Ian Paisley’s U Turn

Paisley’s vane boast mocks the principles of a lifetime

Ian Paisley has abandoned the religious and political first principles that once guided him, argues the Rev Brian Kennaway, raising a dissenting voice

The new Northern Ireland Assembly is welcomed by all right thinking people.  Yet the political situation which arrived at this deal appears surreal to many.

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, who all his life was denouncing any semblance of change as a ‘sell-out’, has arguably sold-out, both his religious and political principles.  The man who in all his religious and political life has caused division, within the Protestant and Unionist family, now produces unity – with Sinn Fein!

It is little wonder that many people are confused and bewildered and are asking whether Paisley has abandoned all his first principles of both religion and politics.

As far as religious principles are concerned, both Paisley – and the church which he founded – has always affirmed that they were in the tradition of the Protestant reformers, both in relation to the scriptures and their ecclesiastical separation.

The Web Site of the ‘Free Presbyterian Church’ not only affirms, “We believe the Bible to be – not merely to contain, but actually to be – the very Word of God”, and “we unhesitatingly embrace it as our chart and compass.”

This attitude to Scripture was not evident in the recent interview in which Ian Paisley stated that he would fulfil the full four years as First Minister.  Many within the Christian community in Northern Ireland were astounded by this arrogance. Northern Ireland Christians, presumably Paisley included, were brought up with the knowledge and the implications of Proverbs 27:1 “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”

But this was not the first time that Ian Paisley appeared to have abandoned the first principles of his religious convictions.  Some years ago Sammy Wilson was embroiled in a controversy over published photographs of himself appearing naked while on holiday with his girlfriend.  At a subsequent Press Conference Ian Paisley stated – “What a man does in his private life is his own business”.  This however was not the stand taken later in the case of Paul Berry. [In 2005, it was claimed that Berry met a man for a massage, with whom he had made initial contact via a gay chatroom, in a Belfast hotel room booked by Berry under a false name.]

The position of the Protestant Reformers was that the scriptures are the supreme authority for both faith and practice.  If this is to be the case in practice then we dare not ‘boast of tomorrow’, and since we cannot divorce faith from practice what a man does in his private live is most certainly not his own business.

In the political realm too Ian Paisley has given the impression of abandoning his first principles of unionism.  In a speech at Farmleigh House, in Phoenix Park Dublin on 4th April last he stated: “Some say hedges make the best neighbours but that is not the case. I don’t believe we should plant a hedge between out two countries.”

Hedges are useful, and as long at they are kept low fulfil a useful purpose. If they are allowed to grow too high, the Border becomes a barrier. In what sense therefore, does Paisley mean, “. I don’t believe we should plant a hedge between our two countries”. Is Ian Paisley saying that the border no longer matters or even exists?

This is a total reversal of Paisley’s rhetoric of the last 50 years. In January 1965, Terrance O’Neill, at the instigation of T.K. Whitaker, [then secretary to the Department of Finance], invited the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, for talks in Belfast. O’Neill met with strong opposition from Ian Paisley, who rejected any dealings with the Republic of Ireland. Paisley and his followers threw snowballs at Lemass’s car during the visit.

Central to traditional unionist thinking has always been the fact that the existence of the Border hedge between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, has ensured that we stay neighbours.  Perhaps Ian Paisley was caught up with the excitement of the realization that he was undoing all that he had done over the last 50 years, and got carried away with the rhetoric.

Let the hedge grow but keep it low, so that it is a border and not a barrier!

Rev Brian Kennaway is the author of The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed.

He is Minister of Crumlin Presbyterian Church in County Antrim.


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 9th May 2007