On the Passing of Ian Paisley
Posted on September 12, 2014
I can’t decide if Ian Paisley was the George Wallace of Northern Ireland or the Strom Thurmond.
Paisley was a bigot.
When St. John Paul II visited the European Parliament in 1988 (the Pope who brought down communism in alliance with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), Paisley heckled him saying,
I denounce you, Anti-Christ! I refuse you as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine.
He said that Catholics “breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin” at a Protestant rally in 1969.
When Pope John XXIII died, he said,
This Romish man of sin is now in hell!
When the Queen Mother of England visited the Vatican, he said it “was spiritual fornication and adultery with the Antichrist.”
He said about the Church,
Seed of the serpent … Her clothes reek of the brimstone of the pit. Her words and opinions label her the parrot of Beelzebub, her father.
He was paranoid. He called the European Union “A beast ridden by the harlot Catholic Church.”
As the peace process inched ever closer, he said:
This year will be a crisis year for our province. The British government, in cahoots with Dublin, Washington, the Vatican and the IRA, are intent to destroy the province. The so-called talks process is but a front. Behind it the scene is set and the programme in position to demolish the province as the last bastion of Protestantism in Europe.
Despite the fact that the IRA (with its Marxist roots) had no relationship with the Vatican, he imagined a troubling connection:
O Father, we can see the great pan-nationalist conspiracy, with the Pope as its head, sending his secret messages to the IRA.
In many ways he was your typical Southern Baptist preacher.
He campaigned hard against the decriminalization of homosexuality with the tag line, “Save Ulster from Sodomy.”
He campaigned against dancing, saying,
Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching. It is an incitement to lust.
He called Guinness “The devil’s buttermilk” and wouldn’t talk to any reporter who smelled of alcohol. The irony, of course, was that most Irish reporters had to have a few drinks to summon up the courage to speak to Paisley, because he was so consumed with hatred.
And yet, upon his death, his former adversaries had nothing but kind words for him.
Martin McGuiness, the once commander of the IRA and now the Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said this:
Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.
I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists.
In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office.
Gerry Adams, his principle rival as the head of Sinn Fein, said this,
I am shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Dr Ian Paisley. There will be plenty of time for political analysis but at this point I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ian's wife Eileen and to the Paisley family at this very sad time.
It was always said of Paisley, that despite his hateful rhetoric, he took care of his Catholic constituents when he served in office.
And as the analysis goes, you can make the case that only Paisley could have brought the Unionists to the bargaining table and ultimately sign off on the peace deal.
There may be some truth in that. I suppose we should be happy that the peace deal, no matter how fragile, is still in place.
But Ian Paisely’s bigotry should not be forgotten. He riled up the Unionist side in ways that were completely unhelpful to the peace process.
As a man of the cloth, he preached hate, not love. He sought to divide, not unite. And he pounded the Orange drums that echoed in the ears of Catholics who been persecuted for generations.
Both George Wallace and Strom Thurmond tried, in their later years, to overcome their segregationist legacies by reaching out to the African-American community. Thurmond was more successful than Wallace.
Paisley did the same with Catholics in Northern Ireland, working with people he used to hate to make the new government work.
And I suppose that is the lesson we should all learn. Redemption is possible in all of us. Even Ian Paisley.