Ian Paisley’s wrath for DUP successor Peter Robinson who ‘broke his heart’
The Rev Ian Paisley, now known as Lord Bannside, has detonated a political bombshell by accusing Peter Robinson, his long-time deputy and successor as Northern Ireland’s First Minister, of involvement in a plot to depose him.
Mr Paisley and his wife Eileen both levelled extraordinarily caustic criticisms against the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Free Presbyterian Church, both of which he founded and led for half a century.
In a BBC documentary to be broadcast on Monday night, Mrs Paisley declared: “They assassinated him by their words and by their deeds – they treated him shamefully.”
Her husband related that when Tony Blair confided in him in Downing Street that he was about to become a Catholic, he bluntly told the Prime Minister: “You’re a fool.”
Although DUP figures have suggested Mr Paisley’s memory may be at fault, his trenchant criticisms are causing sizeable waves in a party noted for its long tradition of keeping disputes under wraps. Because he will be aged 90 in two years’ time, and since he has been in hospital several times with serious conditions, it had been assumed that his capacity to spring surprises was over.
But his allegations, apparently aimed at Mr Robinson, that “there was a beast here who was prepared to go forward to the destruction of the party”, are extreme. The shock is almost approaching that generated in 2007 when he switched from a lifetime of opposing Sinn Fein to entering government with republicans in an administration headed by himself and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
He lasted just over a year as First Minister before stepping down from both that post and as moderator for life of the Free Presbyterian church.
Mrs Paisley said of his removal: “I know he was heartbroken and I believe it was the heartbreak that took the toll on his health.”
She said that for four days he was “just hovering between life and death,” with the family discussing funeral arrangements.
Since he stepped down as head of the church he founded, no member of his family has entered his Martyrs Memorial church, Mr Paisley revealed. “I think they’re better not going because they would not be happy. You do not go to a church to sit on nails,” he said.
At the time of his departure in 2008, Mr Paisley gave no public sign that he had been forced out against his will, and made no criticisms of either his party or his church. He now says this is because he did not wish to harm them. But the strength and sustained ferocity of his criticisms have blown away the image of both as happily united families.
A DUP statement said the party was sad to see Mr Paisley “harm his own legacy.” It said that in his later years as party leader “many of his colleagues shielded his frailty from public view to avoid embarrassment” at a time when his ability to perform his duties was seriously diminished and causing widespread concern. It added that those people “are hurt by untrue and bitter comments.”
Mr Paisley also related a conversation with Mr Blair in 2007 after a private meeting.
“As we were walking down the stairs he stopped, he looked back at me and he said, ‘Ian, there is something I need to tell you. When the hands of that clock’ – and he pointed to a big clock that was on the wall, ‘When the hands of that clock, when they come to eight o’clock I will be a Roman Catholic’. And he said ‘I didn’t want you to leave without telling you, I’d rather tell you myself.’ And I said ‘You are a fool’ and I walked on.”
He said he had often spoken of religion with Mr Blair, saying the Prime Minister’s Donegal grandmother was “a very strong supporter of mine”.
On Sunday night a DUP statement said the party was sad to see Mr Paisley “harm his own legacy.” It said that in his later years as party leader “many of his colleagues shielded his frailty from public view to avoid embarrassment”a at a time when his ability to perform his duties was seriously diminished and causing widespread concern. It added that those people “are hurt by untrue and bitter comments.”
DUP response in full
Statement from DUP spokesperson
“Lord Bannside is entitled to his own opinions – however, he is not entitled to his own facts.
"The Party deeply appreciates the contribution Lord Bannside made to Northern Ireland and to the growth of the DUP. Despite the headlines regarding these programmes, the Party will not be losing focus. Our greatest ever electoral victory, in 2011, gave us a mandate to keep Northern Ireland moving forward. We will get on with that task.
"We are saddened to see Lord Bannside harm his own legacy. In his later years as Party leader, many colleagues shielded his frailty from public view, to avoid embarrassment and protect his legacy. Those people are hurt by untrue and bitter comments contained in the documentary.
"The party, unlike the media, has not been granted an advance viewing, however, the programme maker and the BBC have already been informed of the inaccuracy of those claims made in the programme about which they have notified us. The Party does not intend to respond to the personal opinions expressed in the programme – those making the comments must take responsibility for them - but it will not let untrue assertions dressed up as facts go unchallenged.
"Dr Paisley, as he was then known, gave a number of interviews on the occasion of his retirement announcement. In those interviews he stated that he had been considering his retirement for some time and had himself chosen the time to stand down. Moreover he denied that he had been “pushed”. The public may well ask whether then or now they have been misled.
"Worse, he now seeks to place the responsibility for his decision on those who protected him most when, at 82 years of age, his ability to perform his duties was seriously diminished and causing widespread concern.
"Contrary to media speculation, the party has not mounted any form of legal challenge to this programme. When the Party sees the second programme, rather than relying on third party accounts, it will decide if any further response is necessary.”
Statement from Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA - Democratic Unionist Party Leader
“There are many who will believe that in agreeing to participate in these interviews Lord Bannside will have done nothing to enhance his legacy. They will struggle to reconcile the spirit and tone he presents with that which they will have known and admired. This is not the Ian Paisley we knew.
"As someone who faithfully served Dr Paisley for many decades I will make one final sacrifice by not responding and causing any further damage to his legacy beyond that which he has done himself. Rather than return insult for insult, let me bless him with the mercy of my silence and wish him well.”
Statement from Rt Hon Nigel Dodds MP - Democratic Unionist Party Deputy Leader
“I am personally very saddened to learn of the tone and contents of the latest programme on Lord Bannside. All of us who worked hard for him and with him for many years wished only the best for him and for our country.
"It is to be deeply regretted that at 87 and retired that this programme may be what is remembered about him rather than the good things that he did.
"Clearly the passage of time has diminished accurate recall of events. What is being said now by Lord Bannside about meetings is inaccurate and stands in stark contrast to everything that he said and did at the time and, indeed, during the years since.
"As Lord Bannside is not long out of hospital I wish him well in his recovery.”
Statement by Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley - Democratic Unionist Party Chairman
“I have served as Chairman of the DUP for most of the period discussed in the programmes. During that time, I have some great memories of Dr Paisley. I am saddened by this turn of events. Throughout my political lifetime I was a loyal friend to Lord Bannside. I wish him well in his recovery. These latest utterances do not do justice to someone who was a giant in unionism in Northern Ireland.”
Statement from Timothy Johnston - Former Special Adviser to First Minister Ian Paisley
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the general content and tone of the Ian Paisley programme to be broadcast by the BBC on Monday evening.
"After a long and distinguished career it is very regrettable that Dr Paisley, as well as Mrs Paisley, and those who now advise them, have co-operated in the making of two programmes that have significantly and irreversibly damaged his historical legacy. Unsurprisingly the events of that time have not been accurately recalled and indeed the 'research' used by the production staff is wrong in many significant respects. Some of the programme content is simply untrue.
"I totally refute any allegation, suggestion or implication that a survey conducted was “framed” by me or anyone else. Dr Paisley commissioned the survey and was aware of its nature and its findings at the time. At no point then or since has Dr Paisley or Mrs Paisley sought to raise these concerns with me despite having had every opportunity to do so.
"I learned many valuable lessons while working for Dr Paisley, one of which was not to discuss internal party business in public. I have no intention of departing from the advice he proffered at the height of his career. While saddened by this turn of events I wish Dr Paisley well for the future.”
An edited transcript of portions of the BBC interview
Falling in love
Ian: "She was a bully. She just bullied me and I just had to collapse and I had to pull down any opposition and say yes. I fell for her immediately and scraped my knees. I went down with a plomp. She has been my right-hand person all the days of my life."
Eileen: "My parents were on holiday and my brother said to me, 'what about going down to hear Ian Paisley?' and I said 'okay, I'll come with you'. So that was the first time I heard Ian preach. It was amazing. He had always a twinkle and a brightness about him. He wasn't a flirt, he was just bright. He had a bright personality and he was very personable."
The 2003 Assembly election, and moving towards power-sharing
Ian: "The result of those elections put us into a place where both Sinn Fein and the unionists had to face up to it. I mean, there was no turning back. If we had turned back, God help this country and what it would have come to."
Eileen: "We discussed it. We prayed about it. We talked round it and through it and in and out, and how we could lose friends and probably would."
Talking religion with Tony Blair
Ian: "It was matters that were brought up – matters about his grandfather being an Orangeman, and his grandmother was a very, very, very strong supporter of mine. She said to him, 'You don't do anything on Ian Paisley because it will be very unlucky for you if you do'."
Blair converting to Catholicism
Ian: "As we were walking down the stairs he stopped, he looked back at me, and he said, 'Ian, there's something I need to tell you. When the hands of that clock', and he pointed to a big clock, 'when they come to eight o'clock I will be a Roman Catholic'. And he said, 'I didn't want you to leave without telling you. I'd rather tell you myself'. And I said 'you're a fool', and I walked on."
If a family member brought home a Catholic
Ian: "I'd have bought a long cane and given them a few slaps. No, I'd have said 'let us sit down and let us ask God his opinion on this'.
"And I would have said 'although you hurt me doing what you're doing, you are my child, and my love is greater than my hurt', and they could come in and out of this house as they wished.
"They would not have been put out by me or my wife.
"We wouldn't have liked it but we'd have lumped it."
Going into power with Sinn Fein
Ian: "This was what we were going to have to look at and accept if we were going to have any say at all in the rule of our country.
"If you can't get everything, you can get something, and the something that we got was at least a step in the right direction."
(Mr Paisley then reads from a prepared statement)
"Over and over again, coming up in this interview and other interviews, we have the words 'the deal', and having listened to the various definitions of the deal by others, it is time that I had the opportunity just to say exactly what this deal was about.
"They did deal with their weapons and they did accept the principle of consent.
"I needed republicans to accept the PSNI and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. I was told this never could happen, and my response was unless it did, we would never be able to move forward.
"It did happen. I had to put my best foot forward. I had to put a smile on my face and do what I was elected to do – give leadership."
Wanting power to secure his legacy
Ian: "Oh no, not at all. My work was as a Christian minister, and that has always come first.
"I had to take a step, a step that I had a lot of heart-searching on, a step that brought me a lot of pain, a step that had to put me out of the class of the coward into the class of a man that is prepared to sell himself and his reputation for the sake of his country.
"I had to sell myself to a lot of criticism from people who didn't know what was really happening. I was blamed for being a Lundy and all sorts of things.
"When I look back, he that laughs last laughs the longest."
Eileen: "It was a very big step to take and it seemed, to some people who couldn't understand, that he was going back on everything that he said. But the situation was different, the situation changed."
Losing their lifelong friend, Desmond Boal
Eileen: "He came up with books that Ian had given him and he said to me, 'this isn't a friendly visit'. He said, 'I just can't believe he has done what he has done, and he said 'I don't want anything more to do with you'.
"I said, 'Desmond, I'm very sorry it has to come to that, but Ian had to do it – what could he do? Could you have him responsible for another 30 or 40 years of warfare and devastation and killing and murdering, or do what he did?' And I don't think he answered me. He just walked away. It was a very big blow, and we do miss him.
"He was a great character and he was great fun. A lovely person to come in and have as a friend. We had a very close friendship."
Accusations that he chose power before God
Ian: "I don't accept that at all. I regret that they have not the ear of God on this matter. I don't see them crowding into their prayer meetings. I don't see them emptying the matter in prayer.
"But they can pour all their fury on me, and I am broad enough in the shoulders and my stomach is strong enough to take all of the condemnations they want.
"Part of it, of course, is sour, sour grapes."
Free Presbyterians protest at Stormont
Ian: They talked about a moderatorship of the church and they wanted to say to me, 'you can't be moderator of the church and be the leader in this movement'. And of course they had no right to say that to anyone. This is a free country, and people have a right to go the way they should go."
Resignation as Free Presbyterian Church Moderator
Eileen: "There was no reason why he should stand down. He was doing a good job, as he had done all his life. There was nothing to stop him continuing with that and continuing his position as First Minister. But ... the damage had been done."
Ian: It was completely out of order to discuss the moderatorship in the way it was discussed, and without giving every member of the presbytery an opportunity to be there.
"I was not going to, in any way, destroy the testimony of the church. I wasn't going to stand in the way of people but, if I hadn't a solid foundation too, that the work of the Lord was going to be hindered, and I am not, was not a hinderer. I wanted to show people it's not the office that the man holds that is important – it is the spirit in which he holds it."
Feeling let down by church he founded
Eileen: "Our hearts were all broken for Ian. I felt that he had been deeply wounded in the house of his friends."
Leaving the DUP
Eileen: "I detected a nasty spirit arising from some of the other MPs and in the way they spoke to Ian. I was very annoyed at the way some of them spoke to him and addressed him. Whenever they said something to him about what was going on he said, 'Well, that's what should be done', and they said, 'Ach, Doc', sort of, 'Don't be so stupid'."
Special Adviser Timothy Johnston's party survey
Ian: "If they wanted to put me on trial why did they not put me on trial? Why did they not bring charges?
"You think that if it was so bad, that these people were so worried, they would have taken the opportunity to get a meeting together that would have had the power to say to me to get out or stay in, and of course that never was done.
Allegations against Ian Paisley Jnr
Ian: "They were disgraceful. They were absolutely disgraceful and they were disgraceful because the man that they put in my position couldn't keep his own seat in Westminster, and my son who followed me had a marvellous victory.
"Because losing seats in Northern Ireland is a very serious thing, and for East Belfast not to be a unionist seat in the House of Commons, that is a terrible blow."
Eileen: "Ian's name was cleared by the authorities in Stormont. Everything that was said against him was proved to be false."
The sense of hurt over the findings of the party survey
Ian: "Every man that has done a work has always been criticised. As the Scriptures tell us, friends – people, so-called friends – are probably secret enemies."
Eileen: "I was furious, to put it mildly, and I felt like taking (the survey) and ramming it down Timothy Johnston's throat."
Showdown at Stormont Castle
Ian: "Nigel Dodds said to me, 'we want you to be gone by Friday'. I just more or less smirked but Peter said, 'oh, no, no, no, he needs to stay in for another couple of months'.
"I think that, according to them they wanted – I sort of laughed – that one wanted two months to prepare the way for himself and the other one, I don't know what he wanted."
Eileen: "When (Ian) came in and he leaned over the chair and he said, 'the mighty Dodds wants me to go by the end of this week'.
"I said 'he's a cheeky sod to ask you to do any such thing and I said what authority was he?'
"I was angry and shocked because I thought of how he had been treated by Ian in Europe. Ian had given him this post to encourage him, and this is the thanks he gets at the end of the day. I think they treated him shamefully."
Thoughts on senior party members
Ian: "I've no feelings. I'm a very happy man. My wife still lives with me and loves me."
His relationship with Peter Robinson
Ian: "His ways are not my ways. He has to answer for how he works."
Last days as a preacher at Martyrs Memorial
Eileen: "I know he was heartbroken, and I believe that it was the heartbreak that made him ill, that took a toll on his health."
"We just could not fathom it and we couldn't understand why."
Planning for a funeral in 2012
Eileen: "Yes, yes, we did. We had to do that, and have discussions. I said, 'look, we have to think about it, we're not rushing into anything and we might not need it, and I hope we don't, but we've got to face facts'.
"For four days he was hovered between life and death. He got out of it on the ninth day. Those were heavy and oppressing days for us."
Ian: "I have no major regrets. I'm not an infallible, I never claimed to be the Pope.
"I was just Ian Paisley, an Ulsterman.
"I have regrets that we're not yet out of the difficulties that we have been in, and I have also rejoicing in my heart that I kept the faith."
Ian Paisley: Genesis to Revelation. Part 1
Belfast Telegraph Digital