Ian Paisley, the colossus of Ulster
The Loyalist leader will always be Dr No to Robert Chesshyre, who reported from Ulster in the 1970s
With the face of a prophet and the voice of doom, Dr Ian Paisley who has announced that he is stepping down as Northern Ireland's first minister bestrode the bloody years of the Troubles like a colossus.
Yet, for reporters working in those dark days, Dr 'No' was not only the rock on which reconciliation progress foundered, but the best story. It was one of Ulster's tragedies that, in a community of political pygmies, the one giant was Paisley.
He was always an arm's length from violence, but, when 'Loyalists' began to arm, there is no doubt that Paisley's adamantine stance motivated the hooded men.
Consider what he said. On Catholics: "They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin" , a view I heard echoed time after time on the Loyalist Shankill Road.
On attacks on Catholic homes, responsible both for the creation of the Provisional IRA and the arrival of British troops: "Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked because they were arsenals", an incitement to violence if I ever heard one.
I was reporting at the time for the Observer, and he refused requests for interviews on the grounds that Sunday papers infringed the holiness of the Sabbath.
Then, one Saturday, a bomb in the Shankill Road killed two infants. Paisley and I were the first on the scene, and I followed him into a butchers' shop where he was on the phone upbraiding the security forces. Seeing me, he bellowed: "Take down this statement," and he thundered his denunciation.
"You know," I said, "that this will appear in a Sabbath newspaper."
"This, Muster Chesshyre, is an emergency. The rules are suspended."
Thirty years later, I suppose, "suspending the rules" was just what he did to bring about power-sharing. ·
Comments are now closed on this article