By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Ian Paisley could not have imagined being pushed out of power after just a year in office.
In the end he went because he had served his purpose.
Paisley alone could have sealed the deal with Sinn Féin because his 45-year divisive career of ranting, stunts, threats, protests, walk-outs, phantom armies and third forces made
it impossible for any other unionist to do so.
Had he retired in 2005 after his party’s rout of the once all-powerful UUP any other leader of the DUP who had tried to share power with Martin McGuinness would immediately have been denounced as ‘selling out’. If Paisley did it, it was OK, but only just.
Large numbers in his Church and many within the DUP were deeply shocked at the ultimate outsider becoming the ultimate insider.
How many, we won’t know until the European election in June 2009.
Paisley had so rancorously polluted the political wells in the north since his criminal behaviour in the early 1960s landed him in jail that he paralysed unionism.
That was his intention.
Nationalists assume that he was irrational, blinded with anti-Catholic bigotry which was his driving force.
That’s much too simple an explanation for his extraordinary misbehaviour over the decades.
True, his anti-Catholic rhetoric spewed out in his appalling rag of the late 1960s, The Protestant Telegraph, reviled everything Catholics held dear.
However, while anti-Catholicism was his rhetorical weapon, his main target was secular reforming unionism.
He was jailed for his protests outside the Presbyterian General Assembly where his followers yelled ‘Lundy’ and ‘Popehead’ at the dignitaries emerging.
Paisley, like many unionists of working-class and farming origins, was convinced the unionist establishment could never be trusted not to sell out to London or Dublin or both.
It goes without saying that no English politician could be trusted.
The future of the ‘People of Ulster’ -- by which he meant the Protestant people of Ulster - would only be safe in his hands and unless and until that day dawned he would ensure that no other unionist would make a deal.
Any unionist politician who tried was immediately denounced as a traitor and a Lundy - O’Neill, Chichester-Clark, Faulkner, Trimble.
You’ll notice the long gap of 25 years between Faulkner and Trimble during which Paisley held the UUP captive. Molyneaux knew that one step towards accommodation would be his downfall.
All through Molyneaux’s soporific leadership Paisley held him in a suffocating embrace. As soon as the new UUP leader Trimble made a move away from Paisley’s grip, Paisley pounced on him and destroyed him.
Only when he had devoured the UUP in the 2005 British general election and had become the undisputed leader of unionism did Paisley decide to savour the fruits of his victory. He could not have imagined he would be pushed out in a year.
The political arrogance of Ian Og provided the pretext for the heave against him. Paisley’s final misjudgment was surely the appointment of Ian Og to the Policing Board. A step too far. In the end Paisley was just another politician driven by personal ambition but the first one in modern times who had the cheek to claim divine sanction for his decisions.