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18 December 2003 Edition

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The DUP exposed

BY LAURA FRIEL

Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley has carved out his particular contribution to the conflict by 'knowing' and 'not knowing'

"I wanted to know if Dr Paisley knew who was doing these jobs and asked Mallon. He said: "Certainly he does. You have to tell him, and you haven't to tell him. He knows and he doesn't know." These are the words of a convicted loyalist bomber, Sammy Stevenson (1969). Frank Mallon, another suspect bomber referred to in the statement, was subsequently acquitted.

Of course, Stevenson's words can't be taken as given. He was acting as a tout in a British court at a time when Paisley was at loggerheads with Britain's perceived interests in the north of Ireland. But nevertheless, for many northern nationalists it seems that the DUP leader has indeed carved out his particular contribution to the conflict by 'knowing' and 'not knowing'.

In the late 1950s Paisley, leading a rally of unionist supporters on the Shankill Road, gave out the names and addresses of Catholics living in the area. Addressing the "people of the Shankill", Paisley had demanded, "what's wrong with you?

"Number 425 Shankill Road. Do you know who lives there? Pope's men, that's who! Forte's ice cream shop. Who lives there? Italian Papists on the Shankill Road! How about 56 Aden Street? For 97 years a Protestant lived in that house and now there's a Papist in it. Crimea Street, number 38! Twenty-five years that house has been up. Twenty-four years a Protestant lived there but there's a Papist there now."

Having whipped up sufficient sectarian and race hatred to ensure the rally concluded by attacking the homes and businesses of the Catholics he had targeted, Paisley left the mob to do its work alone. "Did you read the paper this morning?" a triumphant-Paisley had asked a unionist colleague the following day. The colleague asked if Paisley had been responsible for the attacks. "Not me," came the reply. "I was in the car on the way home."

The incident is just an early example of a tactic that has been repeatedly utilised by Paisley over the last four decades.

Paisley incites the mob but never stays long enough to witness the lynching. On 10 July 1995 Paisley was still employing the same tactic at Drumcree. Addressing an Orange mob gathered at the hill on the outskirts of the Catholic Garvaghy Road, Paisley declared that the future of Ulster might be decided that night.

Within hours of Paisley's departure, a running battle had developed across the fields as Orangemen and their supporters attempted to breach the cordon and reach the Garvaghy Road. A Catholic school and houses on the edge of the Garvaghy estate were attacked. In the four days of violence that ensued there were over a hundred reported incidents of sectarian intimidation and around 140 people injured.

But if mob violence has been the hallmark of Paisley's political rhetoric, unionist paramilitary violence has also been its bedrock. An astute politician, there have been few times when Paisley has been prepared to publicly endorse unionist paramilitary violence but scratch the surface of the DUP and it's never far beneath.

In 1974, Paisley was pictured marching with masked unionist paramilitaries during the Ulster Workers Council Strike. In 1975, William McCrea officiated at the funeral of a UVF member involved in the Miami Showband murders. During the 1978 election, Peter Robinson relied upon unionist paramilitaries in the UDA to run his campaign.

In February 1981, a crowd of 500 masked unionists led by Paisley paraded on an Antrim hillside waving firearm certificates. "This is a token of the many thousands who are at the ready to defend our heritage," Paisley told the media invited to cover the event. Later that same year, Paisley announced the formation of a paramilitary "Third Force" and staged a number of rallies across the north, complete with masked and armed paramilitaries.

In 1986, Peter Robinson and a loyalist gang invaded the border village of Clontibret and attacked the Garda station. Robinson was arrested and charged but released after he agreed to pay a fine rather than stay in jail earning the loyalist jibe of "Peter the Punt". The night after his release, Robinson appeared on a platform flanked by masked and uniformed unionist paramilitaries.

Meanwhile, Sammy Wilson, the DUP press officer and then Mayor of Belfast City Council, was entertaining two Canadian gunrunners and the leadership of the UVF in the City Hall. One of the Canadians was later convicted for supplying illegal weaponry to unionist paramilitaries.

In 1986, Paisley, Robinson and Wilson were at the centre of the formation of the paramilitary Ulster Resistance. At a rally, Paisley and Robinson were photographed sporting the maroon berets of Resistance. At an Ulster Resistance rally in Portadown, Robinson and Paisley were photographed with Alan Wright and Noel Lyttle.

A short time later, Wright and Lyttle were arrested in Paris after they attempted to sell missile parts to the Apartheid regime in South Africa in return for an illegal shipment of weaponry.

At a Resistance rally in Bangor Paisley said: "There maybe many like myself who would like to see the (Anglo Irish) agreement brought down by democratic means but wouldn't we be fools if we weren't prepared." A few months later, Ulster Resistance imported a huge shipment of illegal arms into the north.

In 1991, Sammy Wilson, speaking at a meeting of Belfast City council, gloated over the unionist paramilitary murder of two Sinn Féin councillors, Bernard O'Hagan and Eddie Fullerton.

"Would this council be prepared to congratulate all those who have done a good job on two sides of this border?" said the DUP councillor. A month later, Paisley's daughter Rhonda, a DUP Belfast city councillor at the time, described unionist paramilitary attacks in the 26 Counties as "perfectly understandable". By the end of 1991, Wilson was calling for "a policy of extermination" against republicans and referring to Sinn Féin's electorate as "sub-human animals".

Last month, the DUP became the largest unionist party in the north, returning 30 members of the Stormont Assembly to the Ulster Unionists' 27. Ian Paisley, as the DUP leader, has the right to be First Minister. During the election campaign, Paisley had referred to the DUP as "MY party and anyone in MY party that talks to Sinn Féin is out of MY party," he stormed. (The emphasis on "MY" being Paisley's own)

But just what is the DUP? In their biography of Paisley, journalists Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak asked the same question.

"Like the Free Presbyterian church, the DUP is a Paisley monolith and as such it shares with his church one major irony," wrote Moloney and Pollak.

"Paisley offered the DUP to loyalists as an ostensibly 'democratic' alternative to the Official Unionist Party in the same way as his church offered Protestants a 'democratic' alternative to Presbyterianism. In practice, though, both the Free Presbyterian Church and the DUP have turned out to be the antitheses of democracy - institutions whose common characteristic is worship of and obedience to one man."

And that man, like his party, presents a heady mixture of reactionary politics, religious intolerance and racist attitudes. One of the Free Presbyterian Church's main objections to the Good Friday Agreement is that through its commitments to human rights, the agreement "legitimises sodomy". Paisley's newssheet, the Protestant Telegraph, routinely compared Ulster to former Rhodesia, both having problems with "primitive natives".

During a Stormont debate in 1966, Terence O'Neill, whose modest reformist polices had provoked Paisley's wrath and the wrath of the mob, compared Paisleyism to fascism:

"To those of us who remember the Thirties, the pattern is horribly familiar. The contempt for the established authority, the crude and unthinking intolerance, the emphasis upon monster processions and rallies, the appeal to a perverted form of patriotism: each and every one of these things has its parallel in the rise of the Nazis to power."

O'Neill has not been the only unionist to label Paisley a fascist. More recently, Robert McCartney accused the DUP leader of being a fascist whose "outrageous conduct and irresponsible language" had divided unionism. Paisley was "more interested in an independent Ulster than in the union with Britain", McCartney had said.

There is no doubt that the DUP and its leadership share many parallels with the fascism of 1930s' Europe and the intolerant religious fundamentalism of more recent years. But how much more of a threat to the Good Friday Agreement and the current peace process does the DUP really pose?

The image of David Trimble hand in hand with Ian Paisley prancing in Portadown after the Orange Order forced a march down the Garvaghy Road remains a permanent reminder that unionism in whatever form has played a retrogressive role in Irish politics. Trimble, like Paisley, has in the past also courted unionist paramilitarism and a short time ago the UUP, like the DUP, was also refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin.

The DUP may have snatched the mantle of office from unionism's traditional power brokers but as Trimble has already pointed out, faced with the same choices, the DUP will either make the same decisions or refuse to make any decisions at all. Unfortunately for the DUP, "never, never, never" is no longer a sustainable position. At the apex of its political power, the DUP, like its leader, has never looked more exposed and frail.

But it would be unwise to overlook the DUP's potential for plunging the north back into the abyss. Convicted UDA bomber Freddy Parkinson once warned against Paisley's and other "parliamentary megalomaniacs" who "beckoned us to follow them but who later left us abandoned to be scorned as common criminals".

Parkinson went on to describe Paisley as "the tarantula who spreads the venom of further conflict around us". Paisley had "been a major contributor to our prolonged tragedy", he said.

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