A call by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness for people to “give prayerful support” for an unwell Ian Paisley has led to a backlash against the party by some of its own supporters.
The former DUP leader, a nemesis to generations of republicans, is suffering from a serious heart condition at Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Martina Anderson received dozens of objections this week when she issued the appeal for prayers for the veteran hardliner.
She had posted a message on the internet to state that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson had both “offered their best wishes to Dr Paisley and his family and call on the community to give prayerful support to Ian and his family at this time”.
The post prompted more than 30 responses--- more than two thirds of the replies were from nationalists and republicans expressing surprise and anger over the appeal.
One wrote: “Somehow I think you’ll find Catholics remembering him more for what he caused rather than offering prayerful intentions.”
Another accused her of being “completely out of step with the feelings of her constituents and her voters”.
Others praised the statement “for showing leadership”.
Dr Paisley was involved in anti-Catholic paramilitary activity for much of his life, founding two separate paramilitary groups in the 1980s. His political career was marked by extreme sectarianism, a deep hatred of the Catholic church and of Irish nationalism. He successfully mobilised unionists against a series of political agreements in the North, including the 1986 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement--- but he ultimately forged a deal with Sinn Fein to support the devolved Six-County administration at Stormont. He was elected First Minister in 2007, before stepping down the following year, declaring that the Union [with Britain] had been ‘secured’.
The controversy over Sinn Fein’s call for prayers for Dr Paisley came just days after a furore over the party’s efforts to bring Ireland’s main traditonal music festival, the Fleadh Cheoil, to Derry next year under the auspices of the detested ‘UK City of Culture’ program. After considerable controversy, the festival was given the go-ahead--- but not before some musicians attacked the party for ‘becoming more unionist than the unionists themselves’.
A separate statement by Martin McGuinness that he might be prepared to travel to London to meet the Queen of England had also raised hackles among the Sinn Fein membership this week.
On Wednesday, Ms Anderson defended her party’s ‘prayerful support’ for Dr Paisley.
‘I understand people’s views and know what we as a society came through and as someone who did 13.5 years in jail and 10 of those in England I have more than an idea of what it was like,” she said.
“That said, that was then and we are now all involved in building and consolidating the peace and political process.”