East Belfast community worker Jim Wilson yesterday slammed former First Minister Ian Paisley for “side-stepping every question he was asked” during a BBC documentary.
On Monday night, in the first of two programmes, both entitled Paisley: Genesis to Revelation – Face to Face with Eamonn Mallie, Dr Paisley gave accounts of how he founded the DUP, his involvement in the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike in 1974, how he felt about the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, his thoughts around the 1968 Civil Rights Movement and his opinion on Bloody Sunday, among other subjects.
After watching the programme, Mr Wilson, a former loyalist prisoner, said: “Over the years I would have been known as a Paisleyite.
“I listened to him off the back of coal lorries and listened to his every word when I was 17 years old, like a lot of young loyalists did in those days.
“We saw him as the saviour of Ulster. He finished nearly every sentence with ‘No Surrender’ which was music to our ears when republicans were running about doing what they were doing.”
Mr Wilson added that “realistically over the years people started to get wise to him”.
“In later years he started to say he never condoned this or never condoned that, or didn’t agree on that – but in the early days of his speeches and rhetoric towards our communities, young lads listened and reacted and they got involved.
“I am not saying for one minute that Paisley was the only person who did this, but he had an influence on a lot of young loyalists in the early days of the Troubles.”
Mr Wilson said, at the time of Paisley’s so-called firebrand speeches, “the message young loyalists heard was that they had to go out and defend their communities and defend themselves against Irish republicanism”.
However, the loyalist community “took umbrage” with Dr Paisley in the early 1980s, according to Mr Wilson, “when he started to speak out against us”.
“When I got involved with David Ervine in the political arena and loyalists became politically active and were taking votes off Ian Paisley and the DUP, then he went against the loyalist community and denied his role in a lot of things,” he said.
Mr Wilson, who was part of protests to bring down Northern Ireland’s last Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, who had initially supported the Sunningdale Agreement, said: “A lot of people’s lives have been taken since 1974 and you have to ask the question about what was the difference between the Sunningdale Agreement and the one there is now in Stormont?
“The difference is thousands of bodies.”
The second programme will be shown on BBC 1 next Monday at 10.35pm.