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Ian Paisley

Did this picture really end Ian Paisley’s reign?

Ian Paisley 22%

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The Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon on the tumultuous events that saw Ian Paisley lose the leadership of the DUP and, overleaf, an exclusive extract from his new book 



Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinnessA central theme of The Fall of the House of Paisley can be summed up in the phrase “devolution disappointment”. The heady official optimism that followed the 2007 power sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein seems a distant memory today. 

Life under devolution must have proved a bit of a let-down for the Paisleys too, given their swift tumble from power. 

Paisley Senior had repeatedly declared that he would serve a full term. In the event, he was gone in a year. 

The book argues that his fall was connected to a failure to prepare his heartland for the Sinn Fein pact. It was always going to be a difficult step for a man who had spent 40 years denouncing power-sharing — and condemning its adherents in the most dogmatic terms. 

And then there were all those pledges to smash Sinn Fein, complete with sledgehammer-swinging photocalls. 

Changing long-held positions can be necessary in politics, but the Paisleyite base was at least entitled to a full explanation for his about-turn. 

It never really came, and instead a pretence was maintained that there had been no change at all. 

Paisley Jnr’s fall is a separate story, but it is well worth telling too. At its heart are issues of real public interest and it's important to put those on the record. 

The book is certainly not an insider's account by an embedded reporter within the DUP. 

It can be seen more generally as a case study of Northern Ireland’s new devolved set-up in action. 

Its aim is to stir up some debate on what passes for politics here. 

Devolution disappointment has obviously been linked to the recession. 

Nobody at the Assembly can be blamed for the global downturn, but it did show up some half-baked Stormont thinking on economic matters. Politicians here have also suffered fall-out from expenses controversies. 

The Fall of the House of Paisley shows how the Assembly managed to sleep walk into these rows. 

In 2002, finance staff at Stormont even found themselves under scrutiny for allegedly being too strict on MLA expenses claims. 

An outside review by a senior House of Commons official found the rules were actually being correctly applied. 

As the book reveals, staff were nevertheless told that their approach to MLAs lacked “customer sensitivity”. 

The Assembly expenses bill is much bigger these days, and it helps to underpin the grip that the ruling parties hold on power. 

A mini-industry of party workers and party operations is funded by the taxpayer. Meanwhile, the scope for widening political debate is strictly limited, to say the least. 

The key decisions in big policy areas — like taxation, public spending, benefits, pensions, foreign policy, defence and overseas aid — have effectively nothing to. do with Stormont.

 

By David Gordon

 

Source: Belfast Telegraph (6.11.2009)


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