Ian Paisley has revealed details of a 2008 meeting with senior DUP figures in which he alleges Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson both said he should resign.
The allegation — which has been denied by those who he claims were present — throws dramatic new light on the fault lines within the DUP as Dr Paisley came towards his final months in office.
Dr Paisley said that in February 2008, a week after he was given the survey showing internal dissatisfaction with his leadership, he was in his room in Stormont Castle preparing for a trip to Dublin the following morning.
The former First Minister said that Peter Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Lord Morrow and Dr Paisley’s own special adviser Timothy Johnston (who is now Mr Robinson’s key adviser) were at the meeting.
“Nigel Dodds said to me: ‘We want you to be gone by Friday’. I more or less smirked and Peter says: ‘Oh no, no, no. He needs to stay in for another couple of months’.”
Dr Paisley said despite what he alleges was such outright opposition from top party figures, he did not feel as though his departure was inevitable: “According to them [I was finished].
“I sort of laughed. One wanted two months to prepare the way for himself. And the other one, I don’t know what he wanted.”
Mr Robinson, Mr Dodds, Lord Morrow and Mr Johnston told the programme in written submissions that no such meeting took place as described by Dr Paisley.
They claimed their version of events was “corroborated by indisputable evidence” and said that the timing of Dr Paisley’s departure had been entirely a matter for him.
Baroness Paisley recalled Dr Paisley coming home that night and saying sarcastically “the mighty Dodds wants me to go”. Baroness Paisley said she responded by saying: “He’s a cheeky sod.”
Lord Bannside’s wife said she was angry because of how her husband had promoted Mr Dodds.
Speaking about how Mr Robinson and other senior party figures treated her husband, Baroness Paisley said: “Well, they assassinated him by their words and their deeds and by the way they treated him. I think they treated him shamefully.”
However, Dr Paisley’s case is somewhat undermined by the fact that when he left office he repeatedly denied he had been forced out, insisting that the decision was his and his alone – despite what journalists were reporting at the time from DUP sources.
When asked to explain why his current account was at variance with what he said six years ago, Dr Paisley said: “I thought that [the pressure] was business, private business of the people who were members of the party and not to tell them [journalists] anything.”
Dr Paisley said that he did not want to split the party which he founded and added: “I wanted what was best for the party and also I wasn’t a young man and I was quite happy at the end of the day to say: ‘Well, I have fought a good fight, finished the course and kept the faith’.”
Baroness Paisley said: “They did a dirty trick on him; dirty deeds on him and in the end he was really left with no option but to stand down.”
When asked whether, six years later, he had any feelings about the people who he says put him out of the leadership, Dr Paisley said with laughter: “No, I don’t have any feelings. I’m a very happy man.” He then added loudly and with laughter: “My wife still lives with me!”
Dr Paisley said that he could not now have the relationship with Mr Robinson which they had once enjoyed during the formative days of the DUP.
In a withering rebuke to the man who is now First Minister, Dr Paisley alluded to the Prophet Isaiah: “His ways are not my ways and he has to answer for how he works.”
Baroness Paisley told the programme that prior to that episode she had “detected a nasty spirit from some of the other MPs and in the way they spoke to Ian”.
She said: “I was very annoyed one day with the way some of them spoke to him and addressed him.
“Whenever they said something to him about what was going on and he said: ‘Well, that’s what should be done’, and they said ‘Ouch Doc!’ You know, sort of ‘just don’t be so stupid’.
“That set the alarm bells ringing in my head that there was an undergoing current that balls were being made and some of these men were doing the firing of them.”