Eamonn Mallie has always preferred the bludgeon to the rapier. In Episode One he confronted Ian Paisley with some the most unsavoury quotes of an agitator’s past. Did you really mean it, Mr Paisley? In episode two he faced him with other people’s hesitant mutterings of rejection. How did you feel Mr Paisley? What did he expect the old man to say? Repudiate the past in the first case and turn the other cheek in the second? That is not the Old Testament way. Still, I have sympathy with Eamonn. Had he not led or goaded Paisley he might have ended up with waffle. Now he and we know how the colleagues felt for years, that the old man still had the spark of conviction about him and could strike out unpredictably. But he was no longer capable of sustained coherent speech.
Is Paisley’s obviously devastating hurt and bitterness about any more than a King Lear complex, best forgotten, the biggest and best pose of Paisley the martyr? Not quite. Although normally ruled out in an interview, how astute it was for him (or Eileen ) to insist that he read out from a paper describing what “ the deal” at St Andrews meant to him. It was not exactly new but the summing up was convincing: “They did the deal with the weapons and they did accept the principle of consent, They accepted the PSNI and the principle of law. I had to do what I was elected to do. Give leadership”
And so he did. Could Robinson have done it? Not without him and he knew it .Paisley’s and Lady Paisley’s interviews remove any lingering doubt that he was pushed over the edge into it by Robinson after his “sackcloth and ashes “outburst. For him the deal once sealed became a moral imperative. Others had severe doubts, though not Robinson.
What does the interview tell us about the DUP? For long shaky, the monolith has cracked a little more and Paisley junior will need careful handling. There’ll be plenty of schadenfreude among the surviving friends of O’Neill, Faulkner and above all Trimble. But this is not a case of a party ditching its leader and reversing direction. The DUP is much the same DUP as it was five years ago, even if more shamedfaced this morning.
Under a lesser figure” the deal” would have been a far closer run thing than it was, particularly after they’d savaged Trimble. Paisley had the effrontery and self belief to carry it off. He showed leadership indeed. And now he’s volunteered contempt for the lesser mortals who he claims did not understand. Had he remained in office would Paisley have steered a bolder course towards reconciliation and integration than the push- me- pull- you politics of today? He wasn’t asked but probably not. The time was right for his departure.
Did some of the followers believe that “the deal” was a sin they could not resist so they took it out on the sinner? Paisley ‘s removal from the church was wretched behaviour which exposed the insecurity at the heart of fundamentalist Protestantism . The faithful can never be sure if it’s the Lord talking or Satan, or their own ego. With their patriarch they feared the worst and many of them are now suffering torment on his behalf. It was that same insecurity that ignited Ian Paisley ‘s furious energy for 65 years and has now left him raging against the dying of the light.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London