Sunday 19 November 2017

David McKittrick: Old warhorse who never ceases to surprise

Ian Paisley interviewed by Eamonn Mallie.
Ian Paisley interviewed by Eamonn Mallie.

David McKittrick

JUST when everybody thought the old warhorse had, at the age of 87, no more surprises left in him, the Reverend Ian Paisley has grabbed more newspaper coverage.

This was not his purpose in giving journalist Eamonn Mallie 40 hours of television interviews which has been distilled into two one-hour programmes to be shown on the next two Monday nights.

Rather, the enterprise is in place of a written autobiography -- reminiscent of the book of questions and answers that Seamus Heaney produced with Dennis O'Driscoll. The hours of film, and a thousand pages of transcripts, will eventually be placed in a foundation or somesuch where it will be available to researchers.

Those researchers will marvel at the many faces of the fiery troublemaker turned peacemaker. It was in 2007 that he and Martin McGuinness, that other Troubles warrior, did the deal that has practically delivered peace to Northern Ireland.

Back then Mr Paisley spoke of "wonderful healing" and of "a time when hate will no longer rule". Many are still wondering why exactly he did the deal, after expending so much energy over the decades in scuppering so many attempts by others to achieve reconciliation.

The reason why so many people remain so perplexed about his motivation is that, as his latest comments show and as Eamonn Mallie said yesterday, he is a man of contradictions.

His often unpredictable behaviour once led former Belfast mandarin Maurice Hayes to write of him: "I have often thought there are about six Paisleys. Two of them are very nice people, two quite awful, and the other two could go either way."

In his new remarks, a couple of separate Paisleys are visible. His insensitivity in his words about the 33 victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings shows a familiar tactlessness towards some of those who suffered in the Troubles.

At other times, of course, he can be personally most considerate towards victims. He has officiated at many Troubles funerals, and been in contact with many families who have to cope with bereavements or dreadful injuries. He has more than once been pictured shedding tears.

One of the surprises in his comments was, however, his description of the IRA attack on 10 Downing Street as "a cracker". Nobody was killed or injured in that incident but even so it was an unseemly, and possibly even oddly admiring, word for a public figure to use about an incident designed to take life.

But even greater surprises came in his completely unexpected admissions that Catholics in 1960s Northern Ireland were systematically discriminated against in terms of housing, jobs, voting and gerrymandering.

Unionism did not accept such complaints at the time.

The irony is that a career based on opposing having anything to do with Catholics, because they were disloyal to Britain, should eventually have led him to co-operate with Martin McGuinness, who openly proclaims his goal of breaking the British link.

While he could be described as mellowing, the old cunning is still visible. Mallie yesterday described him as "the wiliest old fox of them all". He felt Mr Paisley had found being questioned about the civil rights period incredibly painful, adding: "It clearly hurt him to say what he said."

Irish Independent

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