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First cracks in St. Andrews

Why Ian’s ousting will make Martin’s eyes water

John McAnulty

13 September 2007

The news on September 8th that Ian Paisley is to step down as moderator of the Free Presbyterian church that he founded 50 years ago has all the classic signs of forced removal.  Paisley, with a deathlike grip on the church, faced a ballot that he would either lose, or win with such a small majority as to undermine his position and split his church.  The vote is postponed on condition that Paisley go ‘voluntarily’.  This defeat for Paisley marks the first setback for the claims of a stable solution from the executive set up in the wake of the St. Andrews settlement.

The mechanism of this setback is crystal clear. The claims of settlement, summed up by a laughing Paisley sitting beside a grinning Martin McGuinness, are also the trigger for loyalist reaction.  The programme of Paisleyism and Loyalism is not that republicanism capitulate, prove that it is house-trained, and enter government.  The programme of the Loyalists is that republicanism and nationalism be crushed, that Catholics be excluded from government and that a majority Protestant government be free to discriminate and exercise unrestricted patronage.

It is raw sectarian triumphalism, expressed most clearly by the church and by its petty-bourgeois rural base that is being expressed here.

Attempts will be made to ward off this evil omen.  We will be reassured that the fundamentalists represent an isolated minority and that the British can rely on the pragmatism and corruption of the urban middle class element of the DUP coalition, many people who transferred from ‘respectable’ unionism, to preserve the agreement.

This view does not correspond with the facts.  While the urban middle class are enjoying the fruits of corruption, they have no wish to weaken their position by splitting from their country cousins, or even from the muscle of the UDA thugs at their base.  What links them to the rest of unionism is their belief in their right to discriminate and exercise sectarian privilege.  Even the most moderate of the unionist camp see the presence of Sinn Fein in government as a temporary phenomenon.

On the ground little has changed.  Catholic leaders in North Belfast have publicly warned their congregation not to go out alone.  Police investigating a sectarian attack in the area accused the victims of anti-Protestant bias and then left, leaving forensic evidence lying ignored in front of the house.

What keeps the show on the road is the extraordinary levels of craven capitulation shown by Sinn Fein.  Publicly humiliated and insulted at every turn by their DUP partners, nothing knocks the cheesy grin from Martin’s face, or the assurance by Sinn Fein that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, while simultaneously arguing that they are the left defence against oppression – by the government of which they are part.

Martin will have to work harder on the smile. Ian Paisley needs to consolidate his position and he can only do it in the timeworn way – by singing more loudly from the Orange hymnsheet.   When he does so he will find that he is leading a triumphal chorus, with the Police Federation not only openly rejecting any investigation of their history of collaboration in sectarian killing, but doing so in tones of sneering contempt for their nationalist victims.

Shaun Woodward, the British minister, stands on the sidelines of the conference and shrugs his shoulders saying that he disagrees with the tone of the remarks.  The issue here is not how long the British can shrug their shoulders, but how long Sinn Fein can.


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