddance to the old rogue and may we never see his like again…

  • Marcionite

    I’m glad to see Purdysburn are enlightened enough to let Paddy near a computer, with his condition. Most other such institutions wouldn’t.

  • Catherine

    The spirit moving Ian Paisley is fear of what faces him on the other side. As a deeply religious man, he believes in the rewards/punishments of the after life.

    I personally believe that if a psychologist where to study Ian Paisley’s ‘coversion’ what they might find is a man faced with fear of the integral part he played in bringing about 30 years of brutal civil war while he and his family massively enriched themselves.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    It has to be said that tin hut mission hall types are often extremely anti-political. God and Mammom and all that.
    Odd that people can do cynical “Gerry and Jesus” threads and be so complimentary to Paisley and Jesus threads.
    A conversion perhaps in recent years. Well less than 48 hours ago one of the better posters here speculated that Paisley a Man of God after all, saw a lowering of “standards” in Norn Iron and he might even be regretting that the Catholic Church does not have the power over its flock it once had. I am much too modest to say that I was that poster.
    Anyone who has read the Protestant Telegraph in the early 1960s would have fully expected Ian Paisley to be in full “I told you so” mode about abuse allegations.
    Yet he has been silent.
    martin r…..while the myth that Catholics vote Paisley is a myth (2007 figures show that), I am sure that many have been grateful to him for constituency work he has done for them.
    and as I said in that thread many Catholics are grateful for individual acts of human decency.

  • martin r

    “Helping constituents is usually no more draining than passing their letter on to the Minister for a reply.”

    I’m dealing past tense rather than present and without having lived in North Antrim you will have no concept of just how important the man was at a time. Problems with electricity, water provision, housing, planning permission, etc, etc, when all else failed you went to the “Big Man”, and y’know what, he got results.

    As for Ballymena itself, it’s seeing out the recession better than most towns in the north. Michelin, Gallaghers, Wrightbus, three of the largest factories of their type not just in Northern Ireland but anywhere in the UK. I doubt that has happened by accident.

  • Neil

    I’m dealing past tense rather than present and without having lived in North Antrim you will have no concept of just how important the man was at a time.

    I grew up in the town, and can confirm he certainly helped many (like myself) Catholic voters. However that was viewed by myself and others as him doing the job he was paid for to be honest. For him to refuse (due to the fact that the requestor was Catholic) would be like Gordon Brown saying that he wouldn’t represent non Labour voters. But he wouldn’t do that as he is the Prime Minister over everyone, not just those who voted for him. To reiterate, like Obama refusing to assist Republican voters would be like saying that he’s president over less than half of the US, as opposed to it all.

    As for Ballymena itself, it’s seeing out the recession better than most towns in the north.

    I don’t doubt it’s doing just fine, but what makes you think it’s doing any better than any other town? Don’t see it myself, there’s hardly a glut of stores with their doors closed in Belfast, Crossgar, Ballynahinch or anywhere else I’ve been recently.

    Michelin, Gallaghers, Wrightbus, three of the largest factories of their type not just in Northern Ireland but anywhere in the UK. I doubt that has happened by accident.

    Good ole Wrightbus, I could see how they may be friends of the Paisleys alright, how did the ammo & information court case turn out? It must be a really sound place for a Catholic to work, what with the Loyalist terrorists storing ammunition and files detailing the movements and car registrations of Catholics there.

    As for the rest of it, are you trying to say Paisley enticed Michelin/Gallaghers in? Was Paisley doing much lobbying in ’69 when Michelin opened it’s doors? He was at that time involved in mostly anti Catholic activities it seems. I can hardly imagine a French company trying to get into Ballymena due to the activities of a man who hated Catholics (most French are Catholic) and I don’t know too many multi national businesses that fall over themselves to open up wherever the loudest, most sectarian civil agitator does his stuff. It makes no sense.

  • The Raven

    “Helping constituents is usually no more draining than passing their letter on to the Minister for a reply.”

    That’s a little bit of air-brushing yourself there, Framer. Not all MPs and public reps were like the shower we have today.

  • John O’Connell

    They suggest a genuine change of heart towards people who are not only nationalists and republicans but Catholics.

    Now if only we could get Gerry Adams to reject violence we could have repentance from both the demogogues or demigods who substantially caused the Troubles.

    Don’t rule out the possibility that Mr Paisley was influenced by matters judgemental of him personally such as my theorem where his name comes out at 666 together with Gerry Adams’ name. I would have been influenced if I was him. This theorem has been around in political circles since 2002 when I published a book on it.

    So don’t rule it out as stranger things than the repentance of a politician have happened.

  • Neil

    Yes John. We know. I personally doubt that the man gives a fiddlers about how you waste your time.

  • Rory Carr

    I shouldn’t get too tangled up in muddled attempts to psycho-analyse Paisley nor to search for the evidence of some quasi-religious Damascene conversion. It really is much simpler to look at what is glaringly obvious.

    When Trimble fell the opportunity to win the majority control of Ulster unionism arose and was taken. Having done so Paisley was now presented with the opportunity of taking political power but at the cost of sharing that power with Sinn Féin, or refusing to enter into joint government and allowing the Republic to share joint sovreignty instead.

    Bit of a no-brainer for the old goat really when you come to think of it.

    If we must get into religious analogy perhaps we might best think of Jesus in the desert when Satan tempted with power over worldly kingdoms, except in this case the temptation proved a mite too strong. But then, he’s only human.

    Isn’t he?

  • John O’Connell

    If we must get into religious analogy perhaps we might best think of Jesus in the desert when Satan tempted with power over worldly kingdoms, except in this case the temptation proved a mite too strong. But then, he’s only human.

    RC

    Try inserting God instead of Satan and that he was asked to do something good not evil. Even Satan wouldn’t be as cynical as some of you, alright Neil.

  • scarecrow

    Terence O’Neill brought about his own downfall, well partially anyway, he was aloof, didn’t have the firebrand about him, the big personality that unionists admire. In many ways O’Neill saw himself as the JFK of northern Ireland, and his reformism was so out of step with his grass roots unionist electorate. Even the invite to Lemass was done without the knowledge or consent of the unionist party, or his cabinet, he simply went ahead and did it and the first they knew of it was when Lemass was to appear later that day. Cross border co operation on trade stems from this time. Lemass the second leader of FF was also someone who was a leader of thought in his time. those two, if they’d been given more encouragement instead of frightening the horses could have brought about great change, that is only now happening. Lemass and O’Neill both wanted trade, especially in Lemass’ case with the EU, sureptitiously changing Irelands neutrality to try and get it.

    In comes Paisley with his backward religion and fecks snowballs at people. He ought to have stuck to religion and kept out of the affairs of state, maybe then we wouldn’t be in the shite we are and were in this last thirty odd years.

    He was the bloody devil incarnate.

  • Greenflag

    Paddy ,

    Your post #8 above is a disgrace and you should withdraw your remarks .

    Paisley was instrumental in breaking up one party unionism and in doing that he has done the people of NI & the Republic some good . Better late than never .

    His opposition to the RC Church now looks a lot more reasonable than it would have 30 years ago .

    Like him or loathe him his name will figure large when the history of these times in Ireland is written .

    I’ve never been a fan of mixing religion and politics but then in NI that would have been practically impossible given the nature of the State and it’s history .

  • Greenflag

    yarn ,

    An educational commission visits an FP school to investigate the inculcation of ‘unionist’ patriotism among the pupils .

    ‘Sammy’ asked a member of the commission ‘

    ‘Who is your father ?’

    ‘Big Ian and Ulster ‘ replied Sammy

    ‘Good boy! And who is your mother ?’

    ‘ The DUP’ replied Sammy

    ‘Good boy! And what do you want to be when you grow up?’

    ‘An orphan ‘ 😉

  • Clanky

    I think Paisley’s “conversion” was twofold, firstly he realised that he was coming to the end of his time in politics and didn’t want to be remembered as an intransigent old bigot who killed the peace process and secondly because he genuinely didn’t want to be an intransigent old bigot who killed the peace process.

    What proportions these two took in relation to each other will probably never be known to anyone but himself, but I remember one paragraph in a speach that he made which for me was a true turning point, not sure if it is word for word, but he said…

    “we cannot allow our justified hatred of the atrocities of the past to be a barrier to the future”

    And I actually think that he meant it.

  • Greenflag

    clanky ,

    “we cannot allow our justified hatred of the atrocities of the past to be a barrier to the future”

    Now doesn’t that make sense . Hatred begets only more of the same and eventually returns to bite the hater sooner or later.

    ‘ I actually think that he meant it.’

    I agree .

  • DerTer

    For those tempted by Ian Paisley’s impending retirement to be more charitable, Fionnuala O’ Connor’s column in today’s Irish Times
    (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0304/1224265557772.html)
    will make salutary reading. Just one example:
    “…when Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985, he preached: “We hand her over to the devil that she might learn not to blaspheme. O God, we pray this night that Thou wouldst deal with the prime minister of our country. O God in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman.”

  • John O’Connell

    We can criticise Paisley all we like but the truth is that we may never see his like again and so we should enjoy this send off for him rather than trying to point out the evil that the man has done.

    He could’ve done very little without Gerry Adams & Co and so some of our republican posters should be hanging their heads in shame now rather than glorying in the hate.

  • pinni

    a genuine change of heart towards people who are not only nationalists and republicans but Catholics

    After the SF/IRA ‘Damascus’ experience of renouncing the use of violence for political ends I reckon Paisley had a genuine change of heart towards people who are nationalists and republicans. He has never, however, had animosity towards Catholics just because of the religion that they were born into, but he still considers the church of Rome to be the harlot of Revelation 17.

  • Jud

    I’d have to put my money on the scenario where he was faced with the choice between joint authority or the current arrangement. Seems by far the simplest explanation, and faced with those options there is no way he could have done anything else.

    I can only see him as a nasty piece of work.
    I view free speech as paramount in any decent society, and as far as I can tell all he ever did was use it to whip up hatred and division. He is not guilty of any actions I am aware of, beyond motivating others to act in the most loathsome manner.

    The actions he inspired have been murderous and vile, but are the responsibility of those who acted – not he who made the suggestions.

    He followed the path of instigator quite deliberately and carefully for decades, and on that level it makes sense that progress was only made when he had to stand behind his actions.

  • John O’Connell

    Pinni

    After the SF/IRA ‘Damascus’ experience of renouncing the use of violence for political ends I reckon Paisley had a genuine change of heart

    I have noticed no change of heart in the republican community, especially not from Gerry Adams. Still the same old story of the other side is to blame for virtually everything.

  • Eileen Calder

    “O God in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman” lol

    I am sure there are many people across the political divide, within and between these islands who would have no problem with these particular words about the Baroness.

  • martin r

    Well there you are Neil, some of us can see a successful local company which provides over 1,000 jobs and brings in millions of pounds in wages which the entire community benefit from.

    Some can only see a hotbed of sectarianism with nothing commendable at all.

    Maybe you should vote TUV, your respectives mindsets do at least belong to the same era!

  • Greenflag

    eileeen calder,

    “O God in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman” lol

    Paisley was just being consistent 😉 All previous British Prime Ministers were also ‘traitors and sell outs ‘ from Harold Wilson to John Major . They were all by definition ‘traitors’ . There was nothing special about Maggie other than she was a ‘lady traitor’ sorry ‘wicked , treacherous lying woman etc.

    Somebody mentioned that there were two Paisley’s -one the religious zealot and the other the hard nosed politician . He was also showman , joker , actor and by some accounts probably several personas as well 🙂 Like one of those babushka Russian dolls -inside every Paisley there was another one waiting to emerge .

  • Paddy

    Greenflag: I have read over my remarks and I look forward to pissing on his grave. Ok, so unlike McCrea, he has a sense of humour but I am sure many Nazis had as well. Members of his “church” were involved in the earliest bombings, trying to blame them on the IRA.

    Let Paisley, the FRU, the SAS, the vicar of Drumcree, the owners of Frizells fish and chip shop and the rest have their day in The Hague.

    Odd he abuses words like Democrat. But so did the hood wearing Dixie Democrats. Birds of a feather.

  • Greenflag

    paddy,

    Ease up on the hate . It’s bad for you. Members of the Roman Catholic Church have committed atrocities far worse than any FP members . Many joined the SS . Millions were in the Wehrmacht . The vast majority of FP’s are decent people I would’nt doubt just as are the vast majority of RC’s and other denominations in NI.

    ‘Odd he abuses words like Democrat.’

    They all do even the former East German Democratic Republic etc etc .

    In the days when he adamantly opposed to power sharing he was asked by an interviewer how would he react if 51% of the people of Northern Ireland in a free and open election opted for some form of unification with the South .

    Paisley’s reply and I quote

    ‘Well I happen to be a democrat .And I believe in the rule of the majority. And I would say that if the majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to become part of the Republic , well as far as I’m concerned that’s it . I would of course in those circumstances , do my utmost to protect the interests of the people I represent . But I mean I’m a democrat , and if that’s what happens in Northern Ireland at any time I’ve got to accept that ‘

    Quote from ‘The Uncivil Wars ‘ Eamon O’Malley pp 196.