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A venomous version of Ian Paisley's exit from public life

'Nigel Dodds said to me: we want you to be gone by Friday. I just smirked'

By Adrian Rutherford

Ian Paisley has said he was ordered to stand down as DUP leader and First Minister – claiming that Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds led the plot to oust him.

In an explosive TV interview, Mr Paisley makes a series of bombshell allegations about his 2008 resignation.

He claims he was confronted by Mr Robinson, who succeeded him as party leader and First Minister, and Mr Dodds, now the deputy leader, and given deadlines for his departure.

In a candid discussion to be screened by the BBC tonight, Mr Paisley says: "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'."

He added: "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."

The interview also notes:

  • An angry Mr Paisley told his wife: "The mighty Dodds wants me to go by the end of this week", with Eileen Paisley replying: "He's a cheeky sod to ask you to do any such thing";
  • A remark that some will view as a dig at Mr Robinson, when Mr Paisley says he has no feelings to those who showed him the door, adding that he is happy and has a wife who still loves him;
  • How Mrs Paisley said she wanted to take a secret party survey – alleged to have been compiled by Mr Paisley's special adviser Timothy Johnston discussing his capabilities – and "ram it down Timothy Johnston's throat";
  • Taunts from Mr Paisley at Mr Robinson losing his East Belfast seat at the 2010 General Election – a loss he brands "a terrible, terrible blow" for unionism;
  • An admission from Mr Paisley that he could not have the same relationship with Mr Robinson again, saying: "His ways are not my ways."

The interview is the second in a two-part series conducted by veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie and will air on BBC1 NI tonight.

It focuses on his departure from the Free Presbyterian Church, and his resignation as First Minister and DUP leader in March 2008.

Mr Paisley claims that the previous month, he was in his office at Stormont Castle preparing for a trip to Dublin.

Mr Robinson, Mr Dodds, Mr Johnston and Maurice Morrow, the DUP's then chief whip, were also present.

It was at this meeting that Mr Paisley alleges Mr Robinson and Mr Dodds told him to quit.

Recalling when her husband told her about Mr Dodds' alleged comments, Mrs Paisley states: "(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?"

In response to their former leader's claims, all four men told the BBC that no such meeting took place as described and said the timing of Mr Paisley's departure had been entirely a matter for him.

A week prior to the alleged ultimatum, Mr Paisley claims a confidential survey was conducted among DUP Assembly members questioning his capacity to do his job. The document contained seven questions which had apparently been put to DUP MLAs. Five of the questions addressed Mr Paisley's continued leadership.

The research is said to have questioned his capability, his judgment, and his "Chuckle Brothers behaviour" with Martin McGuinness.

According to the survey, 83% of MLAs believed Mr Paisley should retire in 2008, and that he should go soon.

Mr Paisley is asked what he thought the document was about.

"Getting rid of Ian Paisley," he replies.

Mrs Paisley said her husband returned home and threw the document down.

"I was furious, to put it mildly, and I felt like taking it and ramming it down Timothy Johnston's throat," she adds.

Mr Johnston, who is now Mr Robinson's senior adviser, told the BBC the survey was conducted at the request of Mr Paisley and rejected any suggestion it was framed with the intention of bringing about his party leader's removal.

While Mr Paisley agreed he had requested a survey, he insisted it was intended to be "a general view" of the party.

The survey also referred to controversy surrounding Mr Paisley's son, Ian Jnr, who resigned as a Stormont Minister in February 2008 amid controversy over a lobbying issue. He was ultimately cleared of wrong-doing by an Assembly watchdog.

However, the survey alleged Mr Paisley Jnr had been tainted by "scandal", adding that he was causing harm to the party.

Mr Paisley Snr said the remarks 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."

Mr Paisley said the survey showed the "hatred" for his son within the DUP, claiming some were "afraid of him" and were prepared to put seats into jeopardy for their own ends.

Mr Paisley is asked what his feelings are to those who showed him the door.

"I've no feelings. I'm a very happy man, my wife still lives with me and loves me," he replies.

This is seen as a jibe at Mr Robinson's marriage problems which emerged after his wife Iris had an affair with a teenager in 2009.

I believe his heartbreak over leaving the ministry made him ill, says Eileen

The heartbreak of being forced from the pulpit of the church he established caused the health problems that nearly killed Ian Paisley, his wife has claimed.

Mr Paisley has not set foot in Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast since stepping down from ministry in December 2011, and has told his family they are better not to worship there.

Tonight a BBC documentary claims his resignation followed a letter from the church's Kirk Session, signed by all seven elders, telling Mr Paisley to go.

The depth of ill-feeling is now so great that no member of the Paisley family worships in Martyrs Memorial. Mr Paisley says: "I think they're better not going to worship there because they would not be happy, and you don't go to church to sit on nails. You go to church to sit in a place where there is rest and peace."

Seven weeks after delivering his final sermon at Martyrs Memorial, Mr Paisley was rushed to hospital with heart failure.

Mrs Paisley states: "I know he was heartbroken, and I believe that it was the heartbreak that made him ill, that took a toll on his health."

Tonight's documentary deals extensively with Mr Paisley's removal in 2007 as Free Presbyterian moderator and ministry at Martyrs Memorial.

Mr Paisley had set up the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951 and served as moderator for most of its history.

Although he stepped down from the role in January 2008, he continued to preach in Martyrs Memorial on the Ravenhill Road.

Tonight's interview touches on the growing unease that was felt within the church at its moderator's move into government with Sinn Fein.

It states that within weeks of the St Andrews Agreement, which paved the way for power-sharing, a church delegation went to Stormont to confront Mr Paisley about his twin roles as First Minister and moderator.

Mr Paisley tells the programme: "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."

The campaign of opposition to Mr Paisley's dual role came to a head in September 2007 at the annual general meeting of the church's presbytery at Martyrs Memorial.

It is at that meeting each year that the moderator is elected. For 50 years Mr Paisley's leadership had gone unchallenged. But conflict effectively split the church that night.

Mrs Paisley said she encouraged her husband to stand his ground and remain as moderator.

"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," she said.

After a five-hour meeting with elders and ministers, it was announced Mr Paisley would resign, but would stay on to January.

"If I had resigned immediately they would have broken up the church that night and they would have created their own brand of leaders," Mr Paisley added.

"They would have announced to their world that the Paisley leadership was finished and the Free Presbyterian Church was under new management."

Mrs Paisley said: "Our hearts were all broken for Ian."

By late 2011 arrangements were being made to remove Mr Paisley from the pulpit of his beloved Martyrs Memorial, where he continued to preach.

The final blow came in a letter from the Kirk Session, signed by all seven elders of Martyrs Memorial. The message was clear – they wanted Mr Paisley out.

Mrs Paisley said they were shocked by the letter, and she felt "absolutely shattered".

"We just could not fathom it and we couldn't understand why," she said. "As a matter of fact one of them said he was destroying the church – he was wrecking the church, that was his terms."

The Belfast Telegraph contacted the church yesterday about the delegation's visit to Stormont.

One of those present gave a brief explanation, but asked not to be quoted because it was The Lord's Day.

Paisley: The gloves are off with re-opening of political wounds Paisley: The vitriolic tongue of an ambitious and self-important leader Ian Paisley’s wrath for DUP successor Peter Robinson who ‘broke his heart’ A bitter footnote to a political career

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