Hamill’s Beat - 1998 and all that – but don’t believe it

Picture CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER

Picture CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER

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Former DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley seems to enjoy stirring things up in his weekly column in the News Letter.

In a recent piece he praised the Good Friday Agreement for establishing the principle of consent, leading to the removal of articles two and three from the Republic’s Constitution. (They laid claim to the North’s territory). He described the change as, “hard won”.

That seemed to be praise for former Unionist leader David Trimble. Then, Dr Paisley went on to be critical of the DUP’s trade and investment minister Arlene Foster. Unionists shouldn’t be glib about “calling the bluff” of others on holding a border poll, he said. That was obviously directed at Ms Foster who had said her party may call Sinn Fein’s “bluff.”

Without acknowledging his own bitter opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, Ian Paisley is attempting to rewrite history.

That’s just too blatant to allow it to pass without comment. If this keeps up we’ll probably soon be reading about Ian Paisley in something like the following glowing terms:

The great liberal unionist, Ian Paisley senior, was a wonderful man in his younger days for promoting good inter-church relationships. He never had a harsh word to say about anyone and was always particularly kind in his views on the Catholic Church. He did more than anyone else to encourage cross-border friendships and co-operation. A founder member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association he led his followers on many marches in favour of ‘one man one vote,’ the re-drawing of gerrymandered electoral boundaries and the fair allocation of jobs and social housing. In short, the great campaigner for social justice and ecumenist was always a man ahead of his time.

He’s also the most famous man ever to come from Ballymena, apart from Liam Neeson!

The night before the Agreement was finalised in April 1998 he led a march of his supporters to Stormont in support of the deal. At Carson’s statue they chanted slogans in support of David Trimble.

It was a cold April evening so many of them covered their faces with scarves to keep warm. Later, at a press conference at Castle Buildings the great manhad unusual difficulty in making himself heard. While he was praising Mr Trimble he was rudely shouted down by members of small loyalist paramilitary parties, or “micro-groups” as they’re sometimes called, who were opposed to the Agreement. Eventually a chant went up, “Go home!

Go home!” It wasn’t the sort of rough-house tactics the gentlemanly reverend doctor had ever previously seen in his long career.

Probably the greatest thing about Ian Paisley senior has always been his consistency. “I have not changed my unionism,” as he put it himself in 2007.

He was always a staunch supported of the Good Friday Agreement. That’s why, last week, he was able to write in his column

in the News Letter, “Our secure position today as part of the United

Kingdom didn’t come about by a false display of confidence in a hand of poker,” Now that’s high praise indeed for David Trimble. The former DUP leader goes on, “The removal of the articles in the Irish constitutionlaying claim to Northern Ireland as that jurisdiction’s territory was, we should never forget it, hard won.”

What’s that they say about history being written or re-writtenby the victors?