Paisley and Prospero mark 2

This week Dr. Paisley left Stormont for the last time as an elected member of the Assembly. This is an update of a blog I did almost three years ago but I thought I would recycle it:

At the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero turns to the audience and says “Now my charms are all o’erthrown And what strength I have’s mine own.”
Now at the end, it seems, of his political career (though he does of course remain in the House of Lords) Dr. Paisley has received a long series of accolades. After he went into government with Sinn Fein he was lauded at the Boyne along with Bertie Ahern: this from the man who threw snowballs at Sean Lemass and denounced Terence O’Neill for meeting the then Taoiseach. Paisley was celebrated by both Tony Blair and George Bush. He has also previously received “Opposition Parliamentarian of the Year” (2007) and possibly most bizarrely “Oldie of the Year” (2008). Yet amongst some hard line unionists and possibly even some in his party his “charms are all o’erthrown.” The behaviour and comments of a number of Peter Robinson’s aides in front of the press at last year’s DUP conference is in stark contrast to the warm words from Peter Robinson today: as was Robinson’s deviating from his prepared text at that conference by omitting praise of Paisley.

A vast amount has been written about why Paisley went into the agreement four years ago. Some who support the agreement saw him as wishing to have a “positive” legacy, it has was even suggested that he felt he might soon meet his maker and wished to “redeem” himself. The first might have been be true but more likely betrays a failure to understand the world view of people like Paisley and latter shows a complete misunderstanding of fundamentalist Protestant theology.

More cynical voices suggested that Paisley was interested in power for himself alone and as such opposed every agreement until there was one which would leave him as First Minister. A number of commentators saw the change in the voting arrangements for the First Minister’s post as an attempt to ensure that unionists would have to make the DUP the largest party within unionism and hence give Paisley the first minister-ship lest it fall to Sinn Fein. The same issue of course still pertains in the coming elections.
Dr. Paisley himself seemed at times to veer between two alternative, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, reasons for going into power sharing with Sinn Fein. At times he said that this was a great deal for unionism and that his pledge to “Smash Sinn Fein” had been effectively achieved with IRA decommissioning and SF now supporting the police. Today in the News Letter that claim was expounded again:

“My message to them all was the same: Ulster would only have stable government if all parties irrespective of our differences, signed up to supporting the rule of law, the institutions of the state and the police.”

At other times the explanation has been somewhat less triumphant and he raised the spectre of Plan B which, we were told, would result in defacto joint sovereignty.
Unionist opponents of the DUP have tended to be most suspicious of these Paisley explanations; most anti agreement unionists would probably accept that St. Andrews is an advance over the Belfast Agreement. However, this advance is seen as a small incremental advance and nowhere near the renegotiation which the DUP appeared to be seeking five years and more ago when they became the majority party within unionism and effectively took over negotiations on behalf of the unionist community.

Equally anti agreement unionists have been most sceptical of Paisley’s explanation of the dreaded Plan B. Jim Allister pointed out that Paisley never told him anything of the substance of this Plan B when he (Allister) was arguing against the agreement from within the DUP. Others have pointed out that Paisley was never one to waver before threats and blackmail from anywhere, including from the British Government. As such anti agreement unionists (often once amongst Dr. Paisley’s most ardent supporters) tend to feel that he was bewitched by the lust of power and was happy with an agreement which would make him leader. That analysis is shared by many pro agreement but anti DUP unionists. Trimble and his successors have all claimed that Dr. Paisley and the DUP were only interested in the DUP being in charge. In addition they tend to claim that St. Andrews was no real advance at all over the Belfast Agreement.

There some other partial explanations as well, however. Paisley denounced the previous compromises suggested by O’Neill, Faulkner after Sunningdale or Trimble after the Belfast Agreement. He even denounced Jim Molyneaux as “Judas.” On each of these occasions, however, Dr. Paisley was on the outside. On each occasion the leader or leaders of unionism (but not Paisley) had felt the full weight of the persuasion of the British government, often backed up by the weight of Irish, and United States governments’ opinion along with the international pressure for a “solution”. On each of those occasions according to hard line unionists the leader of unionism had buckled and given ground; ground which should not have been given. On each occasion amongst the first to cry “Lundy” was Paisley himself. Each time when a unionist leader seemed like the defeated Shylock to say “Send the deed after me, And I will sign it” (Merchant of Venice IV, i) there was Paisley; seen by many as a rock, indeed a place of refuge. As once of my more lyrical friends once (almost blasphemously) put it “We are safe beneath Paisley’s wings.”

Paisley was (and is) a man with a pretty instinctive grasp of a large proportion of the unionist psyche and is also a quite brilliant orator; not to mention a seriously regarded theologian in fundamentalist circles. However, he had little track record as a negotiator: he had usually either been kept out of negotiations or had left them after denouncing an attempt by the UUP to “sell Ulster out”. With St. Andrews, however, it was different. It was Paisley who had to deal with the undoubted negotiating prowess of that least honest “pretty straight sort of guy” along with his assorted henchmen. It was Paisley who felt the weight of all the flattery combined with threats of Plan B. Jonathan Powell and others have recounted how Paisley was flattered by Blair; how Paisley gave Blair bible tracts for Euan Blair; how pleased Paisley was when the likes of George Bush telephoned him at the British government’s behest. It is also recounted that Paisley had numerous meetings with Blair without other DUP leaders. This was the very error Trimble said that Jim Molyneaux committed with John Major and at least at the start of Trimble’s negotiations he always took the likes of John Taylor with him. It seems maybe that under this combination of flattery, charm and threats the old man was outclassed, buckled and bowed the knee if not to Baal, at least to the agreement.

Certainly many previous unionist leaders have done much the same but it is hard to imagine Dr. Paisley in what rejectionist unionists would regard as his pomp being as receptive to that combination of flattery, bribery and bullying. Maybe even four years ago age had wearied him and the years condemned: either that or he just wanted a place in history, or the power, or some combination of all these. I suspect no one other than Paisley (if even he) knows why he did his political somersault.

I will leave you with Prospero’s final words “As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free.” At the end of the play Prospero waits for the audience’s applause. Dr. Paisley has had much applause during his prolonged departure which has now gone on for practically three years and I have no doubt he will get even more applause in the days to come but not always from the people who helped him in times past and not all of those who stood there in wrapped attention when he boomed “Never, Never, Never, never.”

, ,

  • otto

    Cheap trick Turgon. An adaption to changed circumstances isn’t hypocrisy. Refusing to change your position despite a change of circumstances, but rather inventing a new set of excuses for holding those opinions, is.

  • Hopping The Border

    “On each of those occasions according to hard line unionists the leader of unionism had buckled and given ground; ground which should not have been given.”

    Ah the mask slips – back to the good old days of one party unionist rule – TUV utopia.

  • Rocketeer

    Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what the current relationship between Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley is like? Frosty I would say.

  • JAH

    When they handed out the Nobel to Trimble and Hume I remarked at the time that there would not be real peace until they gave it to Paisley and Adams. They never got that prize (but as it’s not much cop anyway) but they did get a far greater one.


    Paisley was maybe correct in attacking all the previous deals. They were imperfect and they left out far to many people on both sides. With the final agreement, Paisley and SF broke the cycle that permitted the bigots and sectarians on both sides to dig their heads in the sand, scream Lundy on one hand or weep over Padraigh Pearse on the other.

    The cycle is broken and however much Allister and the intellectual colossi surrounding him (David Vance, economics guru!) might want to beat the Lambeg drum, or the knuckleheads in the Real IRA plot in their farms, noone wants to hear. That was yesterday’s tune.

    Paisley actually did see a better future. His Boyne speech is a minor classic which soundbites don’t do justice too.

    What a legacy. To live long enough to see the wounds at last begin to heal. And worse Turgon, he’s beginning to slowly take his place amongst the great IRISHmen of the past.

  • The Word

    In an era of television, Ian Paisley did some service to God but not in the way that he would have liked. When the future comes to judge the past, men like Ian Paisley will demonstrate why the oppressors are actually unhappy and sending out a signal through violence that the oppressed need anyrthing that he has or they have is not only misguided but delusional to the extent that it is evil.

  • otto

    “that the oppressed need anyrthing that he has or they have is not only misguided but delusional to the extent that it is evil.”


  • Greenflag

    ‘Ian Paisley did some service to God ,

    Which God ? or Gods ? Can you prove this or is it just the usual bull?

    ‘but not in the way that he would have liked.’

    Who is ‘he’ ? Is it God , Paisley or the man in the moon ?

    Paisley for all his past ‘faults ‘ proved in the end to be able to deliver what several UUP leaders and before them the old UP could’nt.

    For that he’ll end up historically being seen in a more positive light than many of the hierarchy and clergy and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church .

  • andnowwhat

    Why is it cynical to think that Paisley was out to be numero uno?

    He founded his own church, founded his own part and founded his own paper waving millitia.

    He claimed that he was not against catholics but against the church. Why did he say all those things about catholics breeding like rabbits or that civil rights for catholics would be the introduction of papacy? Was it all a game?

  • lamhdearg

    And now he’s gone?,@ Turgon.

  • joeCanuck

    We will never know the reason why he changed unless he tells us the whole truth. I hope he is writing his memoirs. It would be a fascinating tale if he was true to himself and would, without a doubt, be an immediate best seller on both sides of the divide.

  • The Raven

    Joe, I’d be interested to see what the influence of the Baroness was. I know – or at least I am sure I read comments about it on here – but I did hear several assemblymen of all shades with whom I have contact, remark that she was where a lot of pressure came from. Between that, and the serious bout of ill-defined sickness a few years ago – well…who knows what the combination of her indoors, and thought of meeting one’s maker can have.

  • lg7788a

    I’m sorry, but can we PLEASE stop calling him Dr.? He doesn’t hold a doctorate. The only doctorate he was ever awarded was an honorary doctorate, which is a the traditional recognition bestowed on a university’s graduation speaker in the US and should never be mistaken by anyone as an actual degree, from Bob Jones University, a US university of questionable accreditation and legitimacy anyway. There is no basis upon which he is entitled to use a doctoral title, and those of us who actually bothered to earn one would prefer that others stop allowing him to claim a false credential.

  • iluvni

    Must say, I found it quite a surprise to hear Paisley turn up again the other day in the Assembly. I thought he’d exited the stage a few years back.
    Was he getting paid for the time he never turned up?

  • vanhelsing

    Thought his speech in the Assembly was ‘statesmanlike’ and contained some interesting aspects.

    Clearly he has/had a good working relationship with MMG – some would go further to suggest a level of friendship. I heard somewhere that privately MMG had be pentient about the troubles to the Doc and this had opened up the working relationship.

    He is proud of the sustainability of the Assembly – I guess people could point to the fact that the DUP ensured that other ones didn’t work however I think that shouldn’t detract from what we have now – a stable government and peace in NI. Concentrate on future not past.

    I saw a few interviews with him earlier in the week and he must have used “shared future” 3 or 4 times. That’s good – because that’s exactly what we need – a future shared between all sections of our communities.

    Someone made reference to the Boyne Speech…[2007]

    The First Minister said:

    “We both look forward to visiting the battle site at the Boyne, but not to re-fight it. I don’t want Mr Ahern to have home advantage. As the leader of the unionist people, with Northern Ireland’s place in the union secured, I believe it is important to engage with our closest neighbour from a position of mutual respect and with assured confidence. The annual 12 July celebrations mark the Battle of the Boyne today, we can confidently state that we are making progress to ensure that our two countries can develop and grow side by side in a spirit of generous co-operation. Old barriers and threats have been, and are being, removed daily”


    on his retirement from public office,ian paisley was paid the greatest compliment by a friend and social acquaintence who remarked,’this is not a day to bury ceasar.this is a day to praise ceasar’

  • fordprefect

    Paisley, more than anyone, created the conditions that lead to decades of shootings, bombings and killings. He should be on his knees asking people for their forgiveness (or maybe he should go to confession!)


    i dare say,he’d probably kill the priest,wit wisdom

  • Vanhelsing. I don’t think it’s comparing like with like to judge IP in his declining years against his attitude and behaviour when in his prime, and at a time when there was a secure unionist majority still [up to the late eighties].The truth is he saw a gap in the political market in the 60’s to be exploited , that was the bigotry in his community which he had taken carwe to nourish for decades before and cashed in his chips to capitalise on after setting the DUP up in ’71. He claimed in 1977 in the wake of his failed stoppage that he would give up politics if it was a washout, which it was, but Robinson rescued his career after that.
    Paisley didn’t ‘hate the Catholic Church and love his fellow catholics’ but did all he could to maintain the Protestant state as it was but ultimately he failed. Opportunism was his motto. and ten month as FM doesn’t wipe out forty years as a manipulator of his own people. No wonder catholic bigots voted for him.

  • Reader

    lg7788a: There is no basis upon which he is entitled to use a doctoral title, and those of us who actually bothered to earn one would prefer that others stop allowing him to claim a false credential.
    The rot set in when they started to allow quacks to call themselves Doctor, and it’s probably too late to save the term now.
    And these days even supposedly reputable institutions dish out Honorary Doctorates to the likes of politicians.
    But do you suppose there’s a chance to save the term ‘Engineer’ in the Anglosphere?

  • Turgon

    lg7788a and Reader,
    Yet again I refer you to my doctorate. I hope none of you dare to dismiss its academic credentials.

    However, I note with a certain amusement that many complain about Dr. Paisley’s doctorate yet the Presbyterian Church award all their moderators a similarly spurious doctorate. At least Paisley has written some serious theological texts which is more than many a Presbyterian moderator – for example Dr. Paisley’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans is a highly regarded piece of work in fundamentalist theological circles. I have seen few Presbyterian moderators ever distance themselves from their doctorates.

  • Procrasnow

    He has had a long innings, as to whether it was good depends on how you have been affected by it. ANy respect I had for the man was lost in June 1986 when he threatened the RUC The man who uttered those words has no connection with the man of calvary.