This is our truth, tell us yours
It’s common on the death of a political figure for their contemporaries to react like this. Brought up as we are not to speak ill of the dead platitudes seem the safe option. However the death of Iain Paisley seems to have moved from the usual meaningless soundbites into a complete rewriting of history. The narrative that seems to be winning is that Paisley opposed any kind of power sharing but then as he mellowed with old age his “nice” side came to the fore and he agreed to join the government for selfless reasons, to end the troubles.
This may have been his preferred view of history, but totally ignores so many of the facts, as he was wont to do himself. That what we call the troubles, as in the post bloody sunday violence of tit for tat atrocities that tore Northern Ireland apart, can largely be lain at the feet of Paisley has not been mentioned. In the late 60s as people across the Northern Hemisphere demanded civil rights so too did Northern Irish Catholics. They had a lot to demand, denied housing, employment, voting rights,, discriminated against by all the arms of the state, they were as Roddy Doyle wrote “the n******* of europe”. Paisley opposed any move to treat Catholics as equals, to remove discriminatory laws, or to work to a better future for all. Determined to protect the privileges of his own kind he celebrated mob attacks on Catholic homes and encouraged hatred and division. Whilst trades unionists, catholics and moderate unionists were trying to hold peaceful marches in the late 60s and build a coalition that looked beyond sectarian hatreds he set up the Ulster Protestant Force, a paramilitary organisation that was designed to intimate and attack those who wanted change.
It wasnt just catholics that he hated of course. Ulster against Sodomy was a campaigning group be started in the 1970s, whilst breeding like rabbits was apparently the sin of Catholics, sex without breeding was an even worse sin. This article suggests a motivation behind his road to Damascus conversion to peace that has nothing to do with discovering peace and love. I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the authors analysis but it is the case that Northern Ireland is allowed to have laws that are not considered acceptable on the Mainland, and the Stormount agreement was part of ensuring this was and is the case. Be it sex workers, LGBT people, people who need abortions, Paisley was determined to control their access to rights just as he controlled Catholic rights.
It is important to see when people have changed, however it is just as important not to rewrite history to make them fit into a heroic narrative. One of Paisley’s great heroes was Oliver Cromwell, commentors should remember his admonishment to be portrayed warts and all. Paisley may have finally sat down with his life long enemies, and ended up with the top job because of it. But he never expressed regret for the deaths, the families torn apart, the divisions and enmity that he fostered for so long.