Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Ian Paisley: He was right not to back civil rights movement, says hardliner

Rev Ivan Foster
Rev Ivan Foster

One of Ian Paisley's most hardline unionist critics has backed the former DUP leader's claim that he privately sympathised with the civil rights campaign's aims – but he added that he had been right to publicly oppose it at the time.

"There was an understanding that Roman Catholic people had been discriminated against.

"We did have a degree of sympathy. I personally disagreed entirely with the idea of trying to maintain a political superiority by manoeuvring parliamentary boundaries," said Rev Ivan Foster, an ally of Dr Paisley from the start.

The two men parted company when Dr Paisley cut a deal with Sinn Fein and headed a power-sharing administration in 2006.

The Ulster Unionist Party, also known as the Official Unionists, held a permanent majority in the old Stormont Government until it fell in 1972. Rev Foster (below) was jailed in 1969 for organising a counter-demonstration against a civil rights march in Armagh.

Many other loyalists thought the civil rights movement had a point, but said nothing through fear that Catholic grievances could be exploited by republicans. They felt that poor Protestants were also exploited by the Unionist-run Government. He said that in sermons delivered as a Free Presbyterian minister "I would have mentioned and stated plainly that the Roman Catholic people were not the only ones who would have suffered discrimination at the hands of the Unionist leaders at that point".

"If anything, the case for the Unionist people was far stronger, because they had given unconditional support (to the Unionist Party) for generations and were still socially neglected."

However, Rev Foster said this view wasn't promoted by either himself or Dr Paisley outside their own circle for fear of giving credence to republican demands.

Ultimately, he felt both he and Dr Paisley were right not to say anything supportive.

He added: "I think the caution shown by the Big Man and others back then was correct.

"It is a pity he didn't show the same caution in 2006-2008 when he entered Government with Sinn Fein."

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