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Paisley interview: The key players in an unfolding DUP drama


EILEEN PAISLEY: Wife of former First Minister

It was a chance remark by her brother which led to a young Eileen Cassells first setting eyes on Ian Paisley, resulting in a marriage and a love story spanning more than half-a-century.

Fiercely protective of her husband, it is Mrs Paisley who delivers the most venomous and scathing verdict about his ousting as DUP leader and Free Presbyterian Moderator.

In the BBC documentary, she recalls how she first met Mr Paisley after joining her brother on a trip to hear him preach. "He had always a twinkle and a brightness about him. He wasn't a flirt, he was just bright," she recalls.

Although she took a back seat to her husband in later years, the 80-year-old had been involved in politics herself. Mrs Paisley was elected as a Belfast councillor for the Protestant Unionist Party, the forerunner to the DUP, in the 1960s.

She represented East Belfast in the 1973 Assembly and the 1975/76 Convention. Then in 1982 she stood in for her husband on a joint DUP-Ulster Unionist publicity tour of the United States after Mr Paisley was refused a visa.

In 2006 she was one of three DUP members appointed to the House of Lords.

However, Mrs Paisley shows no mercy for senior party members in the interview, accusing them of treating her husband "shamefully".

"I think they assassinated him by their words and by their deeds and by the way they treated him," she states.

She also delivers a scathing judgment on Nigel Dodds following claims the North Belfast MP told her husband to resign.

"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'," she adds. "I said he's a cheeky sod to ask you to do any such thing and I said what authority has he?"

There are also personal jibes at Peter Robinson, including a remark branding his family a source of "sleaze" -- an apparent reference to the sex scandal which engulfed his wife Iris four years ago.

Referring to DUP members' unfounded allegations of sleaze surrounding her son, Ian junior, Mrs Paisley pointedly remarks: "He never brought any sleaze, his wife didn't do anything wrong."

She adds: "He didn't do anything wrong, there was nothing morally wrong with his character and his life, and we know eventually where the sleaze did come from. It came in the home of the man who's now leader himself -- Peter Robinson."

Mrs Paisley also claims 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 (his) throat".

She is equally scathing about her husband's resignation as Free Presbyterian Moderator in 2007, claiming that "poison had been laid".

Mrs Paisley also claims the heartbreak of being forced from the pulpit of the church he helped establish caused the health problems that nearly killed him in early 2012.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Jr pictured after winning the North Antrim seat with his father Dr Ian Paisley

IAN PAISLEY JNR: MP son of former First Minister

Like many sons, Ian Paisley jnr wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and he inherited the North Antrim seat vacated by his father at the 2010 Westminster election.

But the Paisley family claim that his popularity among voters -- which was underlined by the crushing manner of his victory over TUV candidate Jim Allister -- was a source of jealousy and friction within the DUP.

Born in 1966, Ian jnr is the youngest of Mr and Mrs Paisley's five children.

Mr Paisley jnr was elected as an MLA for North Antrim in 1998, and was appointed a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Executive in 2007.

He resigned his post the following year amid controversy over his links to a property developer.

However, an Assembly watchdog ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The internal party survey cited in last night's TV interview -- alleged to have been compiled by special adviser Timothy Johnston -- is said to have referred to controversy which surrounded Mr Paisley jnr.

It is said to have alleged Mr Paisley jnr was tainted by "sleaze" and "scandal", and suggested that he was causing harm to the party.

Mr Paisley snr says the remarks were "disgraceful" and taunts his successor, Peter Robinson, about the loss of his East Belfast parliamentary seat in 2010.

"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, and for once, we're seeing the true nature of the beast," he says.

"There was a beast here who was prepared to go forward to the destruction of the party.

"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 is a terrible, terrible blow."

The survey claimed Ian jnr was not capable of bringing anything other than scandal on the party and added that he had helped to destroy his father -- claims which Ian snr dismisses.

"That's nonsense," says the former DUP leader. "It shows the hatred that they had for him."

Asked why he thought the document accused his son of causing scandal, Mr Paisley snr claims it was the result of fear and jealousy.

"Because they're afraid of him. That's why," he replies.

"They're afraid that the people like him.

"It's a terrible thing that they are prepared to put even seats into jeopardy for their own ends.

"And no doubts about it, they got their first terrible and rude awakening when Peter Robinson was defeated.

"That was a tremendous setback."

Mr Robinson, who had held East Belfast since 1979, was defeated by Alliance's Naomi Long in the 2010 election.

On the same night Mr Paisley jnr claimed a crushing win over Mr Allister, who had left the DUP three years earlier to establish his own party, Traditional Unionist Voice.

Mr Paisley jnr took over 46% of the vote, holding the seat his father had vacated with a 12,558 majority.

He is the DUP's spokesman on work and pensions and Defra, and a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster. He also writes a newspaper column.

Timothy Johnston, DUP

TIMOTHY JOHNSTON: Former political adviser to Paisley

Special advisers are an esoteric bunch. They are supposedly bound by very strict rules and regulations (they are, after all, funded by the taxpayer) but ultimately their loyalty is to their political master, their career, their party and lucrative future opportunities in the private or quango sector.

A select handful exercise enormous influence at the heart of Government -- far more than elected representatives and ministers. And some make the key calls which determine the strategy and direction a party will take.

Timothy Johnston is one of that select handful. A former member of the UUP, he drifted, like so many other educated, articulate young unionists, to the DUP. And, like them, he found in Peter Robinson someone who was willing to deploy their talents and listen to their advice.

Johnston -- like Simon Hamilton, Peter Weir, Arlene Foster, Jeffrey Donaldson et al -- was not anti-Good Friday Agreement as such, but did believe that the UUP was being too soft.

He was director of communications for the DUP in the period around St Andrews and the final Sinn Fein/DUP deal in 2007 and took part in a Harvard-based programme "designed to sharpen the party's negotiating skills".

Even at that early stage, people in the UK/Irish/US administrations had identified him as one of Robinson's "strategic modernisers". Indeed, so influential was he in Robinson's inner circle that, in August 2006, one journalist noted: "The clear perception is Johnston need only click his fingers and experienced MLAs and MPs will dance to their spin doctor's tunes."

He also had a reputation for taking no prisoners, warning journalist Brian Rowan -- working on a story in November in 2005 about DUP/SF contacts -- "the party, or any members named, would not hesitate to take action through the courts and/or Press/media regulatory bodies as appropriate in order to correct any inaccuracies which may appear and will use this and other previously sent correspondence as an indication of prior warning having been given".

He became Paisley's special adviser when he was appointed First Minister in May 2007 and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he was put there to "keep an eye" on him.

Paisley accuses him (an accusation denied in a personal statement from Johnston) of using a survey of MLAs to undermine his leadership and further suggests that he was, along with Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Lord Morrow, behind a plot to remove him from office in February 2008.

Like so much of what goes on at the very heart of a successful and powerful political party, we will never know the full story of Paisley's overthrow.

Robinson is now First Minister and Johnston quickly established himself as his eminence grise: never far from his side, never far from his ear. Robinson relies on him and trusts him and that's what makes him so influential.

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First Minister Peter Robinson remains opposed to a blanket amnesty

PETER ROBINSON: Paisley's former deputy

A founding member of the DUP, Peter Robinson has been an executive member of the party since 1973.

He was elected deputy leader in 1980 and he continued to hold the post until he was appointed leader in April 2008, following the retirement of Ian Paisley.

Mr Robinson served as MP for East Belfast from 1979 until 2010.

In the BBC documentary Mr Paisley alleges Mr Robinson was part of a plot to oust him as DUP leader -- a claim Mr Robinson denies.

During the interview, Eamonn Mallie refers to an internal survey alleged to have been compiled on Mr Paisley's leadership.

Asked what it was about, he replies: "Getting rid of Ian Paisley", adding that it had been carried out "in the interests of the people who took over".

He is asked if that included Mr Robinson, replying: "Oh yes, he would have been."

Mr Paisley also says he could no longer have the same relationship with Mr Robinson, adding: "His ways are not my ways."

In a statement released on Sunday night, Mr Robinson responded: "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."

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DUP Leader Peter Robinson with Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds (right) at the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) annual conference at the La Mon Hotel Co Down. Picture date: Saturday November 23, 2013. Photo by Paul Faith

NIGEL DODDS: Current deputy DUP leader

After a period as a barrister, Nigel Dodds worked at the Secretariat of the European Parliament between 1984 and 1985 as an assistant to Ian Paisley, who was then an MEP for Northern Ireland.

He served on Belfast City Council between 1985 and 2010, including two terms as Lord Mayor.

In the 1998, 2003 and 2007 Assembly elections, he topped the poll for his north Belfast constituency.

He has been MP for north Belfast since 2001.

Mr Paisley has claimed that Mr Dodds was present at a meeting at Stormont Castle in February 2008.

Mr Paisley says: "Nigel Dodds said to me, 'We want you to be gone by Friday'. I just more or less smirked, but Peter (Robinson) said, 'Oh, no, no, no, he needs to stay in for another couple of months'."

Recalling when her husband told her about Mr Dodds' alleged comments, Eileen 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 a statement, Mr Dodds said: "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."

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Lord Morrow

MAURICE MORROW: DUP party chairman

Lord Morrow is one of Northern Ireland’s longest serving public representatives, having been first elected to Fermanagh District Council in 1973.

He has been a member of the Assembly since 1998 and was made one of the first DUP peers in the House of Lords in 2006.

He recently stepped down as a member of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council.

Mr Paisley claims Lord Morrow — then the party’s chief whip — was present at the Stormont Castle meeting when Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds told him to go. There is no criticism of Lord Morrow in the programme.

Lord Morrow said: “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.”

Like his party leader, Baron Morrow of Clogher Valley is a former estate agent.

As Maurice Morrow he served as Minister for Social Development in the Assembly in 2000-1, when he was credited with introducing measures to combat welfare fraud. He is currently sponsoring the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill in the Assembly. Last year, his constituency office was ransacked and flooded by burglars.

Lord Morrow is married and has two daughters.


From Belfast Telegraph