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The secret split with Robinson and the 'beasts' who backed him

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Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson stands in front of a portrait of the late Ian Paisley located in the Great Hall at Stormont in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Getty

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson stands in front of a portrait of the late Ian Paisley located in the Great Hall at Stormont in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Getty

Getty Images

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson stands in front of a portrait of the late Ian Paisley located in the Great Hall at Stormont in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Getty

"Ulster will never see the like of him again: a giant of a human being, a true Ulsterman with an immeasurable love for the province and its people," DUP leader Peter Robinson said in tribute to Ian Paisley, hailing him as the founding father of a new North.

His death marked the end of a glorious period in Ulster history, he said.

It was a far cry from the explosive BBC documentary not eight months ago in which we learned for the first time of the hidden chasm between Robinson and Paisley.

"They assassinated him by their words and by their deeds - they treated him shamefully," said Eileen Paisley about the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Free Presbyterian Church, Robinson chief amongst them.

Paisley himself savaged those who installed Robinson as his successor as "beasts" and revealed how an internal DUP questionnaire issued in 2008 had questioned his handling of the peace process.

"If they wanted to put me on trial, why did they not put me on trial?" Paisley asked the BBC then.

He believed Peter Robinson was among those who wanted him out, saying: "Oh yes, he would have been. Politics is politics."

"You have to face up to the fact that there are a lot of people in politics for their own ends. All I can say is that they seem to have wanted to keep very quiet about it."

However, Peter Robinson denied the meeting even took place and scrambled for the moral high ground, responding that this wasn't "the Ian Paisley we knew".

"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," he said.

It had been Paisley who had spotted Robinson's fledgling political activities as a young student and brought him in to become a founding member of the DUP in 1970.

Robinson served as Paisley's Parliamentary Assistant at Westminster before becoming General Secretary of the party in 1975 and then launching his own political career.

Rumours of animosity between the two did not surface until Paisley stepped down as First Minister in 2008.

But in the BBC documentary last January, we learned how Paisley had scorned Robinson's involvement in the infamous loyalist invasion of Clontibret in August 1986, when he led a mob of 500 in protest at the Anglo Irish Agreement, holding a military parade in the town square before being driven over the border by the gardai.

Subsequent riots at Robinson's trial in Dundalk saw Paisley attacked with stones and petrol bombs.

"I think he thought that was going to be a tremendous uprising, but that didn't happen," scoffed Paisley in the documentary.

Robinson challenged his account, claiming that it had been Paisley himself who was the one who had agreed to go to Clontibret, but then had to leave to go to a funeral in the US and Robinson had stepped in as his deputy.

Robinson briefly resigned as deputy leader of the DUP after the incident.

But the harder line adopted by Paisley over the UVF Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 showed how out of step the two DUP men had become.

While Paisley said the Republic had "brought it on themselves" with their attitude to the North, Robinson said "terrorism" was responsible.

Irish Independent