No cure for ‘The Doc’ if IRA disband
No cure for ‘The Doc’ if IRA disband

By Danny Morrison

The remark at a DUP press conference that David Trimble is facing not just “the electric chair” but “the rope” was vintage Paisley. Cocky, vainglorious, petty stuff that had his merry band of followers roaring in the aisles at Trimble being ‘executed’ twice - across the North as leader of the UUP, and at a personal level at the hands of David Simpson in Upper Bann.

Last December Paisley came off with the IRA having to “wear sackcloth and ashes in public”. A few months before that, at Leeds Castle, he attacked ‘Romanist’ journalists for not really caring about his health, after one journalist, who happened to be a Catholic, asked him how he was keeping.

Paisley knows he can get away with such remarks because the media has by and large indulged him and tolerated as ‘eccentric’ this vulgar side to what they fondly call the ‘The Doc’s’ personality. Yet, there is nothing eccentric about it. He speaks quite deliberately and this is clearly understood by his supporters who love the mix of religious fundamentalism and its imagery with traditional ‘No Surrender’ politics.

In the 1960s the upper class leadership of the Ulster Unionists used to dismiss Paisley, scoff at him and ridicule him, until, that is, he got elected as a Stormont MP in Bannside and as a Westminster MP for North Antrim in1970. There followed a series of relationships between the UUP and Paisley, from jointly sitting on the paramilitary Ulster Workers Committee in 1974, to Paisley’s and David Trimble’s famous jig at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road in 1995.

Although Paisley commanded a huge personal following from the first EU elections in 1979, it has only been in recent years that his party’s threat to the UUP has become overwhelming, and that is directly linked to the fears Paisley has stoked about the Belfast Agreement.

Yet, if Paisley really wants power he too will have to do what the Ulster Unionists did and sit with Sinn Féin in an executive with links to the Dublin government. I have long been of the opinion that he cannot do that and that his victories will have all been empty ones which will deliver no progress or prosperity for the unionist people.

On May 5 th, Paisley’s DUP will probably trounce the Ulster Unionists as that party celebrates its 100 th anniversary at something more akin to a wake. Of course, it won’t be completely written off but it will take a considerable time getting to its feet and dusting itself down before being ready to seriously confront the DUP, and that probably not happening until Paisley has retired.

Nevertheless, Paisley’s DUP mantra, “Never, Never, Never”, could come back to haunt him. Unlike the manifestos of Sinn Féin and the SDLP, which are grounded in some form of pragmatism, Paisley’s manifesto promises a post-election polity which is delusional.

Unsurprisingly, he states that he is not prepared to share power with Sinn Féin until there is complete, visible and verifiable decommissioning; a total end to IRA activity; and that “the community” is convinced the IRA has been stood down (language which usually means “the unionist community”).

Given that for several years the IRA has met with John de Chastelain’s international decommissioning body and has on several occasions put large amounts of weapons beyond use it is clear that the IRA was headed for complete disarmament. It said as much at Christmas. Gerry Adams’ recent appeal to the IRA is for this process (plus more) to be hastened. However, Paisley, by emphasising photographs and videos of decommissioning, instead of the substance, has left himself vulnerable. What will be the response of him and his party when the IRA - as I believe it will - puts all of its weapons beyond use and stands down/demobilises and is perceived by the general public and the two governments as having done so?

The PR tables will have been turned on the DUP which will either have to recognise the disarmament without having the photographic evidence or deny in perpetuity its voters a right to local executive administration.

Another part of Paisley’s manifesto is that “inclusive, mandatory coalition government which includes Sinn Féin under d’Hondt or any other system is out of the question.” So, even were the IRA to humiliate itself by allowing decommissioning to be filmed, even were the IRA to declare itself disbanded, the DUP would still not equitably or proportionally share power with Sinn Féin! They’re really smart negotiators, okay!

The DUP had been, of course, heartened by the unrepresentative remarks earlier this year of Eddie McGrady and Alasdair McDonnell that the SDLP should consider going into coalition with the DUP to the exclusion of Sinn Féin, remarks which Mark Durkan unconvincingly claimed had been taken out of context. That aside, there is no way would Sinn Féin or the SDLP, having already secured the d’Hondt system of election in the executive, derogate from it in order to gerrymander their own entitlements to cabinet posts.

So, realising that an approach to the SDLP is a dead duck the DUP are promising that direct rule will be made “more accountable and acceptable” and that it will work “to integrate Northern Ireland more firmly within the United Kingdom.” The irony of that, of course, is that greater integration was the policy of the former leader of the Ulster Unionist party, James Molyneaux, which Paisley, the devolutionist, opposed!

In summary, this is what Ian Paisley’s manifesto consists of: there will be no assembly, no executive, no negotiations and no change.

“ Northern Ireland cannot afford for Sinn Féin to be the largest party and only the DUP can stop this,” he says, to fire unionist voters.

But where does it leave them afterwards?

The DUP under Paisley is a party which because of its sectarian history and inclination cannot take into account the rights of nationalists who, for all intents and purposes, comprise almost half the population.

Paisley’s manifesto’s greatest weakness is its one-dimensional view of the world - as if nationalists have lesser rights than unionists, are going to acquiesce in their own discrimination, haven’t got a voice, aren’t going to lobby, don’t exist.

And that’s Paisley’s problem.

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