Will the obituaries of Ian Paisley have to be re-written as Malachi O’Doherty suggests? Well, maybe. But Malachi does squeeze some new insights from Eamonn’s second and final episode of his two part serial interview on the big man:
Another consideration is that Ian Paisley is driven more by heart than head. The positive side of this is that he is wonderfully charming and decent, sometimes. Ann Travers wrote on Facebook this week about how he came to her family after her sister, Mary, had been shot dead by the IRA. He hugged her. She was 14 years old and he prayed with her.
This, from the firebrand evangelical whose literal theology will have told him that Mary was a lost soul. There were many times, dealing with the bereaved, when Ian Paisley chose to be not so literal at all. When SDLP MLA Eddie McGrady’s wife, Patricia, died, Paisley crossed the Assembly chamber and knelt down beside him and prayed with him. And some people would say that was showy and intrusive, but McGrady was glad of that and said so.
The other thing about Paisley is that he is not a political tactician; he has always been the front man who functioned best when he had someone else’s brains behind him. He is not remotely in the same league as Gerry Adams in his ability to hold to a line for calculated effect.
He is not very bright. Yes, he has barnstorming eloquence, but he gave up much of the prospect of personal intellectual development when he aligned himself to a literal faith. He knows the Book and, if he doesn’t know much else, then that doesn’t bother him, because, for him, only the Book matters.
That, as previously noted was at the age of six. Not much time to develop a secular sense of the world about him.
But as Drew Westen has noted “in politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins”. Paisley’s brand of politics didn’t harm him until the end, but it raised unrealistic expectations of turning back an overwhelming ecumenist tide.
The long term corollary of the clash two large and interdependent emotion driven tribes was well expressed by Ian Parsley earlier in the week:
One thinks the world was founded 6000 years ago; the other thinks the IRA’s terrorist campaign was legitimate. Get this people – you are *not* going to persuade them to change their ways by reasoned debate!
Back in 1979 that overweening religiosity led the banning The Life of Brian (we got to see it in the parish youth club of all places). And in some places, not much has changed.
If the United Kingdom was once a discernibly a Protestant state, these days it owes more to the dissenting humanism of Erasmus than Calvin’s Geneva or the Calvinist Republic of Antwerp.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty