Belfast Telegraph

Paisley on TV proves some things should be left unsaid

By Alf McCreary

So there it is. You have read the stories and heard the radio and television programmes on Ian Paisley. Was he a political hero badly treated by his church and the DUP, or a vain and embittered old man who vindictively put the boot into each of them?

The answer is probably a bit of both, depending on your point of view, but you would not have learned much more from this week's Nolan Show on local BBC television which tried to drain the last dregs from the muddy water in the bucket.

Nevertheless, I still found it watchable, even though the production had major flaws. It was totally pointless, for example, to bring in Peter Hain to talk about programmes he had not seen.

It was also beside the point to linger on material from those who outlined Paisley's major political achievement in power sharing but ignored his latter-day comments, which was what the programme was all about.

I also have a regard for Stephen Nolan's style, but he is not always a good listener. Just when Jim Allister of the TUV had made one very important point, and had promised another one, Nolan moved on.

However, Mr Allister with whom I usually disagree politically, was fair about Paisley to the point of magnaminity. I also largely agreed with the incisive comments of my former Queen's journalistic colleague Eamonn McCann. Nevertheless, the question remains, Why did Ian Paisley make the programmes? It was a fundamental mistake, and he diminished himself as a result. I wonder how Ian Jnr and his daughter Rhonda ever allowed him to go through with it?

The two programmes were well put together, but they reminded me of how abusive Ian Paisley had been for most of his political life.

This is the man who poured vitriol on this newspaper and distinguished Editor Jack Sayers, my first boss, who helped to pioneer power sharing, and then Paisley founded his own paper in opposition.

This is the man who destroyed successive leaders of unionism and, as Eamonn McCann pointed out, we might have had an agreement much earlier if Paisley had left them alone.

Ian Paisley has much for which to answer, and yet the fact remains that he was the only unionist who could have led his party into power sharing with Sinn Fein. In that his reputation remains secure.

In that context, I have genuine sympathy with Dr Paisley and his strongly-minded wife Eileen who made big personal sacrifices for the common good, and who knew that they would lose friends by doing so.

After that point, however, Paisley made a fundamental mistake – like so many older men – of not going before he was pushed. That is the law of the natural and political jungle.

I was at Dungannon Free Presbyterian Church on the night he was eased out, though the media could not prove then that this was what really happened.

It is also important to point out that the Free Presbyterians were never 'a breakaway group' from the much larger Irish Presbyterian Church, but instead largely an invention of Paisley himself.

The general mood about Ian Paisley now is probably more of sadness than of anger, if not derision, and it's as if you had heard your grandparent saying unpleasant things in public which should have been kept in the living room. Mud thrown is always ground lost.

Dr Paisley may say "Je ne regrette rien", but it is sad that a man who achieved one really major claim to historical fame should spend his last days raking in the muddy pool. He should have remembered the old Irish maxim: "Whatever you say, say nothing!"

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