After valedictory, apotheosis for Paisley

Ian Paisley made a final, final curtain call at PMQs which he obviously knew would produce a fulsome tribute from Gordon Brown. How very different the verdict would have been, had he died of that illness in 2004. Forty years ago he arrived in a Commons which treated him warily as an interesting specimen that might bite. From the start though, he realised his more extravagant buffooneries would be counter productive there and rapidly found himself taken at something like face value. I thought it would be interesting to compare then and now with a bit in the middle. Many things have changed; but it’s uncanny how much the same they sound.

Paisley made his maiden speech in a general Home Affairs debate shortly after Ted Heath cam to power in June 1970. Home Secretary Reginald Maudling had just returned from his first visit to what he notoriously called “ that bloody awful country.” But it was the former Labour Home Secretary Jim Callaghan who had made a notable visit the previous September just after the introduction of the troops, who gave Paisley ‘s election an elliptical and backhanded welcome.

James Callaghan
“In an odd way, I welcome some of those—I welcome all of those—who have been returned from Northern Ireland to this House, because I believe that they will add an air of reality to our debates. Some of them, indeed, may show the House the deep extent of the divisions which exist in that country. It may be that we seem here to debate in an academic atmosphere, but there, as the Home Secretary will have seen, one is down to the naked reality of power politics where the gunman is a reality and not a shadow.
If the new Members who have come here point this out to us and show us this, they will do us a service. But they must understand, too, these new Members who come here in this way, whoever they are, that as long as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we shall insist that the same standards shall apply everywhere, that there shall not be a prerogative of one-party government, which has had a most deadening impact in Northern Ireland on the police, on the Civil Service and on the whole administration, that, because we are faced with a permanent one-party system, that shall not be allowed to deter us from insisting upon the standards which we know to be right.”

The general topic, equality under law, was grist to Paisley’s mill. Bernadette Devlin MP had just been sentenced to six months in gaol for disorderly behaviour in Derry during the riots of August 1969. (Crown counsel Brian Hutton QC). Here was Paisley arguing for equal treatment (and against Bernadette getting bail!). Then as ever, his immediate enemy was the UUP.

Ian Paisley
“….. It is not only Roman Catholics who have felt aggrieved concerning injustice in Northern Ireland but also many Protestant people who refused to go by the dictates of the Unionist Party and who set themselves up in opposition, constitutionally, against the Unionist Party. These people, too, have suffered from the same thing. I need not remind this House, for this House very well knows, that twice I have been behind prison bars. When I listened to what was said by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland at the Dispatch Box the other evening I felt that it would not be very long before I, too, would be back behind prison bars.

I should like to make it clear to the House that, no matter what the Press may say and no matter what image may be painted of me, in my constituency both Roman Catholics and Protestants receive equal treatment from me as a Member of Parliament. It is because of this that the Unionist Party fear the Protestant Unionists more than they fear anyone else at the present time in the Province.
It is the duty—I need not tell hon. Members—of every Member of Parliament to treat all his constituents equally. That is something which the Unionist Party dread, for they would dread it if the Roman Catholics of the Province in a marginal constituency found out that a representative such as myself would give them the equal treatment which they ought to receive. I make this clear not only here today but also in the constituency.”

Proud as heE was of “ being behind prison bars” he was almost as proud of being expelled from Stormont, Westminster and the European Parliament. In November 1993, his attitude to the embryonic peace process was the polar opposite of what it finally became. Here he reacts with fury to a dramatic revelation by the Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew.

Sir Patrick Mayhew
“At the end of February this year, a message was received from the IRA leadership. It said: The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion for the volunteers, because the press will misinterpret it as a surrender. We cannot meet Secretary of State’s public renunciation of violence, but it would be given privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked”. That message came from Martin McGuinness.”

Ian Paisley
The Secretary of State has rubbished any suggestion of such talks. He has rubbished anyone who dared, at a press conference, to put questions on that to him. When we met him and the Prime Minister in the past week, he rubbished the suggestion again and said that there was no such thing. The people of Northern Ireland today demand that the Secretary of State explains why he issued falsehoods himself, got officials to issue falsehoods and got Downing street to back up those falsehoods.

§ Madam Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is being as restrained as he can be at this moment. However, falsehoods mean one thing to the Chair—lies. I would be obliged if he could rephrase what he is saying.

§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I would like to ask the Secretary of State a question that everyone in Northern Ireland is asking. Even if the message that he got in February, and to which he responded, said that the conflict was over, surely he would have known after one exchange that the conflict was not over. What has happened? Those talks were going on, but we had Warrington. The talks were going on while the bombing was going on in this city. Even when the bombing took place in the Shankill road, the lines were still open. Surely the Secretary of State cannot think that, after his behaviour, he can have any trust with the Northern Ireland people. If he wants a settlement, the only honourable thing that he can do is resign.

§ Sir Patrick Mayhew

§ Madam Speaker
Order. I really must seek a withdrawal from the hon. Gentleman of the word “falsehood”. I am sure that he has tried to couch his words very carefully this afternoon, but I ask him to reflect for a moment while I am speaking so that he may withdraw and allow proper order in our exchanges and our questions. Dr. Paisley, I am sure that you will oblige.

§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Because of the seriousness of the situation, I cannot oblige you, Madam Speaker.

§ Madam Speaker
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would reflect. It is very important to me and to the House that he is able to question the Secretary of State. I do not want to have to use the powers that are given to me by Standing Order at this time. I would ask him to reflect in all sincerity. I want him to be in the House to hear the exchanges. I ask him, as a long-standing Member of the House, senior statesman and parliamentarian, to oblige the House and the Chair by withdrawing the word “falsehood”. I should be most obliged if he would do so.

§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I would like to stay in the House, but there are far too many issues in Northern Ireland that weigh on me at this time. The people of Northern Ireland would say to me, “Why did not you stand by what you said outside the House?”, and I stand by what I said. It was a falsehood: it was worse, it was a lie.

§ Madam Speaker
In accordance with the power given me by Standing Order No. 42, I order the hon. Member to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day’s sitting. [Interruption.] I am not naming him; I am using the Standing Order that is open to me, which is No. 42 and which requires the hon. Gentleman to withdraw from the precincts of the House for the remainder of this day’s sitting. ”

Today, Paisley made a rambling statement barely in question form, linking the latest Afghanistan tributes to the Troubles. He knew it was bound to elicit a final tribute from the Prime Minister. To the end he gloried in his potential for nuisance value, even though it has long been the merest shadow of its former self.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): This is the last time I will bother the House and the Prime Minister with a question—I am sure he is greatly relieved about that. I would like to associate myself and my colleagues with the words of condolence spoken in the House today. This is a sad and tragic hour in our nation, and rumours of war and wars are common. There is sorrow in hearts. Of course, people bury their dead; they put up their monument, but their heart is torn. I have been in too many houses like that in the north of Ireland not to know how deep the cuts are.
In view of the situation that we have here, and its sadness and its sorrow, and the dark shadow that lies upon the whole of our world today, I ask the Prime Minister to continue to give himself, as always, to the task of deliverance and victory and peace—and may it come speedily.

The Prime Minister: I think the whole House will want to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for a long and distinguished career, not just in this House but in a number of forums. That includes his position as First Minister of Northern Ireland. I believe that the part he played in bringing the Unionist community together—indeed, bringing the whole community together in Northern Ireland—to ensure that we had devolution of power, and to ensure that the process of devolution of power was completed, will adorn the history books in many decades and centuries to come. On this day and on this occasion, I want the whole House to thank him for his service to the House and to the whole community.

And this time, it really may be finis.

  • Procrasnow

    How true that olde and tested saying;

    “Empty vessels sound the loudest”

    I think historians will not be too generous to Mr Paisley

  • Driftwood

    Never thought I’d hear Paisley refer to ‘the north of Ireland’ in any debate, never mind Westminster.
    He really has tumbled full circle.

  • the lone ranger

    totaly agree with post 1 historians will not treat hime well. in the 60’s when he came to prominence his words and actions (well more words as a lot of people say big ian would fight for ulster with the last drop of everybodys elses blood. he himself never seen any action very noticable when in 1943-44 he was of age to enlist in the war born 1926 never seen action) ere iresponsible to say the very least. he played on protestant fears at this time to the very extreme. predicted i.r.a. uprisings (1966 to coicide with 50th ann of easter rising) raised protestant tensions to boiling point even attacking ternce o’neill (a man 50 years ahead of paisley and one who did sign up for service in the world war) and were was the i.r.a. uprising? in august 1969 they had 3 lee enfield rifles which were over 50 years old!!! his legacy? well he was either right for 50 years and totally wrong for the last 3 (his conversion to allowing sinn fein into government) but to quote the scripture at this point better the end of a thing than the beginning thereof meaning in that sense he was stood for right but at the last fell. or he was all wrong for 50 years and the last 3 he got right. which in this case would mean he wasted a big part of his life and led a lot of people wrongly and with his words down a wrong path. i like what an ulster unionist says bout him he may not have blood on his hand but their is a lot on his tounge

  • joeCanuck

    ▸ noun: the elevation of a person (as to the status of a god)
    ▸ noun: model of excellence or perfection of a kind

    It’s the way you tell ’em Frank Brian.

  • joeCanuck

    The man was at least 50% responsible for all that happened over the 40 year period of “The Troubles”.
    It’s good that he seems to have repented as have most others. Perhaps all “believers” moderate as they get closer to meeting their GOD.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Paisley did not have some Damascene/Pauline conversion to power sharing. This is wishful thinking indeed. He had no significant opposition when the St. Andrews deal was brewing (the TUV emerged after that). There was no Trimble or Faulkner, or Chichester Clark or O’Neill to yell “Lundy” at. There was just…..the Old Gulderer, at last at the top of the political heap. Massive ego and lust for recognition made him do the deal and let down the minority of DUPers who no-plan-B Jim Allister represents. The two PMs and God knows who else, flattered the old hypocrite with wedding anniversary presents, a promise of a peerage for Eileen etc. Really quite sickening. He was indeed the best recruiting sergeant the Provos and SF ever had. It is really significan the IRA never tried to kill him. Better alive than dead. Never a man to actually put himself in physical danger, and always the first to run away from it when others close to him were caught. The damage he did. But the Paisley “brand” is damaged massively by him and his son. History will NOT be kind to Paisley. It WILL be kind to Trimble who had the balls to do the deal and stick with it, through thick and thin, through betrayal by Blair and SF and constant barracking by Paisley and Donaldson and the rest. The St Andrews deal is 95 per cent Trimble’s and the SDLP’s but in the usual irony of politics, the voters in the usual NI tribal high dudgeon switched to the two hard tribal parties and we have what we have — not power sharing, but power carving up. And I despair, 12 years after the Agreement to hear eejits saying “well, at least we are not killing one another.” Well, no, but did that slogan not pass its sell-by date even five years ago ? One other commentator shrewdly points out the Paisley was eligible for World War Two service for at least two years. He never volunteered. Too chicken hearted. Always let others do the actual fighting. As for the religious legacy of fundamentalist bigotry, he was like the Pope, “elected” head of the church for life or until last year, when even the Free Presbys caught on at last. A man of straw. Just about to enter the Lords alongside Eileen any day now. The Truth Shall Set You Free, as his slogan used to be. Indeed, the truth will out.

  • Procrasnow

    Paisley is a monumental failure

    Lets see ;-

    elected to European parliament as an anti-marketeer to bring it down. failed and it got bigger.

    Ulster says NO, NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER – failed and finally said Yes – ok then

    Tried to stop us getting the National Lottery – failed

    tried to Save ulster from Sodomy – Failed again, in fact ended up saving Sodomy from Ulster.

    Called the Pope an AntiChrist and He stood on the steps of Stormont and addressed the RUC, Don’t come crying to me when your homes are attacked – a most AntiChrist(ian) thing to do. (especially considering their colleagues were protecting his home 24 hours a day)

    The peace in the end only came about because he did not like plan B, joint sovereignty

    So apart from getting elected, time and time again did he ever succeed in any adventure he set out to achieve?

  • joeCanuck


    You forgot one. Founded his own Church and got turfed out.

  • Seosamh913

    He made a very handsome living exploiting the fears and prejudices of a credulous, servile part of the community for over 40 years. He must have pinched himself every morning he awoke wondering quite how he’d gotten away with it yet again.

  • joeCanuck

    wondering quite how he’d gotten away with it yet again

    Simple; he was always back home in bed when the mob got totally worked up and mayhem broke out. Nothing to do with him.

  • joeCanuck

    Meanwhile, that poor persecuted man Michael Stone deserves our sympathy.

  • the lone ranger

    post 7 never forget the doomed 1977 loyalist strike when the loyalist paramilitaries fed up with the grand old duke leading them up the hill nevr backed him and before it he said he would quit politics if the strike failed. (incidently during this strike 2 men were murdered) nothing to do with big ian. 1998 at drumcree if the orange men dont get the road on the 12th of july you only have to use your imagination to consider what will happen. a few did in ballymoney. watched a you tube of him during the protests at the anglo irish agreement warning that ulster was on the brink of civil war and there would be hand to hand fighting in every town and hamlet in northern ireland. one thing is for sure ian and peter would never have done any hand to hand fighting witness clontibret eh peter. wrecking clontibret in the middle of the night and spraying a few loyalist slogans in a town with the average age of 98 and all this in complete darkness. (now if he had done this in the bogside or anderstown in the middle of the day then peter we would really have thought you a hero) but because it was sleepy clontibret at midnight well we can only say that your one of those people my mother warned about who prey on old age pensioners!!