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Paisley: The gloves are off with re-opening of political wounds


Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson

If we thought Northern Ireland had heard the last of Ian Paisley, his extraordinarily explicit BBC interview reveals how wrong we were.

The outspoken comments by the former DUP leader and his wife Eileen about how he was removed from his offices of church and state will shake a few pillars at Stormont in the days ahead.

Many may well ask what possessed the Paisleys to speak out as they have done now. One conclusion to be drawn is that Ian Paisley long harboured the thought that Peter Robinson was too big for his boots.

Mr Robinson has survived much in his personal and political life as First Minister since he took over from Paisley six years ago. However, a direct attack from the man he mentored for much of his adult life, in a party which rarely allowed dissent to reach the public ear, is deeply embarrassing for the current leadership.

The interview conducted by Eamonn Mallie with the Paisleys reveals astonishing recriminations about what went on behind the closeted doors of the DUP in the final days of Ian Paisley as First Minister.

The gloves have come off. A veil has been lifted to reveal that evangelical Protestant Ulster is not quite as Christian in its actions as it wishes others to think. Words like "sleaze", "hatred" and "dirty tricks" pepper the air.

What old wounds will re-open within unionism, what further recriminations may now surface, where the dust will settle, is anybody's guess.

In 2007 Ian Paisley granted me a lengthy interview in the First Minister's office at Stormont. As curious as so many people were at that time to understand why he agreed to share power with Martin McGuinness, I asked Paisley whom he had consulted.

His reply was illuminating. "I discuss everything with my wife. We pray together, read the Bible together every morning before I go out and we are very, very close...

"It (the decision to share power with Sinn Fein) was something which was with us night and day. There was no one else I could really take confidence with -- in our house nothing leaks beyond the walls so we were absolutely at one on that."

I remember thinking if that were the level of trust the DUP leader had with those around him, his days as First Minister might be numbered.

Now it emerges that the parting of the political ways was far from amicable in the Paisleys' eyes. The interview with Mallie shows that they are in no mood to forget. The adulation and affection displayed towards the former leader of the party at gatherings since he stood down does not square with his bitter resentfulness at how he was treated.

The DUP will hope that the interviews will be dismissed by the party faithful as the forgetful ramblings of an octogenarian. Baroness Paisley says he was "left with no other option but to step down".

She doesn't miss the wall with her comments such as: "I think he was treated shamefully."

In the post-Paisley era, the DUP has moved on and widened its base substantially to take in more and more mainstream unionists. Nevertheless the manner in which Paisley was told to go and the role played by Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds and others in persuading him to stand down from office, makes for riveting viewing.

The interview also provides a rare insight into the working of a party not noted for dissent within its ranks.

Is there anyone in the new DUP moulded together by Peter Robinson who still shares the resentment of the Paisleys? It is too early to tell but the Paisleys have cast a dark shadow over relationships within the party. Ian Paisley has savaged his successor in the most personal as well as political terms.

Meanwhile, the pressure is building on the First Minister from other directions with regard to the proposals of Richard Haass. Mr Robinson appears to have the might of Washington bearing down on him to break the deadlock over Haass.

Leaving aside the embarrassment caused by the Paisleys, the First Minister has his work cut out in the weeks ahead.

Having survived all that has been thrown at him to date, Mr Robinson now faces a test of a different kind, one that will tell us a lot about his hold on his party and his leadership of the Executive.


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