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Democrat or Hypocrite?
on 22 November 2013
In 2007 the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, visited the United States where they met many influential Irish-Americans who had a few years earlier condemned Paisley while providing material assistance to the IRA. By 2007 'America's long support for Irish Nationalism, the sympathy shown by some of its citizens and politicians for the IRA, was left unrecalled and uncondemned. The Ian Paisley of yesteryear, the political ogre, dinosaur and hate-monger, the voice of the seventeenth century had morphed into the smiling, avuncular devotee of peace and harmony.' Indeed, Paisley and McGuinness were dubbed the 'Chuckle Brothers'. Maloney's book attempts to answer why Paisley 'put aside years of animus to all things Irish, National and Catholic to go into government with the IRA's political wing'.
Northern Irish politicians have been obsessed with the past and for Protestants this included 'the first great slaughter of their forefathers by the native Irish in 1641', other seventeenth century events and the determination of Sir Edward Carson to oppose Home Rule. The Orange Order, founded in 1796, was a reminder of the continuous battle between Irish Catholicism and Ulster's Protestantism. Paisley's father, Kyle, was a preacher whose conflict within the Presbyterian church led to his breaking away from the Hill Street Church in Ballymena with nearly eighty followers. Kyle's new congregation was both fundamentalist and separatist. Paisley's brother joined the RAF but Paisley was too young and at the age of 16 in 1942 enrolled at the Barry School of Evangelism in South Wales partly because it too was fundamentalist and separatist. The following year he began a three year stint at the theological hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland in Belfast.
In the post war period Paisley became prominent preaching against Catholicism and Communism. His relative extremism was mirrored by the Catholic Primate, Cardinal MacRory, who stated that Protestant churches were 'not even part of the Church of Christ'. This confirmed the view that "Home Rule meant Rome Rule'. Paisley had a penchant for being divisive which translated in 1951 to his forming the 'Free Presbyterian' church which quickly attracted dissident Presbyterians from across Ulster. In addition to falling out with Presbyterians, he also fell out with the National Union of Protestants and the Orange Order attracting accusations of egotism and personal ambition. His warnings of the dire consequences of mixing with Catholics was matched word for word by Catholic bishops predicting disaster for Catholics who mixed with Protestants. This was reflected in politics where Republicans were regarded as enemies and IRA sympathisers guilty of outrages even when those outrages were committed without IRA approval. Bigotry was not confined to one side in Northern Ireland.
Although Paisley became involved in politics gradually he was by profession an anti-Catholic. He never accepted his invective was responsible for any violence that occurred by those who took it to heart. While the UVF was not his creation it practiced the logic of Paisley's rhetoric. As one of the Malvern Street murderers stated, 'I am terribly sorry I ever heard of that man Paisley or decided to follow him'. It was disingenuous of Paisley to pretend there was no link between his language and the violence which followed. His critics accused him of waiting to see which way the wind blew before deciding his policies. When Terence O'Neil became Northern Ireland's Prime Minister in 1963 he began to talk to the Republic and encouraged conciliation with Catholics in Ulster. Paisley was furious and indulged in more anti-Catholic rhetoric underpinned by 'No Surrender'. Unionists gradually became Loyalists. By the mid-sixties Paisley was creating his own self-fulfilling prophecy of joining the House of Commons as God's representative of Protestant Ulster. While couched in the traditional language of Protestant politics Paisley and his wife were practicing unbiblical hatred of those who disagreed with him. Middle class Protestants opted out of politics in the face of Paisleyite harassment.
Many Northern Irish politicians lack the ability to live in the present without evoking the past. Three hundred years of sectarian hatred was present in every speech and treachery was the motive behind every action. It was a recipe for disaster with each side justifying its violent actions by twisted logic, a lack of humanitarian concern and an absence of Christian practice. In 1969 the IRA split into Official and Provisional wings. Violence between both wings added to the violence between Protestants and Catholics in addition to violence between Catholics and the British army. In 1970 Edward Heath suspended Stormont and imposed Direct Rule. In time Willie Whitelaw broke the Unionists' stranglehold of Ulster politics and opened the way for Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party to represent the Loyalist viewpoint. Paisley seemed to think it was the only Loyalist viewpoint. He could not stand being contradicted but in Margaret Thatcher he met someone who would not tolerate being threatened.
Paisley opposed the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the 1998 Belfast Agreement. However, in 2006 he accepted the St Andrews Agreement which established a power-sharing executive including Sinn Fein in direct contradiction to what Paisley had said over decades. Finding the middle ground had failed. Paisley's DUP and Adams's Sinn Fein had come to represent the real political forces in Northern Ireland. After the Northern Bank raid and the murder of Robert McCartney lost American support Adams agreed to an independent verification of decommissioning demanded by Paisley. Blair was discredited by failing to deliver on IRA demands and was lambasted as amoral, not knowing the meaning of the word 'honesty'" and operating a policy of "Who do I buy and who do I sell?". No further help from Britain could be expected. Maloney has written a good, if unflattering, account of Paisley even if he appears not to know that Joseph Hocking was not American but was born and died in Cornwall. Four stars.