Let Big Ian Rest In Peace: Unionist Elite Must Shoulder Blame

John Coulter with his weekly paper slot. Dr John Coulter is a columnist with the Irish Daily Star.

It’s a bit rich Messrs Trimble and Galway sticking the boot in old Paisley over the causes of the Troubles when it was the backstabbing Hard Right of the Unionist Party which stoked the fires in the first place!

I grew up in Bannside, the heartland of the Paisley fiefdom of North Antrim. Unionism in the late Sixties was dominated by the ‘Big House, Fur Coat Brigade’.

These aristocratic Unionists basked in the luxury of flushing toilets, while many working class Protestants still had to rely on the slop bucket.

Membership of the middle class dominated Unionist Party was by invitation only. Many working class loyalists were no better off than third class African natives from the colonies.

The crisis facing these down-trodden Prods was brutally expressed by an original Paisley supporter who later became heavily involved with the vigilante Ulster Third Force.

I interviewed this loyalist for a book, The Orange Card,  which the late Independent Orange boss and DUP MLA George Dawson got banned two weeks before publication.

To this loyalist, the Fur Coat Brigade posed as serious a threat to working class Protestants as republicans.

He said:

The problem for ordinary people like myself was that Henry Clark (the Unionist MP for North Antrim in the late 1960s) and people like him were unapproachable. I personally went to the late Terence O’Neill because of my eviction by the Fur Coat Brigade and he didn’t want to know me. All he did was try to pass the buck. The sitting Unionists were not interested in us folk, unless you had a family of eight to 10! In the early days, I listened to Paisley. I thought this was the right sort of system because he confronted the Fur Coat Brigade.

But this Paisley activist – a Church of Ireland member – would disrupt invitation-only Unionist Party meetings by infiltrating them and shouting down the speakers, such as Chichester-Clark. He said:
I had contacts in the Right-wing of the Unionist Party who were opposed to O’Neill and Chichester-Clark’s reforms and they got me the passes to get into the Unionist Party meetings. An Orangeman in Clough tipped me off about a meeting in Cloughmills at which Chichester-Clark was to speak. About a dozen of us were in the meeting. Some were singing ‘Paisley, Paisley’. Others were more threatening. It got that rough that Chichester-Clark could not get started.

The impact of these disruptive tactics was to force the Unionist Party to abandon public meetings, especially those in Orange halls.

Many Fur Coat Brigade activists could not cope with the constant heckling and left both politics and the Orange Order as Unionist Party branches shut.

But it should not be forgotten that these working class Protestant hecklers got their tip-offs and passes from Right-wing Unionist Party members – not Ian Paisley.

Don’t start slabbering again about the alleged role of the late Paisley simply because he’s dead and an easy target.

Such moralising gobshites should turn their attention to the militant agenda of the Hard Right in the Fur Coat Brigade-run Unionist Party who used Paisley supporters as political cannon fodder to undermine O’Neill, Chichester-Clark and Faulkner’s liberal agenda.

If the Hard Right had had the balls to implement a power-sharing Executive, such as the one we now have at Stormont, there would have been no Sinn Fein in government, no IRA, and Paisley senior would have joined the ranks of Hell-fire evangelists and never followed his wife into politics.

Paisley may have been guilty of throwing snowballs at Sean Lemass’s car as the then Taoiseach visited Stormont.

But what sunk O’Neill and company was not Paisley, but the Hard Right Fur Coat Brigade within the Unionist Party who wanted their aristocratic heels kept on the necks of the North’s working class – both Catholic and Protestant.

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