Church tight-lipped in wake of Paisley’s views

Ian Paisley pictured in 2012.
Ian Paisley pictured in 2012.

The Free Presbyterian Church appeared to close ranks yesterday after details of the BBC’s final Paisley documentary instalment were revealed in the News Letter.

The paper tried to contact 20 different church figures, but of those whom it managed to reach, none wished to offer any comment.

Some said they had been told not to speak.

However, it is understood the church’s Presbytery may issue a statement today, following last night’s public broadcast of the Paisley documentary at 10.35pm on BBC1.

However, the media had been given access to the show in advance, and Monday’s edition carried pages of details about the 87-year-old cleric’s remarks to the show.

Dr Paisley spoke about his current relationship with the church which he founded, and said that neither he nor his family worship anymore at the Martyrs’ Memorial church where he ministered for decades (although on the Free Presbyterian website, Dr Ian Paisley is still listed as the relevant contact for the church).

Dr Paisley told broadcasters he was pressured to step down from his ministry, and before that as moderator of the overall church – as well as facing political machinations from erstwhile allies in the DUP.

On the issue of power-sharing with Sinn Fein, he said his critics “do not have the ear of God on this matter”.

But quite what the view of the church is on his remarks remained unclear last night, with literally zero members of the Free Presbyterian ministry coming on-the-record to address his comments – at least not until the show had been publicly aired.

Yesterday Reverend Ron Johnstone, who had immediately succeeded Dr Paisley as moderator of the church – a position he held until about a year-and-a-half ago – declined to speak.

Efforts were also made to reach the current moderator Rev John Greer, and the present minister of Martyr’s Memorial, Rev Ian Brown.

Messages were left for both, but had not been returned at time of writing.

A long succession of ministers from up and down the Province were telephoned.

Although not all could be reached, some did answer.

One, speaking anonymously, said: “We’ve been asked not to make any comment,” adding that any response from the denomination would likely only come from its top figures, perhaps only after the programme has been aired – a position that was largely echoed by Rev Raymond McLernon, minister of Tullyvallen in south Armagh.

Most would not speak at all.

One member of the Rasharkin church congregation, DUP Alderman Sam Hanna, stressed he was keen to see the documentary with his own eyes; after which he would be in a position to say more.

However, speaking off-the-cuff last night, he described Paisley as “some man in his time,” adding: “But the years have come on him now, and you don’t last forever, so you don’t.”

Alderman Hanna, 65, said he has been “on the go” with Dr Paisley since the early civil rights parades in 1966.

He has also been a Free Presbyterian for 62 years, and speaking about the revelation that the Paisleys no longer attend Martyrs’ Memorial, he said: “That’s the first time I’ve heard that now. He was the one that built it up and all the rest of it, built the new church and everything. It’s surprising to see him pulling out of it.”

In the programme, Dr Paisley was scathing of the DUP’s current leadership, and claimed that top party figures moved to oust him in 2008.

Nigel Dodds had responded “clearly the passage of time has diminished (Dr Paisley’s) accurate recall of events”, while leader Peter Robinson accused him of damaging his own legacy.

Asked if, on this occasion, Dr Paisley may have shot himself in the foot, Alderman Hanna said: “I don’t know. It remains to be seen... But we’ll see. It’s a mighty party he built up. It was him who built the whole thing up, the church and everything. He started from absolutely nothing.”

Alderman Hanna added he would be sad to see any damage come to either.