DUP support for decommissioning based on cold judgment, not a leap of faith

The Rev Ian Paisley sought reassurances on decommissioning during meetings with the Rev Harold Good and Father Alec Reid
The Rev Ian Paisley sought reassurances on decommissioning during meetings with the Rev Harold Good and Father Alec Reid

Last week, Rev Harold Good told the Irish News how he persuaded Rev Ian Paisley to believe that IRA decommissioning had indeed taken place, using the story of Christ and doubting Thomas. Now DUP MP Ian Paisley reveals for the first time his father’s response to Rev Good, how Fr Alec Reid bent the rules to reassure the DUP – and the strenuous efforts the party took to verify what the clerics told them about the IRA weapons.

Rev Harold Good is a very sincere and decent man. I do not doubt that he believes his view of the peace and political process and the critical role he played in it. His perspective is part of the picture – a significant part – but not exclusive and not all.

Rev Harold Good (left) and Father Alec Reid acted as witnesses for the decommissioning of IRA weapons

Rev Harold Good (left) and Father Alec Reid acted as witnesses for the decommissioning of IRA weapons

I attended each of the meetings with my late father and Rev Good and a very important joint meeting with the late Rev Alex Reid. I will come to that in a moment.

But first I should set some background. Decommissioning had been a major stumbling block and the DUP was building a way to ensure we had confidence within our ranks to address the issue.

In fact, at times we were accused or building the wall higher to avoid progress. Instead, we were seeking ways to build confidence to bring the unionist people with us. Rather than tying our hands further on decommissioning we had engaged a dual strategy of gaining public acclaimed support for the Crown forces and the rule of law from Sinn Fein.

The fact is, that public support in the ministerial oath for the police and the courts was a rubicon Sinn Fein could not go back on. And most of the negotiations on this between Blair, Hain, Bertie Ahern and my father focused on how we could make this happen to our satisfaction. That is exactly what did happen.

The best example was Martin McGuinness flanked by the chief constable and Peter Robinson declaring those republicans who murdered and attacked police officers were traitors to Ireland. I’m not saying that decommissioning didn’t matter at this point but its significance came into proportion to its relevance in allowing us to move forward.

All of our negotiations were recorded either by detailed note taking or for very serious matters by recordings. The joint meeting I mentioned above is the same one Rev Good refers to in his comments and was one such meeting that was recorded. I remember it well. Rev Reid sat to my right hand side and Rev Good across the room. Between the two men of the cloth sat my father and the other top members of our leadership team. The meeting took place in Stormont. It was a very important meeting.

In the course of that meeting he was very good in spelling out, and sticking to, an agreed formula of what he and his decommissioning verification colleague could and could not tell us. No substance and no detail. He did indeed make reference to doubting Thomas and my father did question his theological comparison between a man putting aside doubt in his faith and a community suspending belief on this matter. He queried if the Rev Good was comparing himself too favourably to our Lord. It was a moment of theological discussion in the midst of a political discourse.

However, it was the Rev Reid who was much more forthcoming. So much so that at one point Harold told him he must go no further as he disclosed details to our meeting. However, I believe looking into the eyes of Reid he knew he had to take this further if we were to get over the issue of reassurance. To Harold’s continuing and despairing protests and nervous laughter and interruptions Reid spoke directly to my father, myself and top team colleagues. I will not divulge here what he said, but it was recorded, and the record is safe.

Whilst in itself the commentary he offered was not what secured matters – the process was much more multi-layered and intricate – but it was a very important conversation and revelation.

After that meeting our party proposed another reassurance measure. We wanted to verify issues that had been stated and we wanted ongoing security details. However, such details on individuals and activities couldn’t be shared with us by the government, its agencies or the police – and I speak very deliberately in that order – as none of us had security clearance. We proposed that the way around this was to give our three top team, my father, Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds, Privy Council status so as initially such intelligence briefings could be given to them in order to help build reassurance. We successfully proposed a mechanism and the nature for these briefings. Once again more information or pieces of the obscured jigsaw were revealed.

There is much more I could tell in terms of detail and reports and recordings but I will not and possibly never will. But for clarity and to avoid any reminiscence that may not be the entire picture I feel it necessary to reflect on the points opened up by Rev Good’s comments.

I will say this. My father didn’t make some fanciful emotional journey egged on by speeches or pleadings or assurances. He was a man of giant political judgment and he made a judgment call and gave leadership when he believed he had the evidence and the basis to proceed. That’s called leadership.

It would be wrong for the record of this part of the process to become an account that my father and our party acted out of some sense of benign foolishness. Our conduct was relentless, professional, meticulous and yielded results that saved the Union and put the authentic voice of the unionist people in control.