Paisley programme gets mixed reaction on the streets

Dr Ian Paisley
Dr Ian Paisley

A snap survey on the streets of Belfast yesterday threw up a mixed bag of reaction to the furore surrounding the BBC documentary.

Whether they had seen it, were going to see it, or frankly could not care less, it was clear the “Big Man” of Northern Irish politics still aroused strong feelings in some quarters.

Jonathan Meehan had not sat down and viewed the whole documentary – nor is he likely to, adding he would rather watch Only Fools and Horses.

But he was aware of its content, including Dr Paisley’s claims that he was manoeuvred out of the DUP leadership.

The 45-year-old IT security professional from Whitehead said: “It was the same with Thatcher. It doesn’t matter how big you are. Tough.

“It’s politics! It’s dog-eat-dog! Perhaps he doesn’t understand the game he was in all these years.”

He added Dr Paisley is in his 80s, and appeared to be courting “the sympathy vote”.

“I don’t care,” he added. “I remember history.”

Conor Harding, a 22-year-old self-declared nationalist from Carryduff, studying politics at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, had not seen the show – yet.

“I’m quite looking forward to it now,” he said.

“I think he’s still very relevant today. Honestly, a lot of people I’d speak to who would be from the unionist-loyalist community believe God is with him, and he’s a massive charismatic figure for them.”

A couple of days ago, DUP MP Nigel Dodds said it would be sad if Dr Paisley was remembered for his remarks in the programme, and not “the good things that he did”.

Asked what he thinks Paisley will be remembered for, Mr Harding said: “As a nationalist myself I’d probably say for a lot of conflict. But at the same time he did sit down, the peace process seems to have lasted – so a bit of both really.”

Civil servant Neil Lambe, 46 from north Belfast, said: “I’m just not interested in what a retired politician has to say about his successors.

“It’s irrelevant to Northern Ireland”.

Liam Donaghy, 25, from the Falls, had watched the documentary. He said it had been strange to hear about “the last days of Paisley’s involvement with the party he set up”, adding: “You sort of wonder [about] the validity of his claims as to the circumstances of him being removed.”

He spoke of the 87-year-old Dr Paisley’s previous reluctance to accept the Good Friday Agreement, adding: “These kind of decisions still speak for themselves.

“Whether he capitulated or softened his opinions towards the end of his life, I don’t know if that will stay with people as much as what was already said and done.”

Willie Heron, a 61-year-old artist and technician at Belfast’s art college, said he felt as if he had “seen it without watching it”, because it has been in the news so much.

Asked about the fuss that has arisen from Dr Paisley’s remarks, he said: “I think it’s probably understandable.

“I think his character has been more or less similar throughout his career – annoying people.”

He added that the show might well have been seen by Dr Paisley as “an opportunity for him to just get a bit of a dig in. It’s hard to tell.”

Keith Blizzard, a 45-year-old English lawyer living in Dublin but often working in Belfast, had seen the trailers and said he will probably watch the full programme.

“There’s a lot about his past I didn’t know, “ he said. “Mainly about his youth. I remember in the trailer there was a fairly good look at his own religious identity and anchoring.”