Thursday 14 December 2017

Paisley's US ban was 'more about him personally than his policies'

The Troubles

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley

Ed Carty

IAN Paisley tried to get around being barred from the US by asking the United Nations secretary-general for an interview.

The former Northern Ireland first minister had a visa revoked three times in 1981 and 1982 as he attempted to get into America and put across the unionist version of the Troubles.

At the time, the US State Department said the decision to stop Dr Paisley at the border was based on his "near-advocacy of violence".

But according to documents released under the 30-year rule by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, diplomats were told privately that it was more about him personally than his policies.

One surprising note in the file, however, is that the Irish embassy in Washington claimed the firebrand unionist Mr Paisley (pictured) as Irish.

Official Jimmy Sharkey warned officials in Dublin in early 1981 not to intervene in any visa row for fear of being seen to silence the DUP chief.

He wrote: "Paisley, in terms of our law, is an Irish citizen. For us to try to block his admission would only enhance his publicity. There would be dangers of a highly damaging misrepresentation if we were to move.

"We would feel that Paisley would have the elementary good sense to keep the Pope out of his remarks when in the USA and to present a political message, however hardline."


Another letter from Irish officials says that if the US allows Mr Paisley in, "we would particularly hope that he would be denied political recognition as by, for instance, being received by the president".

But on January 6, 1982, Mr Paisley attempted to outflank America's immigration chiefs by sending a telegram to UN secretary-general Javier Perez de Cuellar, seeking an interview with him.

The prospect of the UN being dragged into the Northern Ireland question greatly exercised British diplomats in New York and London, as one Irish official wrote to colleagues in Dublin, London and Washington: "The UK Permanent Representative was disturbed by the possibility of the NI issue being raised at the UN and the likelihood that other groups would follow Paisley's lead."

The diplomat also suggested UK authorities would do "everything possible" to stop Dr Paisley visiting UN headquarters.

According to US cables, Irish diplomats appeared much more relaxed, suggesting that the secretary-general would not agree to an interview with Dr Paisley.

Publicly, the US authorities said Dr Paisley was refused a visa because his activities may be prejudicial to the country's interests. Privately they told Irish embassy staff it was because of his "near-advocacy of violence".

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Also in this section