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Paisley: The ordinary man in street has come out and backed me

Part two of the exclusive interview with the First Minister

In the second part of his Belfast Telegraph TV interview, Ian Paisley tells Editor-in-Chief Ed Curran about getting on with Gordon Brown and Bertie Ahern, shedding tears with victims, causing pain - and being remembered simply as papa ...

EC: Do you have some pangs of conscience about arriving at the position where you are embracing these people who have killed so many of the people that you yourself knew?

IP: Well I am not embracing them. I think that is a bit of an exaggeration? I believe that the victims of the Troubles were people of great wonderment to me. Now, the other day I received a letter, and it was from a mother and she lost both her sons in the RUC? And she said, 'Mr Paisley, I just want to tell you today, in this little letter I felt I should write to you, how I feel as a mother bereft of two of her sons, but I must also say to you I believe you have done the right thing. We cannot live forever in a situation like we had in Northern Ireland and I am quite prepared to pay the price with you if we are going to have a situation of peace in our land.'

Another man came to me, he had no legs, he was wheeled into my office, and he said to me - weeping - he said, if any man should hate the IRA, he and I hated it, but he said I had done the right thing.

Now I have received scores of messages like that, and one when I went home last night - a lady rang me and said the same to me, sent me the message, said you did the right thing and don't let people worry you, she says.

... In fact I have had more criticism from people who never suffered in these Troubles, who have been very angry - who never suffered, they never had a son killed, they never had anything.

In fact, I attended more funerals in this country than any other living man at the time of the Troubles, and I mean I was received in all of those homes, and they know, people know that Ian Paisley was broken-hearted, as he followed - I followed many of my dearest friends to the cemetery and wept over them? The majority of victims I think are angry, with the fact the way the British Government treated them, I think that is where their anger is.

EC: Do you see? divisions breaking down, or do you see and continue to see Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic communities living apart and having their own respective cultures? Which do you think should follow?

IP: I think that there is on both sides a welcome to what has happened. I believe there's a feeling on the Roman Catholic side especially - I mean I have had letters from people (laughs) who I suppose months ago or even years ago would have cussed me?

EC: Are you for integration or for segregation?

IP: What I believe is: you can believe what you believe, but you have to have a look at the other person and say he has to live too. So I think there is room in Northern Ireland for a coming together.

In my young days I played with Roman Catholics - in fact, I sent my children to a Roman Catholic-mixed school? I believe that people should know that they can live and the people next door to them are entirely different.

But that is not a matter for fighting and for hatred and for to kill them. It is a matter to say, 'Well, you have your religion, I have mine.' And I believe that it is very important that that emphasis is put.

You have got to live and you have got to let live. But of course in a time of war things differ, as you know, and I mean I have been outspoken, uh, on both sides?

EC: Do you have any regrets about any of the things that you have said over the years, or actions that you have done?

IP: Well, I may have said things in a way that hurt people, but I think they needed to be said in that way, for if I hadn't have said them in that way no-one would have listened.

And I had just to suffer that. But I mean I defy you to bring to me any Roman Catholic to me in this province, and I have been in it a long time, who can point the finger at me and say, 'Look there is a man, he was an MP and he would do nothing for me'.

I have served the people... I mean everybody knows that I have served my constituents. I don't care whether they are Roman Catholics or Protestants. In fact, I never ask them.

EC: Some people have suggested? that the British Government has been pretty mean - and Gordon Brown in particular - with you and the new power-sharing administration? What is your view on that?

IP: Well we have an economic package? It is not as good as it should be, and it is not as good as it will be, but I think that we hit the ground at a very rough time, because there was great difference between 10 Downing Street and 11 Downing Street? And I don't think that Mr Brown is a Stalinite.

I think he is a decent man. And he knows Northern Ireland, and he knows it because he was brought up in a Presbyterian manse and there is a great likeness between the Scottish situation in many ways and our situation.

EC: So you don't think he is a bit tight?

IP: What?

EC: A bit tight, like the Scots have a reputation for being tight.

IP: No, what I think is this here: the man had other very important things on his plate at that time. And I think we did... maybe we did not put the case as well as we could have done, I don't know.

But I think that there's... this examination of the Treasury is going on at the moment. There are other things going on, and I know that we are going to get more money than we are supposed to be saying.

But, I think it is right to say that the British Government did the wrong thing, they took European money? and they used it on Northern Ireland's ordinary expenses? It should have been used for other things.

And they let... This province went to the wall. I mean, water and sewerage is a crying out shame the way it was left, and I feel the British Government now have to answer for their sins.

And they don't like to be told that there should be accountability. Now we have a very prosperous south of Ireland, but the south of Ireland received for a period of over five years, they received £5m a day. Now if you gave me £5m a day I could have been vouched for it. And they spent it well, I take off my hat to them, they spent it well.

EC: And speaking of the Republic of course, you appear to have struck up a particularly good friendship with the Taoiseach there, Bertie Ahern, and what is it that actually attracts you to him?

IP: Well, I don't think (laughs) I am attracted, just he happens to be the Taoiseach of the Republic. I have always believed, as I have said, I don't want to build hedges. I want to be a neighbour? but I am not going to sell what I believe and my principles for him or for anyone else.

And he knows that, and I think that the Taoiseach realises that I am a straight man and I will tell him. And we are very brutally frank with one another and yet we get on all right because he realises that I am an Ulsterman and he has enough sense to know the characteristics in Ulster people. You can't talk to them except you recognise them.

EC: Now here we are sitting here in this office which has been, in fact, the office of Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland going back to the days of Captain Terence O'Neill and outside those windows I recall in the distant past, I think, you throwing snowballs or certainly a protest at the then?

IP: I did throw snowballs?

EC: ... Irish Taoiseach coming north and daring to come through those gates here at Stormont?

IP: That's right.

EC: ... and now you are actually shaking hands with the same man.

IP: Well, of course there has been a great change. I mean we haven't the same belligerent attitude of the South on the constitution of our country. In fact they tell us they have accepted the constitution of our country. I am not so sure about that (laughs), but that is a matter for another argument, another day. But all I am saying is this here: I have not changed my basic principles and never will, they are ingrained on my heart, and they know that.

And when they talk to me they are talking to an old-fashioned Ulster Unio nist. But I think that there are many things that we have allowed ourselves not to put emphasis on. I was speaking last night at the Somme ceremony on the memorial of Redmond.

How many people in Northern Ireland realise that the brother of the leader of the nationalists in the south of Ireland was a soldier, he was an MP in Westminster, he went and fought and died for the Empire and he was an Empire unionist? He wasn't a unionist in our sense because he wanted Ireland to be self-governing but still be in the Empire. And he was that. That is all forgotten because de Valera's policy was to say, 'Brand everybody who fought in the war as really deceivers and betrayers of the Irish people.' That is not so.

We need to remind ourselves that many Roman Catholics and many people from the south of Ireland in World War One gave their lives just like the Ulster Division at the Somme. And that needs to be emphasised.

I was never taught in school here, I was never taught my Ulster history, and that is to be regretted. I think our children should be taught Ulster, not that they grow up to hate people but that they know the facts of what took place in the old days. That would be a lot better.

EC: ... It has been said that what has happened in Northern Ireland is an example to places like the Middle East and elsewhere. What is your view on that?

IP: Well I think they have, they can take a leaf out of our book, and they can realise what the issues are. But of course every country is different and circumstances are different.

But I think that Northern Ireland has given a bit of light to the world at this time. I think it is amazing but there is a hype among the Ulster people at the moment, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and we can put our foot forward and we can look to the future and we can get something for our families and build a better country for those that come after us? What I am afraid of us is that people can expect too much and don't get it.

You know, they could expect too much. We are going to do our very best here, in this Assembly, to make Ulster what it should be.

EC: And finally Dr Paisley, how would you like to be remembered by your grandchildren?

IP: Well I'd just like to be remembered by my grandchildren as Papa that played with them, crept under the table, had really good times (laughs) with them. They all love me. I have ten grandchildren.

EC: Not as the man who saved Ulster?

IP: Well, ah, but you asked about my grandchildren, you asked about that. No, I don't think I have saved? I made my contribution and I have done what is right.

But I think it is the ordinary man in the street that is taken a lead and has backed me? I am nothing, but I am something because of the backing of the people? I am confident we are going to see better days in Ulster and I think we are laying a foundation and I think we can build upon it.

I sometimes laugh when I come into this room, for I remember being in this room when there was some very hard words said by leading politicians from time to time. Here I am, sitting in peace in this room looking out three windows at the same time and looking over this beautiful place that Stormont is based in, and I have said: 'Well, one never knows what happens in one's life'.

I never thought I would sit here, I never thought I would be in a place where I could really influence governments the way I wanted to influence them.

EC: Dr Paisley, thank you very much indeed.

IP: Thank you.

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