Paisley should put things right with Eugene Reavey

IAN Paisley is to be congratulated on his elevation to the Lords. He has been clasped to the bosom of the establishment after a long career, much of which was spent as an outcast suspecting that the British government was out to discredit or even kill him.

His maiden speech provides an occasion to reflect on this. Perhaps he sees the hand of God in it, but he should not confine himself to self-congratulation. His speech can also be an opportunity to erase some of the harsher judgments that may be made upon his career and influence.

For a born again Christian like Paisley, it is not the opinion of men that counts. The crucial test is the post-mortem judgement of God, who sees all things and knows all secrets. Paisley's God enjoins His followers to be humble and not to bear false witness. Pride, the emotion that seems to elevate ourselves above others and to defend our own views regardless of evidence, is seen as the sin of sins which plunged Satan to Hell and damned him for all eternity. The Bible warns against harsh judgements, stating that "in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged".

Personally, I don't believe in a final judgement. It seems to me that misery and stress flow directly from wronging others; the opportunity to heal breaches its own reward. Pride is defended with lies, evasion and self-deception which leave us feeling isolated and vulnerable.

I may be wrong and Ian Paisley may be right, or we may just have different ways of expressing the link between proper action, a clean conscience and contentment.

Either outlook suggests that Ian Paisley would be a bigger man, more righteous and more Godly, if he prefers, if he used his maiden speech to mend his bridges with people like Eugene Reavey, people wounded by his cruel tongue.

In 1974 Reavey's three brothers were murdered in their south Armagh home by loyalist gunmen. At the time republicans were attempting to rid the area of unionists and members of the security forces while loyalist gangs claimed to fight terror with terror. Behind the political rhetoric, the killers were conducting a tit for tat sectarian murder campaign. Most victims were killed on the basis of suspicion or because they were convenient targets.

After the Reavey murders, the loyalists claimed the dead brothers were connected to the IRA. Next day, a republican gang stopped a builder's van near Whitecross and slaughtered 10 Protestant workers after asking their religion. The single Catholic on the van was spared and one Protestant, Alan Black, was left for dead. Eugene Reavey's route to Daisy Hill Hospital to collect the bodies of his brothers took him past the scene of the slaughter. Instead of driving on, he got out and directed traffic to allow emergency vehicles through. Later he met the relatives of the dead workmen at the hospital where they exchanged condolences.

His kindly actions were misinterpreted by a UDR intelligence cell who suspected him of organising the massacre because he was spotted at the crime scene and had an obvious motive for revenge. The PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team has now confirmed that this theory was wrong – it never constituted a serious line of inquiry. The HET, which examined all relevant intelligence, has twice written to the Reavey family apologising and making it clear that neither Eugene nor his dead brothers were in any way involved in terrorism. Alan Black, the Protestant survivor, has congratulated Eugene Reavey, who later became a successful building contractor with business connections in loyalist areas, on the finding.

There the matter might have ended, but for the fact that, in 1999, Ian Paisley quoted the mistaken UDR note in the House of Commons, giving it the grand title of a "dossier". He accused Eugene Reavey in the bluntest terms of setting up the Whitecross massacre. Since Paisley's accusation was made under parliamentary privilege it was impossible for the Reaveys to sue. Since then Paisley has refused to either repeat his words outside parliament, where they could be tested, or withdraw them and apologise. He refuses to comment.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that pride – the refusal to admit a mistake – underlies Paisley's uncharacteristic silence. He should ignore such considerations when he makes his maiden speech. He may have believed the accusation when he made it and it is neither the only wrong nor is it the greatest wrong of the Troubles – but it lies entirely within Ian Paisley's power to put it right and play the role of healer.

Regardless of any expectation of Divine judgement, this is a rare opportunity to show character and decency which it would be foolish to pass up.