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Paisley’s judgement day

By Staff Reporter

WHAT was it that prompted Ian Paisley to say the words he said in Monday’s BBC programme during which the former First Minister and former Free Presbyterian Moderator spoke to Eamonn Mallie about his long life and political career? Was it intimations of his mortality, in the wake of a lengthy bout of serious illness? Did his brush with death cause him to reflect in the manner that William Butler Yeats did in the poem The Man and the Echo, written in 1938, just before the poet’s death?


In a cleft that’s christened Alt

Under broken stone I halt

At the bottom of a pit

That broad noon has never lit,

And shout a secret to the stone.

All that I have said and done,

Now that I am old and ill,

Turns into a question till

I lie awake night after night

And never get the answers right.

Did that play of mine send out

Certain men the English shot?

Did words of mine put too great strain

On that woman’s reeling brain?

Could my spoken words have checked

That whereby a house lay wrecked?

And all seems evil until I

Sleepless would lie down and die.


The melancholy lyricism of Yeats’ words may jar horribly with Mr Paisley’s populist bluster, but it’s possible. Certainly his assertion that the gerrymandering and discrimination that were the hallmark of the Orange State were in fact wrong and unjustified, and that he only opposed the civil rights movement because of the ‘united Ireland’ politics of its leaders, appeared to be a classic case of post-hoc justification of the unjustifiable. Because, of course, Mr Paisley, a ‘man of god’, didn’t say any of this at the time – had he done so then the grim sequence of events might have played out rather more benignly.

The proposition that Mr Paisley has realised at the eleventh hour that his  punitive god might direct some of his wrath at him for his past words and deeds is an intriguing one. But it would seem at first blush to be dealt a blow by Mr Paisley’s shocking suggestion that the Irish Government was in large measure to blame for the Dublin-Monaghan bombs of 1974 that claimed 33 lives. That jaw-dropping remark is on a par with any of the incendiary rhetoric delivered by him down through the years on the seething streets of the north.

But, in fact, this statement is perfectly in keeping with the argument that Mr Paisley – like the poet – is suffering a crisis of conscience in old-age over the idea that his utterances may have contributed to the conflict from which we are still struggling to emerge. Unlike the poet, however, Mr Paisley’s gigantic ego won’t allow him to leave that question hanging or to let posterity be the judge. From Mr Paisley’s  internal dialogue with his god, a dialogue that he has now decided with characteristic bravura should be delivered to the masses via Mr Mallie, he has concluded that he was caught up in circumstances not of his making, that he spoke and acted in the contemporary context of a society racked by divisions – divisions that he played no part in imposing or maintaining.

That may be enough to allow Ian Paisley to doze peacefully by the fire during the time he has left on this earth, but few others are convinced. And perhaps, more importantly for Mr Paisley, the ultimate judgement is yet to be made.

There is only one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and destroy. Who are you to judge your neighbour?

James 4:12

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