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Paisley says no for last time . . . to the Belfast Telegraph

A claim to fame at last. Excluded from an interview with First Minister Ian Paisley.

At least it shows he can still say no.

Northern Ireland's media organisations were each invited to send representatives to Stormont Castle yesterday for interviews, marking his imminent retirement from front-line politics.

I was informed of the plan by a senior DUP press officer on Wednesday evening, but warned that I would not be welcome myself.

Presumably, this was not unconnected to my reporting over the last year on controversies involving the First Minister, his MLA son Ian Junior, and their connections to property developer Seymour Sweeney.

But there were two obvious problems with the wish to exclude me.

Firstly, politicians don't get to tell newspapers who to send to a story.

That's particularly important in the case of governing parties, unless we're going to move towards a Northern Ireland version of the Soviet Union's Pravda.

Secondly, on a more practical level, a number of my Telegraph colleagues were unavailable, so I was adjudged by my bosses to be the most suitable person for the job.

Despite its repeated warnings, the DUP was informed that I was being despatched.

The interviews were being run in relay, and the Telegraph was to go in along with reporters from the Irish News and Press Association.

The sessions were running late, but emerging TV political correspondents told us that Mr Paisley was in good form, relaxed and reflective. It sounded like he was demob happy ahead of stepping down as both party leader and First Minister.

Our turn finally arrived, and the same DUP press officer made clear there would be no photographers to begin with. He also needed a "quick word" with me.

"He's not going to do it," was the blunt message.

It was confirmed that it was Mr Paisley's decision to veto me personally.

And that was that.

The other two reporters filed towards the room within Stormont Castle where the DUP leader was waiting.

I headed back out, into the sunshine and past the spot where Ian Paisley Jnr announced his Ministerial resignation in February.

I'm not going to pretend for a second that I was in any way affronted.

The First Minister was within his rights to keep me out.

At the same time, we are entitled to draw attention to his decision.

It may leave him open to accusations of being spiteful, petty and even childish.

So be it.

There is a more serious point too.

Another senior Stormont politician was recently asked about a Belfast Telegraph opinion poll, showing many people were not overly impressed with the first year of devolution.

He did not challenge the finding, but suggested the Executive had to sell its message more effectively.

Refusing to talk to people might not be the best way to do that.

Belfast Telegraph


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