A former PUP leader and the son of Rev Ian Paisley have both denied claims of his links with loyalists, after it was alleged he had funded a UVF bombing.
A BBC NI Spotlight programme due to be broadcast next week will carry claims from a former Army colonel, David Hancock, that police had evidence the future first minister Ian Paisley supplied the money for at least one of the first bombs of the Troubles.
Speaking to the News Letter, former PUP leader Brian Ervine, whose party has had close links to the UVF, played down any links between Mr Paisley and loyalists.
He pointed out that a man called Noel Doherty was imprisoned for paramilitary activity in the very early days of the Troubles and was close to Ian Paisley.
“But Ian Paisley did not claim in any way to have anything to do with his paramilitary involvement,” Mr Ervine added.
“But I do know that Paisley wasn’t popular with the UVF and he certainly wasn’t popular with the PUP. The DUP in general, when the PUP was formed, saw them as unionist political rivals and not open to as much manipulation as they were in the past.”
Most unionist leaders of the time sat around the table with loyalists, he said. “It wasn’t just Ian Paisley.”
Paisley was out of the country, he said, during the Ulster Workers Council of 1974, which aimed to bring down a power-sharing government. “Paisley then came and tried to take it over, but would have been resented for that”.
A long-time friend of Rev Ian Paisley, Rev David McIlveen, branded as “unproven and unfounded” the claims that his friend financed UVF bombings.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that is either privately or publicly presented that justifies the accusation that are being made,” he said of the claims. The authorities went to great lengths to find evidence to jail Rev Paisley, he said, so he believes they would have used this document to jail him 50 years ago if it had existed, he added.
He acknowledged that several men close to Ian Paisley were involved in terrorism, one of them Thomas McDowell, a Kilkeel Free Presbyterian who died while trying to bomb a Donegal power station in 1969. “But these men all acted on their own behalf,” he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Ian Paisley Jr described BBC Spotlight programme as “filth” and “pathetic”.
He said the “thing that is probably most hurtful and disgusting” is that the broadcast will go out on Tuesday — the fifth anniversary of his father’s death.
“That’s particularly hurtful to my mother and particularly hurtful to the rest of our family,” he said.
Mr Paisley continued: “They claim that this Colonel Hancock, a minor functionary in a garrison who has heard something from a police officer, who heard some other gossip, showed him something which no one else is allowed to see — and that was evidence that my father financed a terrorist campaign. At the time, of course, my father happened to be in jail for civil disobedience in 1969 when this thing actually took place.
“And of course, if there had’ve been in the words of the programme ‘evidence shown to him by the police’ I think my father would have been questioned about that. And, indeed, that evidence would have been used to convict him. So it’s complete and total poppycock.”
A BBC spokesperson said it has complete confidence in the editorial integrity of the programme and as no allegations were made against the wider Paisley family they were not offered a right to reply.