“ What an old horror …vanity has always been his main motivation…”

Posted By: January 14, 2014


Fionnuala O’ Connor. irish News ( Belfast). Tuesday, Jauary 14, 2014

WHEN something breaks the monotony of today’s sludge-treading politics, not to mention two shockers in short order, the effects take a bit of absorbing. First Richard Haass, invited in by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness supposedly to bring sweet amity, broke with the custom of outside facilitators and fingered the welshers. That is those who appear to have given him and his associate Professor Meghan O’sullivan the impression they would sign up for a much-redrafted set of propositions, and then said no, we just won’t. And secondly vain old Ian Paisley got himself scads of notice, after years of enforced silence in the retirement he did not want. A man who always said what he fancied, and too bad when it inflamed others, admitted that Unionism in power discriminated against Catholics. Then he did a double somersault by painting the civil rights protesters he had just retrospectively justified as no more than united Ireland agitators.


Oh yes, he also said that Irish governments brought the Dublin-Monaghan bombings down on their people. The kind of mob-stirring that many, Unionists as well as Nationalists, believe helped trigger the troubles. Inflammatory remarks from the past?  These he failed to remember, or absolved himself of the consequences. No change there. Apparently, in the second part of the programme produced by Eamonn and Michael Mallie to be broadcast next Monday, he will jeer, almost as unpleasantly, at his successor as party leader, his long-time deputy and successor as first minister, Peter Robinson. Such are today’s media mechanics that words as yet un-broadcast have already been commented upon, and in the case of Robinson responded to with an equal and opposite accusation. No, says Robinson, I did not decide (to challenge the Paisley leadership by crossing the border in the dark with assorted chaps some masked and carrying cudgels, to shake up the one-horse town of Clontibret). Indeed, Robinson claims, he only filled in for the boss, suddenly called to the Us. It was the kind of thing that happened. More than a few clashes back home, which ended in disorder and even arrests, were missed by Ian Paisley due to pressing engagements elsewhere.


He will tell next week, it seems, how the party and church he founded both turned on him, forced him out. Hmmmm.And him only, what, 82? after a period of striking diminution in his once-marvellous articulacy, during which time the famously awkward Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble looked sharp by contrast, plus a never-named but prolonged illness? What an old horror. Those of us coasting towards the end of our sixties and hoping for grace in upcoming adversity need no such models.


It would all be welcome distraction in a damp new year, if through the decades Paisley had been no more than a preacher, actorly talent and sharp humour holding audiences for hours at a time, big voice filling Belfast’s religious night-clubs. But unfortunately he meant more than that. How did unionism come to this, asked a generally acute commentator from inside the tribe last week, as it emerged that the hyperactive, exhibitionist W Frazer and J Bryson had been kept informed, if not formally consulted, on the course of the Haass-O’sullivan exercise. Not that being hyperactive or exhibitionist ever did Paisley any harm. But why the question? Today’s feeble unionist front row, from under-developed Robinson to the hologram that is Mike Nesbitt, is the logical outcome of the Paisley decades. Robinson at his most independent made belittling remarks from the bigger man’s shadow, and for that — as well as for daring to be younger and for succeeding to the leadership — he now reaps the discarded chieftain’s malice. Ulster Unionism, the supposedly more moderate party but most effective now when it narks at Robinson from the right, deserves Nesbitt. The coincidence of events may be pure accident. But the strain of having to engage in talks under an outside eye, when real negotiation was never intended, meant today’s unionist leadership was always going to collapse in public. Did Haass and O’Sullivan fly off in a buzz of irritation? Likely enough, though perhaps what helped provoke the Americans into frank reflection was Robinson’s cheeky claim that there had been no failure but the drafted and re-drafted proposals “needed much more work”.


Paisley was never an aberration. Middle unionism, “moderates” who scorned the DUP, helped make him an MEP. Proof from his own mouth that vanity has always been his main motivation is just another element leaderless Unionists need to absorb.