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No amount of rhetoric will save face for 'Lundy'

(, Irish News)

Ian Paisley has gone the way of all flesh and stands accused of being seduced by power.

Once it was O'Neill Must Go, Chichester-Clark Must Go, Faulkner Must Go. Even the Ulster Unionists had to go but now, Paisley himself Must Go.

I once carried an O'Neill Must Go placard at a rally whose speaker was Free Presbyterian minister Rev William Beattie.

Paisley was then in prison and Beattie carried the torch and remained faithful to an old fashioned gospel and a reactionary Protestant Unionist Party. He kept the PUP name alive when Paisley was virtually persuaded to revise his politics and enter the modern world.

The party name was changed and left of centre policies were to be introduced but the DUP was to remain to the right on the constitutional issue. But this was going against the grain and many followers were unconvinced.

Dessie Boal, a top lawyer, shrewd politician, vicious critic of O'Neill Unionism and close ally and friend of Paisley, wanted the party to leave petty sectarian point-scoring and religious rhetoric behind. He wanted to drive a new agenda but the gulf between his unconventional, free thinking radicalism and Paisley's right-wing, contentious fundamentalism went too deep.

The politics of Paisleyism can only be properly understood in the context of religious dogma primarily directed against Rome and against compromisers.

Politics and religion were merged into what some former adherents described as a commitment to a 'sacral Ulster', for which they were prepared to die. They imagined that Paisley would also fight to the last drop of their blood.

Ulster nationalism and Protestant fundamentalism were fused together and Ulster was presented as the last bastion of evangelical Protestantism. God had a special plan for Ulster that would bring about the spiritual re-birth of Britain.

But Paisley insisted, 'I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet' and perhaps wisely refrained from taking clear positions on such issues.

Although he toyed with and for a time seemed to go along with Boal's federal Ireland proposals, in the end he chickened out. Generally he seemed to avoid risks and so one former ally described him as a moral coward.

By avoiding clear-cut public stands on certain issues he could change without appearing to do so – until now.

After years of politicking about Romish, ecumenical, IRA plots to destroy Ulster he now sits with former arch-enemies as partners in government with only fig leaves for cover.

Many years ago Paisley successfully decided to milk the European Community – the supposed Beast of Revelation – for Ulster. But sharing power with Sinn Féin is different. It is too close to home and his people have not been prepared.

Because of his life-long lambasting of those who seek compromise as Lundies, he has built on sand. His about-face is so catastrophic it could lead to his eventual demise politically and religiously.

Lundy is now the Big Man himself. His people are bruised and confused and many don't where to turn or how to react.

The DUP's use of the rhetoric of others to justify the dramatic change of course is unconvincing. Critics may have been subdued but resentment lurks just beneath the surface.

Many adherents have been stunned into silence by the Chuckle brothers' love-in, but their anxiety is beginning to find expression and Peter Robinson is already seeking a lifeline from the DUP's traditional saviours – the UUP.

Sinn Féin faces similar problems but they saw the writing on the wall long ago and engaged in all kinds of consultations to turn their ship around. The DUP in contrast waited until a structure was built by someone else. Paisley then hopped aboard like the proverbial cuckoo into the well-constructed nest.

The magnitude of Paisley's betrayal is difficult to comprehend for those who don't know his church people.

Most are simple believers who would hesitate before trusting human flesh and whose guide is the Bible only. Some do election work because they see their leader as God's man for the hour.

Now doubts dangle about the mantle of the anointed leader. Ian Paisley should take his own advice, adorn sackcloth and ashes and lead by example – not by repenting for accepting the post of first minister but for misleading the people for so long.

This would not be easy for a politician, but Ian Paisley is a church leader and should be able to eat humble pie.

September 11, 2007

This article appeared first in the September 10, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News