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One Small Step for Paisley, One Giant Step for Ireland?

Political journalist and Revolutionary Unionist Dr John Coulter suggests Monday's meeting between Ian Paisley and Sean Brady has been the most important since the creation of Northern Ireland – and could pave the way for an equally historic face to face meeting between the DUP and Sinn Fein


Dr John Coulter • 9 October 2006

Monday's meeting between DUP boss Ian Paisley and Catholic Primate Sean Brady was the most important in Irish history since Michael Collins agreed the Treaty to partition the island.

Okay, so U2 star Bono was not be present to lead the cheering crowds when he applauded Good Friday Agreement signatories and joint Nobel Peace Prize winners Davy Trimble and John Hume.

There was not even a photocall of a handshake on Stormont's steps between Paisley – who is also Moderator of one of Protestantism's most vocally fundamentalist denominations – and the Archbishop.

The content of their discussions was relatively unimportant, but the significance was the symbolism of their meeting – and the fact it has occurred 41 years too late.

In the minds of the Northern people, the “positive” outcome to the Paisley/Brady talks was that it represented political body language a deal to restore the power-sharing Executive before the end of the year looks increasingly likely.

More than 3,000 people died in the Northern conflict since the boil of sectarianism erupted once more in the late Sixties.

How many of those lives could have been saved if former Northern Premier Terence O'Neill had had the vision to invite Paisley and the Catholic Church leadership to talks at Stormont in January 1965 instead of the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass?

On that snowy day in '65, as Lemass' car headed for Parliament Buildings, it was pelted by snowballs from protesting Paisleyites.

O'Neill had already recognised the growing unease in the Northern nationalist community. While the latest IRA border terror campaign had fizzled out three years earlier, he knew the seeds of conflict, which were to grow into the civil rights movement, were taking root.

O'Neill also knew the next year, 1966, would be the 50th anniversary of the failed Dublin Easter Rising and a poignant date in republican culture.

As for Paisley, there was no sign of the DUP. It would not emerge until 1971. There was no UVF or UDA. It seemed Paisley's primary concern was building his fledgling fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church which he'd formed in 1952.

In '65, it was O'Neill himself who was at the crossroads, not the North. He knew he had to make a symbolic gesture, otherwise another generation of sectarian conflict would be unleashed. But it was a case of right meeting, wrong guests.

The choice of Lemass was totally foolish. In republican folklore, he was an icon because of his involvement with Collins in the notorious Bloody Sunday massacre when the IRA murdered around a dozen British intelligence agents in Dublin on 21 November 1920.

Lemass was also Premier of a state which had a territorial claim to the unionist-controlled 'Loyal Ulster'. His presence at unannounced talks at Stormont, the symbol of unionist majority rule in the Orange state, was like a red republican flag to the Protestant bull.

O'Neill's second mistake in '65 was to write off Paisley as simply yet another fundamentalist Hell fire preacher. In the North's Swinging Sixties, go to any Protestant town and you'd find these street corner clerics warning about the flames of Hades, ready to consume those who were not 'born again'.

But the 1965 Ian Paisley was different. He was no spiritual rabble rouser. O'Neill was a religious liberal aristocrat while Big Ian was a motivator and mobiliser for two of Protestantism's voiceless sections – the evangelical Right-wing and the working class.

More than a generation later, Paisley went into Monday's meeting in the very place which was once O'Neill powerhouse as the leader of unionism's largest party.

On Monday, there was no Hell fire talk to the Primate about the Biblical Antichrist or the role of the Mass in Catholic worship. Nor was it an ecumenical prayer meeting, so any outside loose talk about the meeting compromising the Protestant Reformed Faith is a load of rubbish.

However, the symbolism of the Free Presbyterian Moderator meeting the Primate will not be lost on Paisley's loyal band of fundamentalist Rednecks and religious bogmen.

Among these Protestant spiritual hardliners, Paisley has built his political reputation on the ethos of 'Trust the Lord with your soul, but trust me with Ulster'.

Nor was Monday's meeting a knee-jerk reaction to intense criticism the DUP is only about the politics of 'not an inch' or 'never, never, never.'

The meeting was a clever tactical ploy by Paisley to ensure his beloved DUP did not fall into the same pit as tripped up Lord Trimble when as David Trimble, he led the strife-ridden UUP. Paisley has been most meticulous in his strategy of edging his fundamentalist supporters along with him – not by Trimble-style giant leaps, but in slow, steady need steps, inch by inch.

The meeting also prepares the ground for the DUP – and Paisley individually – to hold direct, face to face talks with Sinn Fein, but only if this does not edge up the political temperature of the bogmen.

For an Executive to become a reality, he must keep the bogmen on board, otherwise these volatile fundamentalists will crucify his beloved DUP in a UUP-style civil war.

He must sell them the view he persuaded republicans to recognise the PSNI and to seal the deal, it was necessary to meet the Primate.

If the North has its working parliament back by Christmas, history will judge the agreement was made not in Scotland later this week, but today in Stormont.

In terms of peace talks, today's chat on the Hill is even more momentous than any Arab Jew negotiations which American Presidents have organised at their famous Camp David location.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

10 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Hail The Messiah
Anthony McIntyre

HET: History of Whitewash Continues
Martin Galvin

To Deal or Not
Martin Ingram

One Small Step for Paisley, One Giant Step for Ireland?
Dr John Coulter

The Haunting
John Kennedy

Subversion of an Irish Peace Plan
Brian Wardlow

Working Class Hero
Mick Hall

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 15 - 22
Michael Gillespie

John Kennedy

Racism: The Social Cancer
Dr John Coulter

Forced Out
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters Page Has Been Updated.

2 October 2006

Anthony McIntyre

Reply to Andytown News on Republican Family Meeting
Martin Galvin

Lights Out
John Kennedy

Creating A Viable Alternative
Dr John Coulter

Teflon Kid
John Kennedy

When Fear Trumps Reason
David Adams

Stay Out of Neo-Con Mire
Mick Hall

Who really is the Biblical Anti Christ?
Dr John Coulter

Serving Judas, Not Justice
Anthony McIntyre



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