Paisley Went Into Government With Sinn Féin Because the Unionist Side Won
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
13 September 2014
(Audio clip of news broadcast is played and transcribed here).
Broadcaster: Ian Paisley was born in Armagh in 1926. His father was a Baptist minister. His mother, too, was a preacher. He grew up in Ballymena, a town which was to become his political power base. But long before the birth of “Paisley the Politician” there was “Paisley the Preacher”. He delivered his first sermon at a mission hall in Co. Tyrone at the age of sixteen. Four years later he was ordained and he created his own Free Presbyterian Church.
In was in the 1960's when political came to the fore. Nationalism and Republicanism were the enemy and Ian Paisley was ready for battle. He believed the Dublin government could not be trusted and when the then Taoiseach Seán Lemass was invited to Belfast in 1965 by Prime Minister Terence O'Neill Dr. Paisley was outraged. He led a thousand Loyalist to Stormont. It was proof, if proof were needed, that he was now both a religious and a political leader.
Paisley: If this is the way that O'Neill wants to play it we declare our intention from this platform that we will organise massive demonstrations (inaudible)!
Broadcaster: The arrival of another Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, at Stormont two years later provoked a snowball protest. He was never afraid to take to the streets to make his point. He was sent to prison in 1968 convicted of organising an illegal march. Thousands protested. The membership of the Free Presbyterian Church doubled and on his release he was greeted as a martyr.
Paisley: No surrender! God save the King! And down with Lundy!
Broadcaster: He mounted his own counter-demonstrations against the civil rights campaign. And in 1970 he stood as a Protestant Unionist and was elected to the Stormont Parliament. It was the start of a remarkable career.
(Audio clip ends)
SB: And we are going over to Ed Moloney, who is the author of Paisley: From Demagogue to Democrat. And I would say that you could no more understand Paisley without reading this book than you can understand The Troubles and the peace process without understanding Paisley. So Ed, thank you very much for being with us.
EM: No problem. Just one small correction, Sandy: There's a question mark after “democrat” - it's not a statement it's actually a question. In other words, questioning whether Ian Paisley ever really became a democrat in the proper sense.
SB: Well, speaking of that, Ed, I mean I think that in many ways Paisley could be the dominant person in The Troubles. He's there in 1966 before it's credited with starting. He helped provoke The Troubles. He brings down three Unionist Prime Ministers because he says they are “soft on Republicanism”. He founds his own political party, the Democratic Unionist Party, devoted to: not a single inch - not a concession to Republicanism.
But then he signs the Good Friday Agreement, becomes the First Minister of Northern with Martin McGuinness, former Chief of Staff of the IRA, as his Deputy Minister. Ed, what everybody asks is: How do we account for that transition?
EM: Well, I mean that more or less - what you've just described there – was essentially the sort of coverage that we got wall-to-wall yesterday. And Paisley was being described for example in The New York Times as “agitator turned peacemaker”. But there is like a very, very big caveat that one must add to all of that and that is that: The Republican Movement that he went into government with is not the Republican Movement that was resisting Unionist rule and trying to overthrow the British for the best part of three or four decades.
The Republican Movement that he went into power with, in the form of Martin McGuinness as his Deputy First Minister, was an organisation that had: decommissioned its weapons, had accepted the Principle of Consent, recognised the PSNI - all of which were conditions that he and his party had made for being involved in government with Sinn Féin.
They basically were saying: Unless you do these things – which one would argue – anyone who knows what Irish Republicanism is all about – that these are the defining characteristics in the sense of the IRA and Sinn Féin of the past – you know - that they: Refused to accept the idea that Northern Ireland had a right to a separate existence, they believed in the Irish people's as a whole right to self-determination, they believed that as long as that was denied there was a moral right to take up weapons and they would not recognise the forces of the state and they certainly wouldn't take their seats in the various Parliaments. All of those things they did. And Ian Paisley wouldn't go into power – wouldn't share power - until and unless they did all those things and when they did them then he went into power.
Well, I think that put a different colour on the entire story because it's really a story about him accepting going into government with someone basically who had changed out of all recognition – who was no longer the military threat that they once were to the existence of the Northern Ireland state.
So I think that sort of puts – in a proper context – Ian Paisley's transition. And it's not really a transition in that sense - he'd won. You know you could argue that the reason why Paisley went into government with Sinn Féin was because the Unionist side won! And he was claiming his spoils.
Now admittedly, he'd have to share power with Martin McGuinness, but I would say in a certain sense that most of the DUP said at the time: That was a small price to pay.
JM: Ed, in a lot of the write-ups I see there's hardly any mention about his connection to the United States. Maybe you could talk about how he's “Doctor” Paisley and his connection with Bob Jones University down in South Carolina. Because his oratory speeches and his sermons would be well familiar to southern Baptists the way he speaks.
EM: Oh, yeah. America was like extremely important to Ian Paisley. And the American South, the Baptists of the southern states - places South Carolina and Alabama and so on and so forth - have always played an important role in that sort of extreme fringe of Protestant Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in Northern Ireland and he was part of that.
Bob Jones, Sr, the patriarch – the guy who actually started the dynasty that led to the creation of the university and all that sort of thing was a very close personal friend who officiated at the opening ceremonies at the Martyrs' Memorial Church in East Belfast - this huge sort of semi-cathedral that Paisley built when his popularity was at its height.
And he spent a lot of time in South Carolina at Bob Jones University. And it was Bob Jones University that gave him this honorary doctorate. He didn't study for this doctorate. He didn't do a thesis or a series of exams or anything like that – it was an honorary like are handed out every year in any university in the world. And he got that and he therefore calls himself “Doctor” Ian Paisley although really he wasn't in the academic sense a proper doctor.
And he owed the American side of the Baptist movement a big debt because when he started out as a preacher – you know he's from Ballymena - family originally from Tyrone but they moved to Co. Antrim. And you know what the Co. Antrim accent is like – you know it's very, very strong. And he would preach – but he'd preach in this very rural, country accent that was to a lot of people, particularly in Belfast, difficult to understand. Well, the American gave him tuition and training in delivering speeches and they soften his accent and made it what we now recognise it to be. Occasionally you could hear him revert back to the Ballymena, to the Co. Antrim accent, particularly when he was agitated, but he kept that under control. So that gave him the power and the opportunity to communicate with a much larger slice of the Protestant population.
And he was recognised by the American Baptists as a very, very powerful preacher – someone whom they respected because of his oratorical skills. And they were considerable skills. And of course he was also a very charming man in private and I guess that didn't do him any harm over there either.
SB: Ed, was it difficult for Paisley to persuade his Democratic Unionist Party to accept power sharing? After all, the rank-and-file of the Democratic Unionist Party had been among the most anti-Catholic people in Northern Ireland. I mean, certainly some of them had been affiliated with the Protestant paramilitaries, they had been recruited from his Free Presbyterian Church largely on the basis of: This is the anti-Catholic party. What did he have to do to persuade them?
EM: Well, it's very interesting that you say that because one of the features of the peace process that is verboten, forbidden, for most journalists to go near at all and that is the symmetry between the response of the IRA grassroots to their ceasefire in 1994 and the response of the DUP grassroots who the sight on TV of Ian Paisley sitting at the corner of the table with Gerry Adams and the accompanying announcement that they were going to go into government - in both cases the grassroots were shocked.
In the IRA's case they'd been told repeatedly – and there was a very interesting interview with Tony Catney recently which appeared on Anthony McIntyre's site - in which he reveals some of this - that you know – that they were told - the grassroots were told by their leadership – and this is in 1993-1994 in the lead up to the ceasefire - all this talk about ceasefire was nonsense – it was being put around by the British to cause mischief and so on and so forth. Not true as we now know.
And equally on the DUP side there was like absolute shock and horror - because this was like – this was breaking – this was sacrilege – and perhaps even they were more shocked than the grassroots of the IRA were at their u-turn or their change because it was such a central part of their existence – this hatred and detestation of everything that was Republican – and that was also reflected inside the Assembly party in the DUP.
And really the way that the DUP got it through was essentially to do what we now see they're beginning to do which is to say that: This was a temporary arrangement – that they were going to go into with Sinn Féin – in no way would this be permanent – this would not be a permanent system of governance for Northern Ireland - and at the appropriate moment they would start to make moves to return to some form of majority rule albeit with guarantees to Catholics and Nationalists of the sort – you know those of us with long memories can remember Brian Faulkner's “Green Paper” back in whenever it was – 1968 - 1969 - in which he offered majority rule with various sorts of guarantees of consultation with Nationalists and so on and so forth.
That's where we have returned forty years later in the DUP's mind and that's how essentially they got it through - through the DUP – that this was not going to be permanent - don't worry, lads – a few years down the road and we'll make changes. I think we're beginning to see that now.
SB: We've been talking to Ed Moloney, author of Paisley: From Demagogue to Democrat?. Ed, before we let you go: What is Paisley's legacy? Because we're hearing a lot about his legacy as a “great peacemaker”.
EM: Yeah, well you know the analogy that I was using yesterday in other interviews I was doing was that he's like the guy who sets fire to the house and then, because just when it's at the point of like collapsing into cinders he turns up with a bucket of water and phones the fire brigade, he's hailed as the saviour of the house. That's what Paisley's role in Northern Ireland's Troubles was and is.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that way back in the late 1960's when you had the mild, former Etonian Irish Guards' Officer Captain Terence O'Neill as the Unionist Prime Minister and he was going out to visit nuns in Catholic schools and he was talking nice talk about being friends to Catholics and offering a mild reform programme of One Man One Vote eventually - and so on and so forth - that most Catholics at that time would have accepted that reform programme and would have settled in – and I think quite happily into - if they had a feeling that they were getting a fairer swig of the jug they would have been content.
But Paisley's role of course was to block Terence O'Neill and destroy him - bring him down and to bring down any successor who threatened in any sort of way to go down a similar road, you know like Brian Faulkner, for example. Although Brian Faulkner was brought down by a broad coalition of Loyalists, the scene was set years before that by Paisley's agitation. And he also brought down Trimble. And then as soon as Trimble's brought down he jumps into Trimble's bed.
And that leads a lot of people, particularly, for example - I quoted in that book, Clifford Smith, who was a very close colleague of Ian Paisley until he was expelled from the DUP in very strange circumstances - but he said he has now come to the conclusion - observing Paisley up-close and now from a distance - that he never really believed in any of this stuff. That it was just a very cynical ploy to get into power. And that the evidence is there. The proof is in the pudding. He condemned Trimble for doing what he then did. He condemned Terence O'Neill but look what he did in terms of - and compare that to that Terence O'Neill was proposing and so on and so forth.
But his role at the start of The Troubles I think was like crucial because if he had not blocked and stopped the reform, if he had not got Major Bunting to attack the Burntollet march and all of the violence that followed from that - would we have had the violence in Doire in August, 1969? Would Belfast have exploded into violence a few days later? Would the IRA then have split into Provisionals and Officials? Would we have avoided the thirty or forty years of bombings, shootings and killings? So, he's been hailed as a peacemaker but you know the only reason there was a need for a peace process was because he, primarily, was responsible for the conflict that caused the need for the peace.
SB: Well Ed, thank you very much.