Sunday Independent

--Tim Pat Coogan
Sunday February 29th 2004

DESPITE the fact that RTE gave the DUP leader a ludicrously soft-centred interview on Prime Time recently, the fact remains that if Tony Blair really wants to find a weapon of political mass destruction, he need look no further than the benches directly opposite him in the House of Commons, where sits the subject of the interview: the very large destructive force known as Ian Kyle Paisley.

Let us be clear that what is at stake here is not merely the Good Friday Agreement, in its opposition to which the unionist community has reverted to type, and given Paisley a mandate to destroy it, but the possibility of ending the Irish Physical Force tradition once and for all. People sometimes either fail to realise or do not want to advert to the fact that most significant Irish political development originated in that tradition.

The Unionist Party founded the Ulster Volunteer Force in collusion with British conservatives and threatened war in a successful attempt to frustrate the verdict of the ballot box, and so prevented the introduction of Home Rule to this country in the last century. In response, the Irish Volunteers were founded, which led (apart from war, civil war and partition) to the creation of Sinn Fein and from it subsequently Cumann na nGaedheal, Fianna Fail, Clann na Poblachta, Sinn Fein the Workers Party and once again Sinn Fein. With the Good Friday Agreement, we were offered the prospect of finally closing off this deadly seedbed of violence and introducing a new era of fruitful politics and of friendship between Dublin, London, Belfast and the Irish diaspora.

This is now threatened and one of these days Tony Blair is going to have to turn from dealing with Iraq, and the Dail from its preoccupation with e-voting, to grapple with this reality. Perhaps because he appears to have a sense of humour, the full malign impact of the Great Disturber is either not explored in the Republic or else glossed over, as it was on Prime Time. Paisley may be funny peculiar. He is not funny ha ha.

Younger readers of the Sunday Independent are probably not aware of Paisley's "Third Force", created in 1981 after he had led a crowd of masked men up an Antrim hillside earlier in the year where 500 firearm certificates were brandished and a willingness to use them trumpeted.

Better-known will be his involvement with the Ulster Resistance Movement in 1986 at which Paisley and Peter Robinson were photographed with leading loyalist paramilitaries such as Alan Wright and Noel Lyttle. Part of the armament supplied to Ulster Resistance came from the notorious British undercover agent Brian Nelson. In 1986, also seeking to make an individual name for himself on the wilder shores of unionism, Peter Robinson and a loyalist gang invaded the Co Monaghan village of Clontibret and attacked the Garda station.This behaviour was part of the essential and continuing balancing act between the forces of extreme Protestant fundamentalism and loyalist paramilitarism which has characterised Paisleyite politics since he first entered public life. As far back as 1972, a British government report into the origins of the North Ireland troubles said:

"Fears and apprehensions of Protestants of a threat to unionist domination and control of government by an increase of Catholic population and powers, inflamed in particular [author's italics] by the activities of the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, provoked strong hostile reaction to Civil Rights Claims as asserted by the Civil Rights Association and later by the People's Democracy which were readily translated into physical violence against Civil Rights demonstrators."

Both the UPV and the UCDC were Paisley vehicles. Two years after the foregoing was published, Paisley, the man who denounces links with paramilitarism, including loyalist paramilitarism when it suits him, was photographed marching with loyalist masked paramilitaries as they wrecked the precursor of the Good Friday Agreement, the power-sharing Executive of 1974.

Today Paisley's targets are the same as they were in the earlier stages of his career: Dublin, Catholicism, nationalism. Paisley and his DUP are smoother, more media-honed than in the earlier stentorian days. Now the emphasis is on sounding reasonable, on protestations of willingness to co-operate with Dublin; the appearance of being a normal democratic party which cannot be expected to co-operate with a party which has links to an illegal army. It's a position to which, for many people in the Republic, the recent disturbing kidnapping incident in Belfast has added an air of justification. But the substance is something else, a visceral anti-Catholicism, summed up in this verse of Hymn 757 of Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church:

The mystery of Wickedness
Right surely is thy name
The Harlot in the Bride's attire
As all thy ways proclaim

No peace with Rome shall be our cry . . . This view of Rome in which the Pope is the Antichrist, who on occasion Paisley has publicly insulted, would appear laughable, were it not for the fact that a majority of the unionist electorate has just endorsed it. Our deletion of Articles Two and Three of the Constitution, which Paisley once sought, and their replacement by a quite noble-minded definition of what constitutes an Irishman has meant nothing.

Mistakenly, a wide swathe of Irish political opinion, including opinion in Sinn Fein, has chosen to believe that Paisley is an old man who can be bypassed in favour of pragmatists in his party who will do a deal. Granted Paisley is 77, but he's a strong 77. How old is the Pope? Has his age and physical condition made him appear willing to consider retirement?

The evangelical or religious component of Paisley's politico-religious creed is what sets him apart from the so-called pragmatists, presumably Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson. Without the religious factor, Paisley's party would just be another slice of unionism, Tweedle Dee Jeffrey Donaldson and Tweedle Dum David Trimble.

I would not argue, as some optimists do, that in the absence of Paisley, moderation would easily be achieved. The split in unionism may heal.

But certain things will continue: dislike of Dublin, a distaste for power-sharing with Catholics, an inability on the part of unionist politicians to promote a vision of politics which, for example, would encourage their constituents to get themselves an education to replace the vanished apprenticeship culture, and perhaps even to co-operate with Dublin so that inward investment and a share in the benefits of the Celtic Tiger might be brought to unemployment-ravaged East Belfast.

Unionist politicians will continue to seek those benefits for themselves, of course, pace John Taylor's recent multimillion-euro newspaper deal in the Republic or the fact that Paisley's church draws revenues from this abhorred fiefdom of Rome.

Nevertheless it is true that at every step of the road over the last 40 years, any movement towards breaking out of unionist moulds always came up against the towering figure of Paisley.

I remember sitting in Captain Terence O'Neill's office in Stormont in October 1965 while public opinion in the Republic was still reverberating with approval for Sean Lemass's overtures of friendship towards O'Neill.

O'Neill and his secretary, Group Captain Jim Malley, who had done much to arrange the historicalLemass/O'Neill meetings, with TK Whitaker, both warned me of the dangers, unappreciated in the south, which Paisley's strident campaign against the dismantling of Belfast/Dublin barriers posed for the future. "The trouble is," said O'Neill, "that he does all this with the Book in his hand. The Book is very important up here."

It was and is. Petrol bombs might have been - and were - thrown for the first time in Belfast during 1964 after riots which Paisley incited with a threatening speech in the Ulster Hall fulminating against the display of an Irish tricolour in an innocuous back-street premises off the Falls Road, the headquarters of the Sinn Fein candidate in the Westminster elections. But the Bible was the missile which Paisley deliberately chose to throw at the head of a clerical opponent, the ecumenical Methodist preacher Donald Soper.

At an intellectual level, if I may be pardoned the term, Paisley (in a pamphlet) has attacked the Jesuits for, in effect, furthering devil worship. The mark of the cloven hoof is upon Jesuits because, Paisley argues, their sign, IHS, stands for a pagan Egyptian trinity, Isis Horub Seb. I do not know at what level one should place Paisley's resignation from the Orange Order, because it refused to expel Sir Robert Kinahan for attending a Catholic funeral service, nor his demonstration at City Hall against the lowering of the Union Jack on the death of Pope John XXIII who he described as "the Roman anti-Christ".

But at street level he is on record during the Fifties of giving the names and addresses of Catholics to supporters on the Shankill Road, and telling his hearers how long Protestants had lived in those houses before they passed into the hands of the Papists. He then went home, leaving inflamed crowds to attack the Catholic homes and businesses.

This had nothing to do with him, of course. No more than the fact that members of the UPV and UCDC were responsible for the series of deaths and explosions which blew Captain Terence O'Neill out of office a few years later. (In one, Thomas McDowell, a member of Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church, died attempting to blow up an ESB station in Donegal.)

Nor could anyone connect him with certain activities of a UPV organiser, a printer on his hate-sheet the Protestant Telegraph, Noel Doherty. Doherty did time for his involvement with paramilitaries with whom he discussed arms procurement at a meeting in Loughgall. Paisley, who was going to Armagh, drove him to the meeting and drove him from it, but claimed that he had no idea what was discussed.

The list is as long and as unlovely as Ian Kyle Paisley's own political career, but though Prime Time shied away from confronting it, the time is fast approaching when we and the governments of Dublin and London will have to do so.

© Irish Independent
http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/ & http://www.unison.ie/

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