After six years during which he has largely stayed out of politics since retiring, Ian Paisley has used his final televised interview to savage Peter Robinson and allege that he was forced out as First Minister.
In an exceptionally brutal account of how he was removed as DUP leader, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and then as minister of Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Dr Paisley and his wife bare their souls as never before.
Speaking to veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie in a BBC film to be broadcast tonight, Dr Paisley offers a relentless denunciation of key DUP figures. In much of what they say, there is deep anger audible in the Paisleys’ voices as each gives a ferocious assessment of his successor’s methods and motivations.
And, in a fierce attack on many in the Free Presbyterian Church which he founded, Dr Paisley claims that his church critics “do not have the ear of God on this matter [power-sharing with Sinn Fein]” and that none of his family now enter his former church.
Mr Robinson, and others named by Dr Paisley, have rejected his allegations.
Last night an extraordinary statement from senior DUP figures questioned the 87-year-old’s powers of recollection and Mr Robinson said: “This is not the Ian Paisley we knew.
“As someone who faithfully served Dr Paisley for many decades I will make one final sacrifice by not responding and causing any further damage to his legacy beyond that which he has done himself.
“Rather than return insult for insult, let me bless him with the mercy of my silence and wish him well.”
Dr Paisley, also known as Lord Bannside, is withering in his criticism of his successor as DUP leader and First Minister. The veteran preacher-politician claims that Mr Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Lord Morrow and Timothy Johnston were at a meeting where Mr Dodds told him to resign within a week and Mr Robinson said he should resign within two months.
All of those at the meeting reject Dr Paisley’s memory of what took place and claim that there is unchallengeable evidence to support their version of events.
Last night’s DUP statement – which was released at 9.30pm – said: “Lord Bannside is entitled to his own opinions – however, he is not entitled to his own facts.
“The party deeply appreciates the contribution Lord Bannside made to Northern Ireland and to the growth of the DUP...We are saddened to see Lord Bannside harm his own legacy. In his later years as party leader, many colleagues shielded his frailty from public view, to avoid embarrassment and protect his legacy. Those people are hurt by untrue and bitter comments contained in the documentary.”
It added: “Worse, he now seeks to place the responsibility for his decision on those who protected him most when, at 82 years of age, his ability to perform his duties was seriously diminished and causing widespread concern.”
An accompanying statement from deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “I am personally very saddened to learn of the tone and contents of the latest programme on Lord Bannside.
“All of us who worked hard for him and with him for many years wished only the best for him and for our country.”
He added: “What is being said now by Lord Bannside about meetings is inaccurate and stands in stark contrast to everything that he said and did at the time and, indeed, during the years since.”
It also quoted Lord Morrow, who said “these latest utterances do not do justice to someone who was a giant in unionism in Northern Ireland”, and Dr Paisley’s former adviser, Timothy Johnston, who said: “After a long and distinguished career it is very regrettable that Dr Paisley, as well as Mrs Paisley, and those who now advise them, have cooperated in the making of two programmes that have significantly and irreversibly damaged his historical legacy.
“Unsurprisingly, the events of that time have not been accurately recalled.”
* Paisley: Genesis To Revelation – Face To Face With Eamonn Mallie will be broadcast tonight on BBC One NI, at 10.35pm
* For seven pages of reports, analysis and commentary on Ian Paisley’s dramatic interview, see Monday’s News Letter