Ian Paisley: They worked behind my back to get me out

Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds with DUP Candidates for Belfast Council Elections in 1989.
Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds with DUP Candidates for Belfast Council Elections in 1989.

Ian Paisley has for the first time laid out, in great detail, his deep dissatisfaction at being put under pressure from within the DUP to resign as leader and First Minister in 2008.

In tonight’s BBC interview, Lord Bannside leaves no ambiguity about how he feels at his departure from office almost six years ago.

One of tonight’s central revelations is that Dr Paisley’s then special adviser (Spad), Timothy Johnston, who is now Peter Robinson’s main Spad, had handed him a secret document in early 2008.

In tonight’s film, Mr Mallie says: “This document, with Timothy Johnston’s name attached to it, contained seven questions which had apparently been put to DUP Assembly members, complete with detailed responses.

“Five of the questions within this so-called strategy survey addressed Ian Paisley’s continued leadership.”

Mr Mallie said among the survey’s key findings was the claim Dr Paisley was not across details, not capable of doing his job, his judgment being questioned in areas such as his association with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, his “poor performance at First Minister’s question time” in the Assembly, his inability to think on his feet, and “chuckle-brothers behaviour with Martin McGuinness”.

Referring to that, Dr Paisley said: “If they wanted to put me on trial, why did they not put me on trial? Why did they not bring charges? You’d think if it was so bad, if these people were so worried, they would have taken the opportunity to get a meeting together and that would have had the power to say to me: Get out or stay in. Of course, that never was done.”

Among the survey questions was one asking: “How well do you think Dr Paisley has been performing over the last year?”, and another asking: “What are the issues that concern you most about Dr Paisley’s performance?”

Asked whether he had requested from Mr Johnston an analysis of his leadership, Dr Paisley said: “No. No. I asked him to give me a general view of the party and its thinking at that present time.”

According to the film to be broadcast tonight, Mr Johnston sent a written statement to the programme-makers in which he said that the survey was carried out at Dr Paisley’s specific request and rejected any suggestion that it had been framed with the intention of bringing about his party leader’s removal.

The survey found that 83 per cent of the DUP’s MLAs believed that Dr Paisley ought to retire as leader and First Minister in 2008 and some feared that he must go soon or the party could disintegrate.

Asked what it was all about, Dr Paisley said: “Getting rid of Ian Paisley.” Asked in whose interests that was, he said: “In the interests of the people who took over.”

When questioned on whether Peter Robinson would have been among them, Dr Paisley said: “Oh yes, he would have been. Politics is politics.

“You have to face up to the fact that there are a lot of people in politics for their own ends.” Dr Paisley went on: “All I can say is that they seem to have wanted to keep very quiet about it.”

The survey, Mr Mallie said, commented that the party could not be seen “to do a Free Church act” where Dr Paisley was seen to be pushed out, adding that such a scenario could destroy the party.

But despite his clear unhappiness at how he was removed, Dr Paisley said: “I didn’t walk about as if I was condemned and ready for the rope. I was in charge of the party as long as I wanted to be in charge of the party.

“It’s just strange to regard that nobody came forward and said: ‘We’re going to pull Ian Paisley out’. Anything they did in getting me out was done behind backs.”

Dr Paisley was visibly angry when reminded of what colleagues had written about his son, Ian Paisley Jnr, who was described in the survey as being the subject of “damaging stories in the press” and of causing “massive sleaze and scandal” (apparently in reference to his links to a property developer), yet being “above discipline in the party”.

Asked how hurtful those remarks were, Dr Paisley said: “They were disgraceful. They were absolutely disgraceful and they were disgraceful because the man that they put in my position couldn’t keep his own seat in Westminster.

“And my son who followed me had a marvellous victory. For once, we’re seeing the true nature of the beast; that there was a beast here that was prepared to go forwards to the destruction of the party because losing seats in Northern Ireland is a very serious thing and for East Belfast not to be a unionist seat in the House of Commons is a terrible blow.”

The survey also said that Ian Paisley Jnr had helped, by his actions, to destroy his father. But Dr Paisley said: “It’s nonsense. It shows the hatred that they had for him... they’re afraid of him” and added: “It’s a terrible thing that they’re prepared to put even seats in jeopardy for their own ends.

“There is no doubt about it that they got their first terrible and rude awakening when Peter Robinson was defeated. I mean, that was a tremendous setback.”

The former First Minister added about how he felt on receiving the survey: “Every man that has done a work has always been criticised and as the Scriptures tell us, friends, so-called friends, are probably secret enemies.”

Mr Mallie said that Dr Paisley had come home after being given the survey and threw it down. Baroness Paisley said: “I was furious, to put it mildly. I felt like taking it and ramming it down Timothy Johnston’s throat.”
Baroness Paisley said that Peter Robinson had wanted the leadership “for a long time”.

* For seven pages of reports, analysis and commentary on Ian Paisley’s dramatic interview, see Monday’s News Letter