meeting between DUP boss Ian Paisley and Catholic
Primate Sean Brady was the most important in Irish
history since Michael Collins agreed the Treaty
to partition the island.
so U2 star Bono was not be present to lead the
cheering crowds when he applauded Good Friday
Agreement signatories and joint Nobel Peace Prize
winners Davy Trimble and John Hume.
was not even a photocall of a handshake on Stormont's
steps between Paisley who is also Moderator
of one of Protestantism's most vocally fundamentalist
denominations and the Archbishop.
content of their discussions was relatively unimportant,
but the significance was the symbolism of their
meeting and the fact it has occurred 41
years too late.
the minds of the Northern people, the positive
outcome to the Paisley/Brady talks was that it
represented political body language a deal to
restore the power-sharing Executive before the
end of the year looks increasingly likely.
than 3,000 people died in the Northern conflict
since the boil of sectarianism erupted once more
in the late Sixties.
many of those lives could have been saved if former
Northern Premier Terence O'Neill had had the vision
to invite Paisley and the Catholic Church leadership
to talks at Stormont in January 1965 instead of
the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass?
that snowy day in '65, as Lemass' car headed for
Parliament Buildings, it was pelted by snowballs
from protesting Paisleyites.
had already recognised the growing unease in the
Northern nationalist community. While the latest
IRA border terror campaign had fizzled out three
years earlier, he knew the seeds of conflict,
which were to grow into the civil rights movement,
were taking root.
also knew the next year, 1966, would be the 50th
anniversary of the failed Dublin Easter Rising
and a poignant date in republican culture.
for Paisley, there was no sign of the DUP. It
would not emerge until 1971. There was no UVF
or UDA. It seemed Paisley's primary concern was
building his fledgling fundamentalist Free Presbyterian
Church which he'd formed in 1952.
'65, it was O'Neill himself who was at the crossroads,
not the North. He knew he had to make a symbolic
gesture, otherwise another generation of sectarian
conflict would be unleashed. But it was a case
of right meeting, wrong guests.
choice of Lemass was totally foolish. In republican
folklore, he was an icon because of his involvement
with Collins in the notorious Bloody Sunday massacre
when the IRA murdered around a dozen British intelligence
agents in Dublin on 21 November 1920.
was also Premier of a state which had a territorial
claim to the unionist-controlled 'Loyal Ulster'.
His presence at unannounced talks at Stormont,
the symbol of unionist majority rule in the Orange
state, was like a red republican flag to the Protestant
second mistake in '65 was to write off Paisley
as simply yet another fundamentalist Hell fire
preacher. In the North's Swinging Sixties, go
to any Protestant town and you'd find these street
corner clerics warning about the flames of Hades,
ready to consume those who were not 'born again'.
the 1965 Ian Paisley was different. He was no
spiritual rabble rouser. O'Neill was a religious
liberal aristocrat while Big Ian was a motivator
and mobiliser for two of Protestantism's voiceless
sections the evangelical Right-wing and
the working class.
than a generation later, Paisley went into Monday's
meeting in the very place which was once O'Neill
powerhouse as the leader of unionism's largest
Monday, there was no Hell fire talk to the Primate
about the Biblical Antichrist or the role of the
Mass in Catholic worship. Nor was it an ecumenical
prayer meeting, so any outside loose talk about
the meeting compromising the Protestant Reformed
Faith is a load of rubbish.
the symbolism of the Free Presbyterian Moderator
meeting the Primate will not be lost on Paisley's
loyal band of fundamentalist Rednecks and religious
these Protestant spiritual hardliners, Paisley
has built his political reputation on the ethos
of 'Trust the Lord with your soul, but trust me
was Monday's meeting a knee-jerk reaction to intense
criticism the DUP is only about the politics of
'not an inch' or 'never, never, never.'
meeting was a clever tactical ploy by Paisley
to ensure his beloved DUP did not fall into the
same pit as tripped up Lord Trimble when as David
Trimble, he led the strife-ridden UUP. Paisley
has been most meticulous in his strategy of edging
his fundamentalist supporters along with him
not by Trimble-style giant leaps, but in slow,
steady need steps, inch by inch.
meeting also prepares the ground for the DUP
and Paisley individually to hold direct,
face to face talks with Sinn Fein, but only if
this does not edge up the political temperature
of the bogmen.
an Executive to become a reality, he must keep
the bogmen on board, otherwise these volatile
fundamentalists will crucify his beloved DUP in
a UUP-style civil war.
must sell them the view he persuaded republicans
to recognise the PSNI and to seal the deal, it
was necessary to meet the Primate.
the North has its working parliament back by Christmas,
history will judge the agreement was made not
in Scotland later this week, but today in Stormont.
terms of peace talks, today's chat on the Hill
is even more momentous than any Arab Jew negotiations
which American Presidents have organised at their
famous Camp David location.