The Rev Ian Paisley was a larger than life, controversial figure in Northern Ireland who founded both the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) now supporting the Tory government, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster (FPC) and a paramilitary organisation, the UPV (Ulster Protestant Volunteers).
The political party and the church are so closely linked, overlap so much, that to all intents and purposes each can be viewed the political/religious wing of the other, according to sources close to both. Paisley’s son Ian Jr is a DUP MP, while son Kyle is an FPC minister.
Paisley was a firebrand preacher who originally brooked no cooperation or involvement with the Irish Republic or with Roman Catholics – he opposed the Anglo Irish Agreement and attempts by the civil rights movement to end discrimination against Roman Catholics and condemned Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother for “spiritual fornication and adultery with the antichrist” for meeting the Pope.
In his later years, though, Paisley softened his anti-Catholic stance and began to participate in the peace process, convinced that it was the only hope of a decent future for Northern Ireland’s people.
This decision increased his stature enormously in the eyes of the outside world but met with a mixed welcome in Belfast. In 2007 he was elected as First Minister, with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as his Deputy and the two developed a good working relationship.
And in 2008, he retired as head of the FPC, the church he had founded in 1951.
Except he didn’t exactly retire, according to some who were there at the time.
According to a Northern Irish source extremely close to the FPC’s ruling council and who spoke to the SKWAWKBOX, Paisley was ‘invited‘ to step down from his position in a ‘far less than civil way, essentially forced‘ by a Presbytery outraged by his ‘betrayal’ of the church’s principles because of his willingness to work with Catholics.
Ian Paisley was toppled from his leadership position for working toward peace and – as one source put it – ‘basically excommunicated’.
Mr Paisley died in 2014. But his treatment by the church and its near-identification with the DUP have left a significant hangover in terms of DUP dynamics. According to the same source, Ian Paisley Jr respected his father enormously and does not see eye-to-eye with Arlene Foster – who put a stop to the relative modernisation started by Paisley and continued by his successor Peter Robinson and has been described as ‘more DUP than the DUP’ by unionist paper the News Letter.
The DUP is by no means monolithic and one of the deeper fault lines lies in the treatment of the man who founded the party by the church it goes to. With Arlene Foster riding high within her party at the moment and given to getting up the noses of her detractors, it may not be long before those fault lines start to open up – which is bad news for Theresa May and may make the Tories’ recent adverts for campaign and candidate managers look like a wise move given the Tories’ own internal battles and instability.
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