As Tim Stanley pointed out over at the Telegraph, it’s hard not to do so. When Pope John XXIII died in 1963, Paisley assured a group of protestors that “This Romish man of sin is now in hell.” “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” meant nothing to him.
Paisley was a wretched, mean-spirited man, a figure of Cromwellian unpleasantness. He had no tastes, no interests. (Asked by Sue Lawley of the BBC what book other than the Bible he would bring with him to a desert island, he replied “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”) The only thing he ever seems to have enjoyed was speaking in public, whether behind a podium or a pulpit. His theology, such as it was, comprised the two beliefs, held with something like equal fervor, that priests were hell-bound sodomites and alcohol was “the devil’s buttermilk.” A good day’s work for Paisley was shouting “Antichrist!” when Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament and having things hurled at him by his fellow MEPS before being dragged out of the chamber by Otto von Habsburg.
There was something admirable in his refusal to compromise. He saw through the so-called Good Friday Agreement, America’s role in which is one of the most shameful episodes in our diplomatic history. But he was never much help to the Unionist cause. (Enoch Powell, while MP for South Down, called him the Union’s “most resourceful, inveterate, and dangerous enemy.”) His about-face in 2006, which is receiving most of the space in the obituaries I have seen so far, leaves his legacy very much in doubt. Those photo-ops with Martin McGuinness, and the “Chuckle Brothers” gimmickry that followed them, are nauseating whether the two’s friendship was sincere or not.
Anyway, peace was something for which he had little use for most of his life. There were sometimes good reasons for this, and though he was not someone I admired, I do hope he finds it now.
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