Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Annus horribilis for Paisley could soon change

Anne Cadwallader:

Ian Paisley

One of the great mysteries of recent Irish history now awaits an answer — what goes on inside Ian Paisley’s head. It is a fascinating question for those sitting on the sidelines but much more vital, of course, for the millions whose future peace and prosperity depends on the answer.

Paisley has dedicated his political life to “smashing Sinn Féin”. He now has to come to terms with the fact that not only has he failed but he is being asked (some would say told) by the parliament to which he gives allegiance to come to an accommodation with the hated party.

Recent days have not been kind to Ian Paisley. The year 2005 is turning, to quote Her Maj, into somewhat of an “annus horribilis” for Big Ian.

Firstly, the two appointees to head the Equality and Human Rights Commissions did not exactly go his way. He was not even informed in advance that a man from Co Kerry was to head the former commission and a mere woman who had had the temerity to stand up to his jibes at Stormont was getting the latter.

Then Seán Kelly was unceremoniously dumped out of jail without consultation with the Democratic Unionist Party leader on July 27, despite dire mutterings from Jeffrey Donaldson, 48 hours previously, that “it would be utterly inconceivable” if London prepared for the IRA statement by “being lenient”.

The IRA statement itself was clear and unambiguous and Tony Blair warmly welcomed it as “unparalleled”. If Jim Molyneaux felt the 1994 ceasefire was the most unsettling event ever to hit unionism in its history, imagine how Paisley felt about P O’Neill’s statement of July 28.

Another blow for Paisley came when the British government moved in to begin demilitarising bases in south Armagh, Belfast and Derry.

This was swiftly followed by the whammy of the disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment, without so much as a by-your-leave from the leader of the DUP.

The party was then ignored over the Policing Board. Mind you, it is difficult not to agree with the DUP on that. The British government is quite cynically ignoring the ballot box by “rolling over” the board’s membership for another year, despite significant electoral changes.

All of this should begin to tell the DUP leader something. He should be scratching his head and drawing certain conclusions about his influence or lack of it at Westminster.

It seems that, in a not entirely subtle way, London is putting the thumbscrews on the DUP in a bid to try to get the party around the talks table and ultimately the executive table far quicker than it wants.

Is London telling Paisley: “Okay, you won’t share power. Okay, so you get direct rule. This is how direct rule is going to be. Oh and what do you think about joint sovereignty? Want to change it? Then get into bed with the Shinners”?

The Ulster Unionist Party, having been down this painful road itself many times in the past, is waiting in the wings to tell unionist voters what they may already be starting to grasp all by themselves. That is that London will go its own way and act in what it conceives to be its own interests. The RIR was dumped without even its own members being told in advance to expect the blow.

This poses a huge question for the DUP and, in particular, its leader.

Electorally, it is hugely risky for the party to soften its policies on power-sharing with republicans. It only got to be top dog within unionism by telling the voters that David Trimble was a loser and that unionism had lost alongside him.

Riding that tiger means the DUP has to demonstrate that unionism is now winning and that the “conveyor belt of concessions to republicans” has come to a grinding halt.

After the IRA statement, the DUP had to decide whether to crow that it had won a significant concession from republicans or play the victim game and risk looking just like the losers in the Ulster Unionist Party.

Sadly for unionists, it seems they have an endless capacity to portray themselves as losers, although that in itself is a risky game for the DUP because the UUP is just dying to yell: “Told you so.”

This brings us to the question of whether Ian Paisley is susceptible to political pressure.

Some academics tell us that history is not made by individuals, that individuals are made by history. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Mao Zedong, Napoleon, Henry VIII, Churchill, Thatcher. Were they all created by their times or did they mould history themselves?

What makes Paisley different from most of the above is that he is motivated by a driving force other than the political. He is a deeply religious man who believes that God is on his side and that his enemies are Satan’s children.

For him, politics in the North is not just a conflict between native and planter, Irish and British. It is the ultimate conflict between heaven and hell, right and wrong.

That puts Paisley dangerously outside the normal rules of politics. For anyone trying to pressurise him to take a road he does not want to take, it makes the outcome even more unpredictable than normal.

Don’t believe me? Look at just a few phrases in the DUP leader’s statement in advance of his meetings in London last week (many of which went unreported).

Referring to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as members of a “machine of blood”, he castigated the British government for “joining hands with the leaders of murderers and the allies of thieves to carry out a plan which will leave Ulster an easy prey to terrorist activity”.

If the two governments press forward with plans for devolution, he said, “they will have to face the righteous indignation of the unionist population” (which sounds perilously like a threat).

“No decent person could tolerate a government in which jubilant terrorists, rejoicing in years of blood-letting and applauding acts of the vilest butchery, can have any part,” he said.

“The principles of IRA/Sinn Féin are the principles of fascism and naked dictatorship with an underlying hatred of righteousness, justice and truth.”

Unionists are willing to “pay the price of liberty”, he said. They will not “make sacrifices… to the end that Ulster ceases to be a part of the United Kingdom and sacrifices its democracy forever.”

How can you rationally argue with someone who believes all that?

Those taking pleasure in seeing the DUP leader throwing his teddy out of the pram should be warned. All this could change on a sixpence.

It is all predicated on London’s definition of its own self-interest. If the police or the Independent Monitoring Commission, for example, claim there is any IRA activity (which, going on past record, they are pretty much bound to do), Paisley’s fortunes may once again be in the ascendancy. He must be praying very hard.

And, as we saw with the Northern Bank heist, the British establishment is not above blaming the IRA for ongoing activities even though there is no evidence of republican involvement.

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