The latest BBC series investigating the Troubles has made some very contentious allegations about the late Rev Ian Paisley and his alleged ‘relationship’ to loyalist extremists.
The incredible journey in finding his own Biblical-style ‘Road to Damascas’ political conversion from Protestant fundamentalism’s Hell fire Dr No, to his downfall as the Chuckle Brothers’ Dr Go was already effectively documented in veteran journalist Ed Moloney’s masterpiece, Paisley From Demagogue to Democrat?
I have spent much of my own 60 years living and working in Paisley senior’s North Antrim stomping ground.
He rose to power in the Sixties by giving a voice and creating an unholy alliance between two previously muted factions within the ‘Fur Coat Brigade’ dominated Unionist Party – Christian fundamentalists and the loyalist working class.
He fed both an addictive staple diet of ‘No Surrender’, ‘Not an Inch’, and ‘Never, never, never’ using the tactics of direct street confrontation. The Big Man created the iconic image – Paisleyites are not afraid to protest.
It should not come as any surprise that within a year of agreeing to politically sup soup with Shinners, that same confrontational grassroots have reacted in the way he trained them for four decades and sparked coups within his Free Presbyterian Church, party and Stormont Executive.
A devoted family man, children often became unwittingly his best campaigners when handed dozens of election posters for them to carry about.
In April 1970, during the Stormont by-election campaign and Paisley was the Protestant Unionist runner, he canvassed strongly in the staunchly Protestant village of Clough, Co Antrim.
Clough is not just a pulse in Unionism – the village reflects the very heart and soul of Unionism itself. Win Clough, and you will the election.
I was a primary school pupil. My dad, Rev Robert Coulter, was honorary president of the local Unionist Party branch and the area’s Presbyterian minister.
Fundamentalist and working class chums came into the local village school brandishing Paisley posters.
My first encounter with Paisleyism was a sore backside for chanting pro-Unionist Party slogans and referring to this fledgling messiah as “Peashooter Paisley”. It earned me a few fundamentalist hob-nailed boots on the ass.
It wasn’t that Paisley was offering a radical agenda. He just knew how to ‘wind up’ his supporters and they interpreted these demagogue speeches as green lights to physically harass and intimidate Official Unionists off the streets.
North Antrim had been an Ulster Unionist bastion well before the creation of the ruling Ulster Unionist Council in 1905. A matter of weeks after Paisley’s victory in Bannside, came the Westminster General Election of June 1970 where Unionist stalwart Henry Clark was the sitting MP.
I was recruited into the Unionist campaign as a primary pupil. I walked into the Presbyterian manse sitting room to serve Clark his sandwiches after a disastrous canvass around Clough.
Paisley supporters had blocked Clark’s car in a farmer’s lane using a caravette. Even violence was threatened, and eventually the Drumcree-style standoff was prevented when the Unionist team abandoned the hustings.
Clark was clearly shaken, smoking a cigarette, with my father and another key Unionist strategist, the late Rev John Brown from Bushmills, trying to calm Clark. Worse was to follow when a message was brought to him that Paisley supporters had daubed ‘Shoot Clark’ graffiti in the village. Clark went physically white.
The seeds of revolutionary tactics which Paisley sowed among working class loyalists in my home village were to grow into openly confrontational thorns.
So was it any wonder, Paisley’s embracing of power-sharing with Sinn Fein met with the thorns of dissent from grassroots unionism?
As a preacher, Paisley was a staunch, Bible-thumping evangelist. As a journalist, I once covered the installation of elders service at his Free Presbyterian Church in Cloughmills, near my home.
I always left every religious Paisley meeting with a single thought – why couldn’t Paisley have stuck solely to Gospel preaching and he could have sparked a global revival as big as noted American evangelist Billy Graham, seeing thousands become ‘born again’ believers?
I have watched school and university chums interpret Paisley’s political rhetoric as a green light to become involved with loyalist paramilitaries, such as Third Force and the UVF.
I have watched Paisley supporters physically jostle and thump my dad – an Ulster Unionist – during his 1983 Westminster campaign.
But behind the Hell fire cleric and No Surrender unionist venom, was a devoted husband to wife Eileen. I only once witnessed despair on Paisley’s face.
During the election count for the 1982 Assembly in Ballymena Town Hall, Eileen bumped her head. Paisley immediately abandoned our interview to be with her. I caught a glimpse as he tenderly cared for her – he was almost in tears with worry.
For Big Ian, while God was his spiritual shepherd, Eileen was his physical rock.
He always referred to me as “young man” or “young Coulter” when we met, once complaining to my dad about an article I had written when I was in my mid 40s, emphasising the role of the family in Paisley’s outlook.
It was the 2003 Assembly election count in Ballymoney. Both Paisley senior and my dad had been elected on the first count. Later that day, Paisley senior approached dad to complain about my article. Dad told Paisley senior that I was in my forties, married with kids, and offered to give Paisley senior my mobile number.
Paisley’s reaction was typical of the man who believed in the power of the family unit: “No Robert, you’re his father; you speak to him!”
Paisley has often been compared to the Grand Old Duke of York who led his men up to the top of the hill, and down again – except Paisley left them there. This fuelled a perception of hypocrisy about Paisley.
He would picket meetings of the Evangelical Prayer Breakfast movement because my dad was present with Catholic priests, yet Paisley could meet face to face with the Irish Catholic leadership before signing the St Andrews Agreement.
Paisley had the skills of knowing when to pull himself back from the brink – but many of his supporters, almost politically drunk with the fervour of his speeches, did not know when the red line should not be crossed.
How many young loyalists ended up in jail because they took the words of Paisley rhetoric too literally? How many Catholics are dead because loyalist death squads put their own specific spin on Paisley’s hard-hitting speeches?
As president of the Clough Unionist branch, my dad was once called upon in the early 1970s to escort the land-owning Unionist chairman from the meeting because of a lynch mob of Paisley supporters. The chairman was dubbed ‘Dutch Doherty’ by the Paisley loyalists because of the former’s likeness to the republican icon.
Paisley’s political genius was not in what he said, but in his oratory skills in getting the blood boiling.
In 1987, during the General Election campaign, I was the North Antrim Press Officer for the Young Unionists, the UUP’s youth wing. Paisley was the agreed candidate in the protest campaign against the Anglo Irish Agreement.
To give us an identity, the only way we could out-gun Paisley was to be more Right-wing than Paisley, and North Antrim YUs became the most Right-wing in the UUC.
During the hustings one evening as we drove our canvassing cars through the village of Broughshane, we passed the Sinn Fein election team in its cars.
We screeched to a halt, reversed at speed, and piled out of the cars to physically confront the Shinners. Thankfully, wise heads prevailed on both sides and a violent confrontation was averted.
But here we were – young UUP members in our pin-stripped suits baying to “kick the crap out of the Provies”; had we, too, swallowed the potent rhetoric of Ian Paisley on the need to smash Sinn Fein?
Just as Paisley senior relentlessly pursued his opponents within unionism, so too, did his supporters.
In 1998, Independent Orangemen who had been to the fore in forming the overtly anti-Catholicism Caleb Foundation succeeded in getting my book exposing these links – The Orange Card - from being published.
Paisley senior himself has been a victim of the ethos of coups, plots and purges which he constantly fed his supporters since forming the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com
They succeeded in getting a book from being published? What does this sentence mean? And what are the 'links', mentioned there but not identified? I'm at a loss.ReplyDelete
I know personally one RHC commander who went to prison on explosives charges, he lays a lot of blame at Paisley's door for whipping up youngsters into a secterian frenzy including himself. I myself met paisley on a few occasions, oddly I was struck at how affable he was when not talking about politics or religion, a completely different Paisley than the one on the tele. Still, I had far more time for Glenn Barr who had little patience for Paisley.ReplyDelete
MMG was very lucky that the footage of him near the car bomb being prepared, and subsequently filmed exploding did not fall into the hands of the security services. It would of been good blackmail material. A massive oversight by them, and shouldn’t be considered any further than this.ReplyDelete
I'm of the opinion they had better blackmail material.Delete
What kind of better material Frank?Delete
I should have used the word worse instead of better perhaps. I would not say what I think behind a pen name. I will say it was all over for the Provos before it started, save for a few honest, genuine leaders who got shafted by the long war MI5 goonsquad in 75.
There is something in what Frank is talking about. In a piece on The Broken Elbow Toby Harnden has this to say...
The case that McGuinness was a British agent — opinion is divided as to whether it was MI5 or MI6 — is mainly circumstantial but has been longstanding and propounded by a variety of diverse figures. Over the past 15 years it has become clear that the Provisionals were thoroughly infiltrated by the British state.
This article on wikispooks asks the same question about McGuinness and was he or not a British agent. Recently Suzanne Breen asked the same question “Did spooks see Martin's bomb film?”
If the BBC was able to find footage which could have sent McGuinness to jail was it really unknown to MI5?
At the same time of the footage of McGuinness British military intelligence had two main intell. Systems in place..
Vengeful was used to identify vehicles associated with a subject of interest and linked to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of Northern Ireland. Vehicle Registration Numbers (VRN) associated with persons of interest were recorded on a card index system maintained by Intelligence Sections deployed at Coy level throughout the Province
Crucible was used to consolidate items of information about individuals including personal details, imagery, mapping, movements and activities.
Within the first two minutes of Behind the mask, a 1hr documentary with interviews of Brendan Hughes, Martin McGuinness, Martin Meehan, Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and other former members of the Processionals peaking candidly about the part they played in the conflict, the narrator all but mentions vengeful and crucible by name. And McGuinness traveled all over the island and beyond, if they didn't see the BBC footage, it only logical to think they had their own.
Personally logic tells me they have more than old 35mm footage of Martin McGuinness in a vault. I believe there is a lot of footage and it is kept under wraps until someone deems it ok to release it. Do I think footage or documentation of Gerry Adams admitting IRA membership to surface after he leaves this rock? Yes. I don't believe he got his hands dirty to the extent of taking life. Adams reads like Michael Franzese to me. Franzese was a capo in the Colombo family, never made his bones, an excellent earner and a strategist. Similar to Adams, never took life (knows about lots of deaths but says nothing...), former Chief of Staff, helped raise millions for the Republican movement and he was also a strategist....
I saw that documentary years ago. They all looked dodgy as f..k to me except for Hughes.Delete
I think Anthony pointed out there were at least two types of infiltration of the Provisonals by the Spooks. The first being actual agents in the pay of London and the other being the nuturing of those Provisionals who were interested in pursuing peace. ( The Agent v Assest strategy).ReplyDelete
As far back as I can remember the RUC told us that Adams and MMG were untouchable, one cop told me that they even stopped Adams at a VCP and he told them "You can't fucking touch me", and he was right. They weren't even allowed to search his car. I didn't hear anything similar about MMG but by chance I was walking behind him in the Foyleside shopping centre in Derry many years ago and four cops basically looked in the opposite direction. I realise these are small innane anecdotes but it does make you wonder.
Thanks Frankie, i did not know the Breen article pondered the same thing of how the film was used by spooks.ReplyDelete
The Clarke/Jonhston book “...From guns to government” suggested film or footage of MMG firing a gun on Bloody Sunday was in existence too.
Whilst I still subscribe to Anthony’s Asset vs Agent hypothesis, the more additions to the narrative that are revealed such as the documentary footage, the more this will need revisiting. It’s simply implausible that such footage was never used by the journalists and not to have been requisitioned by the U.K. security services.
No satisfactory explanation has emerged yet as to how Frank Hegarty rose to such a ranking position within the quartermaster section. It's highly improbable this could have happened without MMG's sanction or knowledge. Yet Eamonn McCann, who was a neighbour of Hegarty's, is on the record as describing Franco as indiscreet and went on to express his surprise at his elevated position within the movement.Delete
Though McGuinness denied facilitation or even knowledge of Franco's re-emergence, Moloney's 'Secret History' records Kevin McKenna's alleged antipathy towards MMG over this very issue.
So many questions remain unexplained.