Last week’s papers and news bulletins spoiled many of the story lines in last night’s first part of Eamonn Mallie’s conversations with Ian Paisley on BBC One NI. (Available to watch on-demand.)
Forty hours of interviews were conducted between October 2012 and March 2013, so we’re only scraping the surface of their discussions and there are many gaps in the timeline that some viewers might have wanted to explore. Expect a book to mop up the rest!
There was little sign of the impish Ian Paisley with a twinkle in his eye. And little sign of the bombastic, aggressive figure that dominates the imagery of his politics and preaching. Instead a subdued and occasionally reflective Lord Bannside sat opposite a soft-focus Eamonn Mallie and quietly blamed everyone but himself for what happened in Northern Ireland over the last 50 years.
Liam Clarke commented in a recent Belfast Telegraph opinion piece:
Perhaps the most shocking admission in the show was that he believed the civil rights movement’s demands to be right all along. He added that he could not associate himself with it because he believed that those in charge supported a united Ireland.
The problem is that he didn’t just not associate with it and stand aloof, he actively opposed it and was jailed for staging rowdy counter-demonstrations. He also attacked unionist leaders who tried to reform the system, making peaceful change impossible.
Perhaps the Big Man needed to pay more attention to Gerry Adams as he sat next to him at the corner of the diamond table. If you’re going to rewrite history, you need to do it as you go along rather than starting aged 87.
Peter Robinson has already disputed some of Ian Paisley’s recollections: it sounded like a clarification sentence had been added late to the documentary. From the comfort of your study, criticising the current leadership of the party you helped found will never be appreciated.
The cleric’s lack of grace seems set to continue next week with the follow-up programme’s trails showing Baroness Paisley joining her husband in condemning those in the Free Presbyterian Church who ousted him as moderator in late 2007/early 2008. Setting the record straight will do little to boost the witness of the relatively small denomination.
Enoch Powell’s statement comes to mind:
All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.