Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ian Paisley: The vitriolic tongue of an ambitious and self-important leader

Ian Paisley announcing in 2008 that his replacement as DUP party leader will be Peter Robinson with Nigel Dodds being his deputy. Pic Colm Lenaghan / Pacemaker

Part two of the BBC interview shows the lingering fury of DUP founder after losing his leadership roles, reports Liam Clarke.

There are few qualities as counterproductive as self-pity, and in the latest tranche of his interview with Eamonn Mallie which is screened tonight, Ian Paisley shows no sympathy for anyone but himself.

He complained incessantly about being hard done by but had a harsh tongue for others, there was a sense of entitlement and he seemed unaware of the double standard this involved.

And he directed several low blows at Peter Robinson who, whatever you think of him, had been a supportive deputy to Mr Paisley for 29 years.

Yet he was accused by Lord Bannside of "being in politics for his own ends" and by Baroness Paisley of being impatient for power after he took the helm in his 60th year.

There were also swipes at Mr Robinson for losing his East Belfast Westminster seat and a sly, self-satisfied, dig at Mr Robinson's efforts to hold his marriage together after his wife's affair, something which most clergy would consider a duty.

"I'm a very happy man, my wife still lives with me and loves me," Mr Paisley harrumphed when asked if there were any hard feelings. There is a feeling that Mr Robinson was regarded as the help who should never have taken over the family business.

There is very little charity or understanding of others in all this.

Mr Paisley's main complaint against the party seems to flow from a survey of MLAs carried out by Timothy Johnston, an adviser, in early 2008. It showed that 83% of DUP MLAs felt he should go within months.

This was followed up by a meeting with Mr Johnston, Mr Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Lord Morrow in which they pushed home the message that Mr Paisley should soon retire. Baroness Paisley's description of "the mighty Dodds" as a "cheeky sod" indicates the bitterness after the message was delivered.

An outrage, as Lord Bannside sees it, but at that stage he was nearly 82, had been nodding off at meetings and, although a remarkable man for his years, had suffered serious illnesses.

He had been leader of the DUP for 37 years.

It was high time to listen to his friends and move on without bitterness, recrimination or tantrums.

The 'time to go' meeting was in February 2008. Mr Paisley remained as First Minister until June and before that, in May, the party gave him a royal send-off which cost it an estimated £70,000.

The DUP hired the entire RUAS complex at Balmoral. It invited more than 2,000 people, providing hospitality for many from Britain and America and provided a dinner for 400 of Mr Paisley's special guests.

There were no complaints about being pushed out the door at that gathering where Michael Martin, then speaker of the Commons, was on hand to sing his praises.

He was pacified by flattery once more at the party conference when Peter Robinson said he still thought of Mr Paisley as the leader and it felt strange to have the term applied to himself.

This was generous treatment, and in March 2011 there was a respectful, even fawning, Paisleyfest at Stormont when he stood down as an MLA to take up a seat in the Lords.

Mr Robinson and Martin McGuinness both praised him to the skies, but he noticeably did not return the compliment and referred mainly to his own achievements in his speech.

It was the same story with the Free Presbyterian Church, a small denomination of about 12,000 people which Mr Paisley started and which faithfully proclaimed him moderator annually for 57 years -- a longer tenure than Fidel Castro in Cuba, yet the octogenarian Paisley resented being asked to relinquish the reins of power.

He described the experience as being "kicked into the gutter" and his son Kyle, an ordained minister in the church, accuses the denomination of sectarianism in tonight's broadcast.

Yet if the Free Presbyterian Church is sectarian, a lot of that must be down to the tone set by its leader and founder, who had ruled it like an autocrat, and preached no compromise since it first opened.

You won't hear it tonight, but the once huge Martyrs Memorial Church of which Paisley was minister shrunk to 150 members in the final years of his stewardship. In 2006 the denomination dropped a hint by offering him a retirement home which he and his wife could use for their lifetimes. He picked a three-bedroom apartment in Sharman estate, a luxury US-style gated development near Crawfordsburn, with a price tag of more than £300,000 and which boasts a helipad.

That broke the church's budget so it loaned him as much as it could. If necessary the church's share would revert back to it after the lifetime of Lord and Lady Paisley if it has not already been paid back.

Despite this they never budged from the Martyrs Memorial manse in Cyprus Avenue where they live with daughter Rhonda, leaving the new minister to buy a house in Lisburn.

Mr Paisley left Martyrs Memorial and has repaid most of the loan on the apartment.

He comes across as an ambitious politician with a ferocious sense of his own importance who has learnt nothing in the decades it took to scale the greasy pole from street agitator to bosom of the establishment.

"Exaggeration, scurrility and abuse," was how Lord Scarman described Paisley's speaking style in a judicial report on the street disorder of 1969.

He could have said the same about Lord Bannside's performance in tonight's broadcast.

 

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