Possibly the most dominant figure in Norn Iron history is the Rev Dr Ian Paisley. He is now 87 years old and is currently not very well.
Is he the most divisive figure in History?
Or the most unifying?
Put more bluntly, is he one of the main reasons, Norn Iron descended into violence? Or is he one of the main reasons that we found a way out? Or is he both?
We talk about a decade of Centenaries that we must negotiate our way thru. How do we handle the upcoming Centenary of the First World War? The Easter Rising? The Somme?
For the record, I have always believed that these Centenaries should not be “handled”. No self-respecting Historian should be (for a fee) advising Governments on how Centenaries must be “handled”.
The Truth is the Truth is the Truth.
But we have proved incapable of “handling” 1690 (Battle of the Boyne) and 2014 (Haass Talks)….we cannot be expected to deal with 1916.
As I am 61 years old…I can actually remember the 1960s….I choose to think of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the these events.
We are (again) in Pre-Conflict rather than Post-Conflict mode.
And we should not under-estimate the Unexpected.
Rev Ian Paisley is…I say again ….87 years old.
The Queen of England …Mrs Windsor…is around the same age.
The “Duke of Edinburgh” is in his 90s.
“Prince Charles” is 65 years old.
For that matter I am 61 years old.
I dont want to be tasteless or crass but you probably see where I am going with this.
The Decade will end sooner rather than later for many of us.
All of which makes the two “set piece interviews …Paisley and veteran local journalist Eamonn Mallie…quite interesting.
Your reaction might well depend on your reaction to Mallie as much as Paisley.
You might hold the view that Mallie is “peerless” the doyen of Belfast journos….whose insights are sought on 24 Hour News Channels around the world.
(When Norn iron needs explained….Mallie always seems willing).
Or you might hold the view that Mallie is a pompous, self-obsessed faux “Renaissance Man” who is a legend in his own lunchtime.
I make no comment.
Yet the two interviews…and a book deal (??????)…is a scoop for Eamonn.
We should look forward to seeing him in Ian Whytes in Dublin with an auction catalogue.
But what’s in it for 87 year old Ian Paisley?
History can be well served. But will it?
Is it a glorified Autobiography…the most unreliable form of History? Is Eamonn effectively ghost-writing the newest Paisley narrative.
Leaked spoilers appear to be a mixed bag.
We are told that 87 year old Paisley believes Catholics were treated badly in Norn Iron. That surely is to be welcomed. But would History have been different if 37 year old Paisley believed this?
It is certainly reasonable from a unionist perspective that Paisley believed the Civil Rights movement to have been used by “nationalists”.
And his account of Clontibret….a slightly absurd but potentially dangerous “invasion” of a County Monaghan border village by loyalists led by his Deputy …Peter Robinson, now First Minister.
Its an escapade that Robbo The Statesman would like to forget.
The Paisley version is that it was pretty stupid? The Robbo version…we are told …is that the Big Man organised it and that Robbo deputised.
Certainly we can speculate that there is no love lost between Paisley (and presumably the Paisley political dynasty) and Robinson (and presumably the Robinson political dynasty).
Shockingly Paisley is alleged to say that the Irish Government policies were primarily the reason that bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan killing almost thirty people.
These bombs are believed to have been the result of collusion between loyalists and RUC “rogue” elements and British Intelligence “handlers”.
Just a few weeks ago, Gerry Adams was castigated for callously suggesting that two RUC Officers were lax about their own security and it led to their deaths, after leaving Dundalk Garda Station.
Paisley is therefore just as callous as Adams, who was lambasted by the “peerless” journalists in Dublin 4 and the “peerless” website Slugger O’Toole.
Let me be clear here. Private citizens like you and me have a certain licence to say things. Because we largely express these views to a limited private circle of family and friends.
You might therefore have expressed views on the deaths of (say) President Kennedy, Che Guevara, the Twin Towers, Margaret Thatcher, General Pinochet, paratroopers at Narrow Water…..if you did not, then you have certainly heard callous things said. And certainly if you knew that your views were in the public domain, you might have chosen a reasonable form of words.
To that very narrow extent, I have a certain sympathy with Adams and Paisley.
In being direct about those RUC deaths and Dublin-Monaghan, they were not expressing view that have not been heard before…representative of a stream of nationalist and unionist thought.
Of course Paisley is much more popular than Gerry Adams in the Dublin Media…and of course Slugger O’Toole. Dont expect a lot of threads on how shocking Paisleys thoughts are. Expect the word “context” to be used a lot.
But will Mr Mallie, a South Armagh man mention the three Reavey Brothers, murdered in 1976?
Will he mention that Paisley, then a Member of Parliament used House of Commons privelege to name a fourth brother as involved in a reprisal killing?
It was of course complete nonsense…but the Big Man has not so far been big enough to admit his part in a gross injustice?
Credit therefore to another South Armagh man…Dominic Bradley MLA ….for daring to keep this in the public domain.
Will Slugger O’Toole dare mention the Reavey Brothers?
Is there not at least a duty on Paisley to face up to this?
Slugger are often tenacious about other injustices….Jean McConville for example.
But wasn’t Eamonn Mallie, one of the journos to whom the cuckolded Peter Robinson poured out his heart four years ago?
Is this going to be as robust as Mallie claims?
Or will it feature “Lord Paisley” and “Lady Bannside” walking in a garden with obligatory elderly Labrador (hired from Central Casting) to show the softer side of the Great Statesman? Our very own Nelson Mandela.
I will judge Mr Mallie, not so much on the questions Paisley answers but rather the subjects that a lesser journalist than Eamonn might be tempted to forget.
Here is a handy check list for you to tick as Mallie brings them up.
If you have to look these names up on Wikipedia, then it is probably evidence that Mallie needs to mention them.