After last week’s warm-up, the second programme featuring Eamonn Mallie’s extended interviews with Ian Paisley (recorded between October 2012 and March 2013) began with an introduction to Ian Paisley’s strong relationship with his wife Eileen. It went on to cover:
- The Leeds Castle talks.
- Tony Blair’s admission that he was converting to Catholicism. You can hear Eileen laughing off-screen as he jokes about “getting a cane” if any of the Paisley children had come with a Catholic boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Clips of his Ballymena speech for the IRA to wear sackcloth, decommissioning, and the decision to go into government. At times Ian Paisley looks to the side – presumably to his wife – and looks down at notes. (He knew advance the topics that would be covered in each interview, but not the specific questions.)
- The opposition of Rev Ivan Foster’s and others to Paisley’s role as Free Presbyterian moderator and First Minister in government with Sinn Fein, leading to Paisley’s resignation as moderator (having won the vote to be Moderator for another year).
- The attitude survey amongst DUP MLAs, remarks about Ian Paisley Jnr and other events leading up to his resignation as First Minister.
- The Martyrs Memorial elders’ letter that led to his Ian Paisley’s resignation from the church he had founded.
While the programme ended with Ian Paisley saying he had “no major regrets”, the previous hour of footage was spent poring over and unpacking his belief that he had been ousted from being moderator of the denomination he helped found, asked to retire from being DUP leader and First Minister, and removed from being minister of his congregation.
So much of the programme was published in advance in this morning’s newspapers. Both the News Letter and the Irish News devoted seven pages to coverage and quotes from the programme, and the Belfast Telegraph ran several opinion pieces reacting to the press screening last Friday afternoon.
In many ways the broadcast programme was an anti-climax, putting pictures to already familiar words. It was a reminder that neither in politics of the church is loyalty is guaranteed to be for life.
The damage to the DUP is minimal, if at all. The party recognised that its leader was becoming a liability and moved swiftly to rectify the weakness. (The current DUP leader should remember that if he doesn’t set his own timetable to leave, the party will eventually do the same thing again.) The Free Presbyterian Church – and his own congregation – resolved to keep with their traditional values (if such a young denomination can have traditions!) and similarly engineered their leader’s departure.
Betrayal hurts. It takes a big character to stand back and accept what has happened with grace and humility. From what I’ve seen over the last two Monday nights, Ian Paisley is not that big character.