Why Ian Paisley is still box office - five and a half years after stepping down from politics

 
Ian Paisley The 87-year-old has been one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th Century

It may be five and a half years since Ian Paisley stood down as Stormont's first minister, but there is no doubt the 'Big Man' is still box office.

Watching him in conversation with Eamonn Mallie for Monday night's BBC documentary Paisley: Genesis to Revelation remains spellbinding, as the ex-DUP leader treats us to his full range from charming humour, through to belligerent defence of the apparently indefensible.

His account of his long career from a preacher in gospel mission halls to the dominant unionist leader is punctuated by Eamonn Mallie reminding him of a string of extreme utterances - some Lord Bannside defends, others he has trouble recalling.

There is acknowledgment that the old unionist failure to distribute housing fairly and the practice of gerrymandering councils was wrong.

The former first minister also backs David Cameron's apology over the Bloody Sunday shootings.

However there is no backing away from his role in setting up the paramilitary Third Force and a jaw-dropping comment on the UVF Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in which Lord Bannside says the political leaders of the Irish Republic "brought it on themselves".

The sense in which Ian Paisley can be considered as much an Ulster nationalist as a unionist is conveyed by his contempt for most of the British secretaries of state he dealt with.

Ripples

John Major might not be impressed by Lord Bannside's description of the mortar attack on his cabinet as they sat inside Downing Street as "a cracker for the IRA".

The second Eamonn Mallie programme may cause more ripples for contemporary politics as Ian Paisley expands on his resignation as DUP leader and removal as Free Presbyterian moderator - developments which he refers to in Monday night's programme as being "kicked in the gutter" and "chased out of the church".

However, there is much to ponder in this first programme, including hints at tensions behind the scenes with Peter Robinson whose notorious Clontibret "incursion" - in Paisley's view - should not have occurred.

At one point, whilst watching the young Paisley protesting about flags (an Irish tricolour on the Falls Road) and leading marches though the centre of Belfast, I wondered which contemporary firebrand might be regaling us with his (or her) memoirs in another 40 years time.

We'll have to wait and see, but to watch Ian Paisley you don't have long to wait - the documentary is on BBC1 Northern Ireland at 10.30 pm on Monday night.

 
Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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    Comment number 10.

    Paisley is a poster boy for bigotry and hatred. That the government rewarded his behaviour with a peerage is incredible. He may have played a part in the peace process, but it was only after he saw the writing on the wall. He was no willing participant, and he certainly didn't show any leadership there. They may run things now but I shudder to think DUP politics speak for a majority of unionists.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Will Ian Paisley ever gave it up. At a time when everyone knows that Mr Paisley was wrong in his political decisions he comes up with these excuses. At the beginning of the troubles he wanted to make a political name for himself and that meant that all of Northern Ireland had to pay the price. His involvement with the peace process was only after he was First Minister . RETIRE NI has had enough.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    Contempary firebrand? I shudder at the thought...there's a fine line between being a firebrand and being mentally unwell - and I can think of one or two contemparies that have already crossed that line! As far as Ian is concerned - he played his part - badly. But he came good in the end, we must acknowledge and respect his part in the peace process.

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    Comment number 7.

    Martin McGuinness may, or may not, regard Ian Paisley higher than I do; Martin is a consummate politician, which I don’t claim to be. It’s a pity there aren’t more politicians like Martin, a few on the Unionist side would work wonders for NI. But I suppose we must wait until the present crop of Unionist politicians get old and lose their vigour, like big Ian, before they see the light.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    So Paisley thought that the NICRA were right at the time, yet he was the one who inflamed the situation with his bellicose speeches about how it was an IRA front and was a plot to bring about a United Ireland. As for Dublin and Monaghan, he was the one who made the "Shots across the border" speech just before.

    What a total hypocrite.

 

Comments 5 of 10

 

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