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Ian Paisley's rhetoric is long past its sell-by-date

(James Kelly, Irish News)

Going through the gates of Hillsborough Castle these days is like following Alice through the looking glass into a blunderland Fantasia. Are the Brits leading us up the garden path with Hain talking about those confounded interminable talks as the "opening window" for changes to the "internal architecture" of the power-sharing arrangements"?

Those are his words but what the devil is he on about. What's up his sleeve?

Surprisingly Paisley, the 80-year-old DUP leader, ushered back into business from death's door, turned up dressed like an ancient head of the Mafiosa, a sinister figure in black wearing a big sombrero and after damning the whole codology of more useless talks and revelling, we are told, in vintage rhetoric including vulgar abuse of the popular Irish President Mary McAleese.

That was at the DUP annual party gathering where his comic soothsayer, Sammy Wilson MLA, naturist but fully clothed, likened Paisley to a sea captain on the bridge of his ship, "laughing at storms", while his deputy leader, Peter Robinson MP, was in the chart room plotting the course ahead. The timing was all wrong. Most of us thought of the Egyptian ferry which that weekend ended in disaster in the red sea, whose captain presumably fatally laughed at a storm and a fire as his ship overturned with great loss of life.

And what was first mate Robinson up to in the chart-room? Both governments have stressed that the only way forward is through the Good Friday Agreement but the East Belfast MP announced publicly the uncompromising dissent of his party. "Read my lips the Belfast Agreement is dead."

So you might ask why go on with this tomfoolery of turning up with a 16-page hocus pocus discussion document offering to proceed to government without the hated presence of Sinn Féin? If the agreement is dead why are they in there participating for an alleged deal? "You can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all the people all of the time", so we are told by the great and the good.

The members of the prestigious British privy council must wonder about the curious underhand election to the council of an infamous rabble-rouser and troublemaker, none other than Dr No, with BBC leaks of more to follow.

It could only happen in Nevernerverland with spies under the bed telling all before doing a bunk to God knows where. Fantasia, I tell you. There's the outward semblance of reality here: buses running to schedule, trains running late, as usual, shoppers out in the streets, television boring us with dreary popstars and dull soap operas and the papers full of murders and robberies of the aged. But there's the other picture of surreal Ulster politics with a ghostly Parliament on the Hill, with 108 MLA's about to be paid off after waiting three years for the call that never came and finally that sick joke about ending the nonsense next April with a final report of the monitoring commission allegedly filling the gaps left by the Canadian general. Where is he? He must write a book about it.

In Paisley's address to the puzzled DUP faithful – who must be wondering where he is taking them – he went back to his old trick of attacking somebody big. It used to be the Pope, NI governors and prime ministers. This time as a smokescreen about his confused situation – going nowhere – he launched into a disreputable and unfair attack on President Mary McAleese. It was just typical, vulgar and abusive and clearly will cut little ice with the many people on all sides here who have met her. There was the usual old stale bunk about "traitors" who talk to Dublin about the Norths "internal affairs" – a cover up surely for his recent talks with Bertie Ahern in Dublin.

This paper's disclosure on Thursday that the President's husband, Dr Martin McAleese, had private talks with 10 UDA bosses in a Belfast Hotel about the possible disbandment of its military wing, the UFF, probably came as a shock to Paisley, who with nothing else to report, could only end his party leader's address with that depressing message of failure: "We've hills to climb. We've mountains to shift. We've roads to lay. We've a house to build. Not an inch – No Surrender!"

Well there you have it. Failing a miracle, or worse still, a dirty deal, the unfortunate inhabitants of the sick counties are confronted with the daunting picture of an octogenarian political leader leading them over the hills and mountains for the foreseeable future, mouthing the silly slogans of old Craigavon, on the road to nowhere. Has he been reading about Muhammad in the uproar over a cartoon? It is said of Muhammad that if the mountain would not come to Muhammad then Muhammed would come to the mountain. But even the Prophet did not dare to talk about shifting mountains.

February 12, 2006

This article appeared first in the February 11, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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