independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Paisley reveals anguish over a 'family' betrayal

Ian Paisley cut an anguished figure on the BBC this week as he railed bitterly against his 'beloved son' and protege Peter Robinson, who he blames for plotting his humiliating political downfall. Henry McDonald reports

Ian Paisley

To the Paisley family, Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson could resemble those double villains of King Lear, Goneril and Regan all rolled into one. Like the daughters who usurp the old king and lay the blame for their treachery on the hapless Cordelia in Shakespeare's tragedy, Robinson's treatment of his former mentor must seem to the Paisleys at least like an epic act of alleged perfidy.

Here after all was Ian Paisley this week on the "blasted heath" of the BBC, raging like Lear in the political wilderness, wailing and railing against someone who was once, almost, as close to his bosom as his own biological offsprings; his protege and heir apparent, his 'Dauphin' of the Democratic Unionist Party, that he, the big man, had founded and then eventually lost.

In an astonishing and explosive piece of television documentary, Ian Paisley and his wife Eileen reached a Learean pitch of anguished betrayal on Monday night. Eileen Paisley openly accused Peter Robinson, as well as the North Belfast MP and highly able Oxbridge educated Nigel Dodds, along with a number of party functionaries, of assassinating their leader "with words" when, in 2008, the DUP leader was forcibly ousted from his post.

Normally guarded with her words, Mrs Paisley described Dodds as a "cheeky sod" for the way he insisted that the Big Man stand down in the face of internal party disquiet over his conduct as the North's First Minister.

Her husband too dished out the bile, especially when alluding to how he could at least go home to a wife that loved him unlike others. . . presumably a reference to Iris Robinson and her affair with a then 19-year-old lover. Eileen Paisley too waded in on that, claiming the Robinsons were a source of "sleaze".

The mention of verbal assassination also brings to mind another Shakespearean tragedy, Julius Caesar and the immortal words "Et Tu Brute" when Caesar's closest friend and ally plunges the knife into his old comrade's back on the Ides of March. Yet it is King Lear that still provides the most illuminating insight into the hurt, anger and bitterness that has infected the Paisley-Robinson relationship. Because the latter was in political terms Paisley's "beloved son". Hence the sense of letdown so evident in Paisley's words and demeanour.

Since the interview, there is said to be "seething silence" not only amongst the upper echelons of the DUP but within the Free Presbyterian Church, which Paisley founded in the early 1950s. A clearly frustrated Robinson claimed that his former leader's outburst had only harmed his legacy.

"As someone who faithfully served Dr Paisley for many decades I will make one final sacrifice by not responding and causing any further damage to his legacy beyond that which he has done himself.

"Rather than return insult for insult, let me bless him with the mercy of my silence and wish him well," Robinson said.

Yet these emollient words will not heal a fractured partnership, one that saw Paisley promote Robinson as the coming man of unionism; as the hard face of loyalist opposition to the 1986 Anglo-Irish Agreement; and as the older man's political 'Consigliere' who took his leader to the White House to meet George Bush, forging a relationship with the last US Republican administration that proved so helpful during the St Andrews Agreement of 2006.

No one of course should forget that other real-life tragedy acted out between the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s in which nearly 4,000 lives were lost and thousands more physically and psychologically damaged. Alongside the casualties, there are the dozens of gloriously misnamed "peace walls" that keep going up, all of them testimonies to political failure.

Paisley and Paisleyism played one of the key roles in this tragic drama, particularly in the opportunistic resistance to any reforms in Northern Ireland; he did so from the civil rights movement onwards to the apocalyptic warnings of Ulster being sold out, which in turn drove so many into armed loyalist groups. His ideology felled the careers of reformers from Terence O'Neill to Brian Faulkner and David Trimble, yet in the end he came to make the very same compromises with Irish nationalism.

One of the richest ironies to savour in this fallout among old friends has been this: in 2014 you are likely to get a kinder word for the likes of Bertie Ahern from Ian Paisley than you are for any of his one-time acolytes in the DUP high command.

Paisley is known to speak very fondly of Ahern and is genuinely puzzled by the public opprobrium that the former Taoiseach has had to endure in the post-crash Republic; even in the ex-Fianna Fail leader's Dublin heartland where he can't even go out for a pint without somebody trying to punch him. For Paisley, Ahern was the man who never let him down during the negotiations leading up to power-sharing being restored in 2007. And all this from a man who once portrayed Ahern's one-time mentor and guide to power inside the Soldiers of Destiny, Charles J Haughey, as the political equivalent of the anti-Christ.

Another former target for Paisley's sometimes witty, sometimes insulting putdowns was the former Tory grandee turned Ulster Unionist MP for South Down, Enoch Powell. When Powell resigned from the British Conservative Party and joined the UUP in the mid-1970s over his opposition to the EEC, Paisley dismissed him with characteristic contempt, labelling the one-time Tory minister and author of the infamous "Rivers-of-Blood" speech, as the "Wolverhampton Wanderer" – a reference to old Powell's former West Midlands constituency that he had abandoned. However, as he sits pondering on how he lost not only his party but also his church, Paisley might remember the maxim that will always be associated with Powell, when he warned that in the end all political careers end in failure.

Nor should Paisley forget of course that King Lear, having suffered the ordeal of losing his only righteous daughter Cordelia as well as his throne, dies from his travails, never able to regain his power.

 

The Fractured Alliance

1975 Paisley appoints former estate agent Peter Robinson as the DUP's first general secretary.

1979 Robinson wins the East Belfast parliamentary seat by just 64 votes, marking a significant victory for Paisley's party over the UUP.

1987 The duo turn up at the formation of Ulster Resistance, both of them wearing military berets and Robinson in military fatigues. The pair later distance themselves from the organisation after some of its members are caught trying to buy weapons from South African agents in Paris.

1998 Robinson stands shoulder to shoulder with Paisley as he is shouted down on the eve of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, facing the wrath of Ulster loyalist paramilitaries who wanted to back the accord.

2008 Paisley steps down as first minister of Northern Ireland and is succeeded by his long-term deputy.

Irish Independent

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