Friday 6 December 2019

There's no doubt that years of blustering rhetoric and bombast cost many lives


John Hume
John Hume
John Downing

John Downing

WALKING the corridors of the European Parliament one afternoon in the autumn of 1993, the booming voice of Ian Paisley could be heard over the tannoy belting out the usual negative bilge.

The "good doctor" was a rare contributor in the European assembly where he served for many years alongside John Hume of the SDLP. In Brussels and Strasbourg, the pair were in some respects walking cliches - Hume was sociable and well-known to his colleagues from all member states, Paisley was very occasionally seen sitting alone in the corner of one of the cafes with a pot of tea perusing his well-thumbed Bible.

All of those 21 years ago, things were extremely grim in the North and in this rare European Parliament speech, Paisley was laying it on with loads of "no-this and no-that". He was in full flight, when quite by chance I crossed John Hume in the corridor.

Hume reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small note signed by Paisley's assistant at the time, the Belfast councillor Nigel Dodds. The neat handwriting said: "John, our meeting with Commissioner Bruce Millan has been put off until tomorrow, regards Nigel."

The note spoke eloquently about how Hume and Paisley worked quietly together on issues like regional funds (the area over which the Scot Bruce Millan was then in charge) and EU agriculture policy. Paisley's voice had gone off the tannoy, and it was a chance for this writer to ask Hume how the two got on together.

"Ah, we get on well enough. He's a pragmatist and he can be sociable when the mood hits him.

"I think we could make a lot of progress on the North's problems if I could get him to share a good bottle of French wine," Hume mused.

What Hume did not say then, nor at any other time in my hearing, was how unfortunate and phoney this public Paisley rhetoric and private pragmatism really were.

Paisley could have done so much more if he was publicly seen more often to be working alongside Hume, who never made any secret of his desire to work for the Irish people in Belfast, Dublin, London or Brussels.

It would take Paisley fully a quarter of a century to be publicly seen collaborating - not just with the constitutional nationalists of the SDLP - but with the former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness. The decades of murder and mayhem on this island had complex, interwoven and ongoing causes.

But, as we reflect on the long and diverse career of Ian Kyle Paisley, that little vignette from the European Parliament in Strasbourg screams out: Why the years of delay which cost so many innocent lives?

Irish Independent

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