A twin-track approach? We profile minister Kyle Paisley
Until recently he was the Paisley son who stayed in the background, but, as Alex Kane writes, Kyle is now speaking out about politics even more forcefully than his MP brother Ian.
So no, condescending and ignoramus I think are not over the top, I think they're perfectly fitting for this situation." That's a pretty damning condemnation of anyone, let alone of Peter Robinson. But it's how Kyle Paisley - Ian Paisley's son and Ian Paisley Jnr's twin - described Robinson after he had voiced support for Pastor James McConnell at the height of the PastorGate saga in May and the storm surrounding McConnell's brutal dismissal of Islam as "satanic" and "heathen".
Paisley went further: "While there are irreconcilable differences between the theology of Biblical Protestantism and the theology of traditional Islam, this is no reason for any man to go out of his way in order to insult another." Given what his father had said about Roman Catholicism in the past and his twin's comment on being "repulsed" by gays, one might be tempted to the conclusion that Kyle Paisley is the "liberal" member of a family not known for sugar-coating opinions or pulling their punches.
But Kyle Paisley, born in December 1966, is, like his father, a minister in the Free Presbyterian Church - a number of whose ministers blogged or preached their support for McConnell's views. So maybe his seeming liberalism has something to do with the fact that he left Northern Ireland years ago (he is the minister of Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church in Lowestoft) and has steered clear of local politics. Or maybe, as some DUP critics have suggested, it isn't anything to do with liberalism at all and everything to do with "putting the boot into Peter Robinson, defending his father's reputation and saying what Ian Jnr can't say at the moment"?
Kyle denies that he is anti-Robinson: "Had it been a personal assault on the man, I would have addressed the man, solely the man, and not the issue that the debate has all been about. I addressed the issue in the article that I put out in the news and that's the issue that I kept to, so no, I wasn't motivated by any anti-Robinson feeling. In fact, I have made it clear that had I not cared for the man himself, I wouldn't have made a remark about how he had left a stain on his own reputation."
Yet he has also commented on other local political issues recently. Earlier this week he launched a broadside at Gregory Campbell: "What he said at the weekend and also what he said in the Assembly previous to that, I think he is shaming unionism, shaming it publicly. As a fellow Protestant and a fellow Free Presbyterian, I think it's about time he apologised and pulled his horns in a little bit. To use that kind of language, that he could just be completely dismissive of other people's ideology and wishes and aspirations - that is shameful."
During the DUP's annual conference last weekend, responding to a comment from Arlene Foster that the DUP would win back East Belfast, he tweeted: "Has her party earned the right to represent East Belfast again? Dangerous to take the electorate for granted." He tweeted again on Campbell: "Campbell has no care for the public face of unionism, nor do those who back him." And he re-tweeted Sinn Fein councillor Catherine Seeley's comment on Campbell that "the majority of unionists I have met would wash their hands of him. He's in the minority".
Ok, he lives in England and he's not a member of the DUP, but he must be well aware that his comments will attract attention from the Northern Ireland media - particularly since he is so open in his condemnation of key DUP figures and seems to enjoy the barely veiled jibes at Robinson. He is new to Twitter and it's interesting that he follows Martin McGuinness - and at least one of McGuinness's family - but doesn't (at the time of writing) follow anyone in the DUP other than his brother.
In the past year he has also been writing a series of articles for Eamonn Maillie's blog, posing questions about why unionism is "agnostic" about the prospect of Pope Francis visiting Belfast; how it might be possible to "melt the frostiness" between the DUP and Sinn Fein: why Belfast has become "the race-hate capital of the United Kingdom" and how the parties could co-operate to build a "united community". He praised Martin McGuinness for attending a banquet with the Queen and argued that unionists could learn from his behaviour. He also offered a possible solution to the flag issue at Belfast City Hall - focusing on compromise rather than simple majority outcomes. He pops up on the Nolan and Talkback shows on Radio Ulster fairly regularly now and continues to use Twitter to comment on local events. In the last couple of days he has said that, "if talks fail dissidents on both sides will be elated. Politicians need foresight and a baptism of grace and goodwill. I hope and pray that step by step Northern Ireland will see progress. The smallest step forward is better than no movement at all".
Sources close to him say that he has no interest in returning to Northern Ireland and pursuing a political career (which would require him to join a party or stand as an independent): but one did say: "Kyle is very mindful of his dad's legacy and deeply concerned that the DUP is going to squander the opportunity provided by his dad and Martin McGuinness in 2007. His dad took risks, yet people like Robinson and Campbell seem to be taking the process backwards rather than moving ahead."
That's certainly the impression that is conveyed by his interventions over this past year. He does sound like a loving son who fears that Ian Paisley's legacy will still be remembered more for divisiveness than for reconciliation and genuine peacemaking. Whether he has his twin's imprimatur for this new role as a public commentator is something that only they can know, but it is pretty certain that neither of them - nor their mum - has any particular fondness for Robinson nor the "cabal" who staged the coup against their dad in both his church and his party.
Yet other than defending his father and making the case for building on the legacy of St Andrews and the Paisley/McGuinness relationship between 2007-8, it's hard to know what else Kyle Paisley will do. Most of the exposure he attracts has to do with his criticism of the DUP and of Campbell, Robinson and Foster et al, but that won't attract attention for much longer. It becomes boring and same-old, same-old after a while and may even become embarrassing for Ian Jnr.
One thing is for certain, though, politics is in the Paisley bones and DNA. He may have steered clear of it for a long time - publically at least - but he has dived in head-first and seems to be loving both the input and the attention.
He is in a unique position, having lived away from here for so long but having the links to the thinking and actions of his dad and brother. He has something to offer as an outsider/insider - the perspective of someone who lived and breathed the daily realities of life here during the most difficult days, yet who has also been able to view the place from a distance.
I suspect that it's probably not his desire to be a mere thorn in the DUP's flesh. He doesn't come across as a typical or traditional unionist and, if he chooses to set himself to the task, he could prove a very useful, albeit critical friend of both the peace and the political process.
I reckon it's what his dad would want him to do.
Follow Alex Kane on Twitter @AlexKane221b
What he said...
Speaking at his father's memorial, Kyle Paisley said:
"Fair weather friends say I'm behind you; but just when you need them they are so far behind you that you can't see them. "It was my father's faith that saw him through one of his darkest moments' (when he was imprisoned).
"He was not just a talker. He was a man of action too. On more than one occasion he rolled up his sleeves and helped build a place of worship. He cared deeply for all, regardless of their political affiliation."