By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
He’s gone, the oul curmudgeon, and good riddance, though an astonishing number of people seem to think the last year outweighed the appalling damage Paisley did to politics and society here over the last 60 years, not the mere 40 that some observers have laid at his door.
Andrew Anthony, in the Observer, reviewing Susan McKay’s latest book, the excellent Bear in Mind These Dead, put it well when he wrote that Paisley’s “rhetoric supplied the soundtrack to countless loyalist atrocities”.
One aspect of his baleful legacy which has not been considered is the party he has left behind, his own invention, the DUP.
You have to ask yourself, before last year what sort of person would join a party that Ian Paisley led?
One answer is obvious.
Look around you at councils in the north but above all at the DUP in the assembly and you will see an inordinate proportion of members of Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church. Its members make up about half the DUP assembly party.
In the DUP as a whole Free Presbyterians, mainly rural conservative men, comprise the largest block in the party.
In other words this tiny sect which is about one per cent of the north’s Protestants dominates the main unionist party.
There’s another answer to the question who would join the DUP apart from members of Paisley’s church? The church members were obviously attracted by his evangelical rhetoric.
Just as obviously another wing of the party was attracted by his unsavoury political and sectarian rhetoric. Mind you, the two wings of the party are not mutually exclusive. You can be an evangelical and a ranting bigot or you can be a ranting bigot and a racist and hold no position at all on evangelicalism. The DUP offers you a smorgasbord of prejudice.
The resultant mix has produced a party which is full of reactionary, frustrated, backward-looking public representatives who are sharply disconnected from the modern world and contemporary values and intensely proud of it.
Normally they are on their best behaviour, conscious that if their antediluvian views were fully exposed they would be held up to ridicule. For example, some of them seem to think Ian Paisley is only slightly younger than the first settlers at Mount Sandel near Coleraine, while archaeologists show he’s 9,000 years younger.
Occasionally the mask slips as with Iris Robinson’s shameful outburst on the Stephen Nolan show when she railed against political correctness which means she can’t talk about ‘coloured’ people and objected to TV shows presenting the lives of gay people. She added that when her hubby becomes first minister he won’t endorse gay events. Does she not remember the trouble Ian Og got himself into for his remarks about homosexuals? Does she not know her husband has no choice but to adhere to equality legislation and while there’s no chance of seeing Peter prancing out in front of a gay pride parade in one of his millions of fetching ties he cannot object on the grounds of the sexuality of those in the parade?
The trouble is that most of the DUP assembly party agree completely with Iris’s sentiments but find themselves gritting their teeth at some of the stuff they have to finance or permit because it’s the law. Unlike Iris and Ian Og they’re cunning enough to keep quiet about the modern society they’re compelled to thole in case their voters ask them what’s going on - and by the way Iris’s outburst will do her no harm at all with DUP voters.
The problem for the rest of us is that Ian Paisley’s legacy is Norn Iron’s very own ‘nasty party’ composed of people who live in an imaginary world whose values they would love to impose on everyone else - and do at the slightest opportunity.
It’s only the existence of a raft of human rights legislation and case law established by the European Court of Human Rights that saves us from the DUP exerting their ‘righteousness’.
Peter Robinson won’t even try to alter any of that. The only hope is that with the departure of Paisley unionists who don’t subscribe to the DUP’s flat-earth thinking will have the courage to present a modern alternative to voters.