Paisley-Foster contrast stark

Posted By: January 21, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Saturday, January 21, 2017

IT is a measure of the turmoil which has engulfed the DUP that the opportunity to present a sustainable vision for the future of our devolved structures was passed over by all of the party’s senior Assembly figures and seized instead by Ian Paisley, who sits at Westminster rather than Stormont.

While some may wonder if the tone of the North Antrim MP’s remarkable BBC interview on Thursday night was entirely in keeping with a number of his previous public statements, it needs to be acknowledged that his comments had a clarity and indeed a sense of basic humanity which has been missing from wider DUP contributions over a prolonged period.

The contrast between Mr. Paisley’s measured and confident intervention and the way in which his party leader, Arlene Foster, has struggled to assert her authority in recent weeks was striking at every level.

There can be no doubt that the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal has had a devastating impact on the DUP, with an unrelenting stream of fresh revelations leaving the party’s credibility in tatters, although it will be generally accepted that the debacle reflected rather than caused a more fundamental breakdown in relationships at Parliament Buildings.

Mr. Paisley was fully entitled to look back at the understanding which was achieved a decade ago between his late father and Martin McGuinness, despite their enormous differences on constitutional issues, and wonder openly why the same spirit could not be maintained in the administration which has just collapsed.

This could only be interpreted as an unmistakable criticism of the role of Mrs. Foster, and it was completely understandable that the son of the DUP founder was committed to protecting his legacy.

What was more compelling was Mr. Paisley’s tribute to Mr. McGuinness, who has effectively retired on health grounds, as someone who had “not only saved lives but made the lives of countless people better.”

It is far from certain that the existing Stormont institutions are capable of being revived, even after the complex negotiations which are likely to follow the March 2 elections, and Sinn Féin’s less than assured approach to the unfolding RHI crisis, and in particular its baffling U-turns over the essential step of a public inquiry, has not helped to restore public confidence.

However, what Mr. Paisley was really highlighting was the need for mutual respect to be at the heart of our political process, and better days may still lie ahead if he and his counterparts from all sections of society can develop this key theme.