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Irish Peace Accord In Jeopardy With Elevation of Hard-Line Unionist Ian Paisley

StoryDecember 03, 2003
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Veteran journalist and Ian Paisley biographer Ed Moloney joins us in our studio to talk about the Democratic Unionist Party winning the most seats in the power-sharing assembly in Belfast and its implications on the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. [includes transcript]

In Northern Ireland, the future of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement is in jeopardy following last week’s elections. One of the hard-line Protestant parties that opposed the agreement, the Democratic Unionist Party, won the most seats in the power-sharing assembly in Belfast.

The party’s head Ian Paisley has called for the renegotiation of the peace treaty. His son Ian Paisley Jr. said the peace agreement was “dead in the water.”

The impact of the elections remains unclear in part because Britain suspended home rule a year ago temporarily stripping the Belfast body of most of its power.

Ian Paisley has also ruled out working with Sinn Fein, the political party led by Gerry Adams which secured the most seats among the Catholic political parties. After the election Paisley told the BBC, “I don’t accept the principle that we must sit down with armed terrorists who have enough weapons in their possession to blow up the whole of Northern Ireland.”

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke publicly about the election results for the first time. He described it as a “a difficult situation.” Six months ago Blair predicted that if Paisley’s DUP came to power they would destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

  • Ed Moloney, a veteran journalist who has been reporting on Northern Ireland for two decades. He is co-author of “Paisley” (1986), an unauthorized biography of Ulster Protestant leader Ian Paisley and more recently “The Secret History of the IRA” (2002). He has been Northern Editor of The Irish Times and The Sunday Tribune and has written for a wide range of newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian, the New Statesman and a variety of Irish publications. In 1999, he successfully defeated an attempt by Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens to force him to hand over notes of an interview with a source who alleged an official cover-up of the murder of a Belfast solicitor. In that year he was elected Irish Journalist of the Year.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to northern Ireland, the impact of the election remains unclear in part because Britain suspended home rule a year ago temporarily stripping the Belfast body of most of its power. Ian Paisley has also ruled out working with Sinn Fein, the political party led by Jerry Adams which secured the most seats among the catholic political parties.

After the election, Paisley told the B.B.C., “I don’t accept the principle that we must sit down with armed terrorists that have enough weapons in their possession to blow up the whole of Northern Ireland.” Tony Blair spoke publicly about the election results for the first time. He described it as, quote, a “difficult situation.” Six months ago Blair predicted if Paisley’s democratic unionist party came to power they would destroy the good Friday Agreement. We’re joined by Ed Moloney, a veteran journalist, he’s been reporting on northern Ireland for two decades. Heh is co-author of the book, “Paisley, an unauthorized biography of Ian paisley.” He has been northern editor of the “Irish Times” and the “Sunday Tribune,” and has written for a wide range of papers including “Washington Post,” “The Economist,” “The Guardian,” “The New Statesman,” and others. Welcome to Democracy Now.

ED MOLONEY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of these elections?

ED MOLONEY: This is a significant result, because Paisley, for your American listeners and viewers is best described as a cross between George Wallace and Billy Graham. The Irish version thereof. He has been the most negative force in Irish politics for the last 30 years or so. Many people would blame him for a lot of the conditions that led to the outbreak of the troubles in 1969 and 1970. He has been a thorn in the flesh of the political establishment in Ireland for all of that period of time. Always threatening to win or take over a majority of support within the unionist community and here he has done it. But has done it at a time when he himself is physically deteriorating and quite visibly deteriorating. Although he’s only 77 there are rumors that he has cancer. He is, as some of his more treacherous colleagues will tell us in his past is virtually senile. He is surrounded by a younger group in his party who are ambitious for power. On the face of it appears that well, here you have this reactionary force which has finally triumphed, that means that there’s no hope of the peace agreement working because he won’t sit down with Sinn Fein or Jerry Adams. But on the other hand, there are circumstances here which suggest that it actually may not quite work out like that. Then when you add on to that the fact that the I.R.A.'s war is actually over. Right? I mean, that thing is finished. there's not going to be a return to political violence. Jerry Adams 20 years ago was a revolutionary firebrand who preached socialism and struggle is now slipping martinis with George W. Bush in the throne room.

He is now a member of the political establishment. He is welcomed here in New York in the marbled hauls of Liberty Mutual insurance company where the chief executive is his prime supporter here. Bill Flynn, who sets up huge meets which raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sinn Fein. He has treated around the world of Ireland’s version of Nelson Mandela. Because of all of these circumstances, because of the objective situation on the ground in Northern Ireland has changed, the war is over, the atmosphere has changed, most of the British troops have gone, the source of anger within the nationalist community which fueled the I.R.A. for so long has virtually disappeared, there was no way of going back to war.

Jerry Adams has no option but to move forward in the process. The reason why Ian paisley won the election is because the I.R.A., although it started to disarm and get rid of its weapons, has not done so in the most transparent of ways. In other words, when they have gotten rid of their guns, we’re not allowed to see this happens. We don’t see video pictures. We’re not told or are given a list, a manifest of the weapons that are destroyed. it’s done secretly.

I argued that the reason this happens is that it enables Jerry Adams to pull the wool over his supporters and tell them we’re not decommissioning at all. It’s had a very negative impact on the unionist community. You don’t believe him or that the I.R.A. is doing this. It’s weakened the pro-agreement forces within northern Ireland, within the unionism in northern Ireland. It’s opened the way for Ian Paisley to secure this victory. But I would argue very strongly at that time objective situation on the ground is such that virtually all of the parties involved have absolutely no choice but to carry on the road that they have. So while on the one hand it, looks like a fairly bleak picture, and it’s been widely interpreted as such by most of the media, I think it’s more complex picture underneath.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Moloney, when your book came out on Ian Paisley in 1986, it was banned from one of the main bookstores in Northern Ireland.

ED MOLONEY: In all of Ireland.

AMY GOODMAN: All of Ireland?

ED MOLONEY: I think it was primarily fright and that Ian paisley would sue. Because this was a very frank book, and went into a lot of the areas of his life that he would rather that journalists did not delve into. We were lucky enough to have a publisher that was courageous enough to go ahead with the publication. The largest distributor, the Irish equivalence of Barnes & Noble refused to handle the book. Largely, they didn’t give a reason, but we suspect it is because they thought Paisley would sue. They would, therefore, be financially responsible for any settlement. as you know, the libel laws in Ireland are absurd compared to what you have here. It’s so easy to bring a libel case against anyone in Ireland. The proof was that Paisley did not sue. I suspect that he didn’t sue because he knew we could stand the stuff up.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a quote in the book, “the real key to Paisley’s power is that he mirrors the insecurity that lurks deep within all northern Ireland unionists, the belief that everywhere there are enemies that conspire against them. Paisley feeds that paranoia on one hand and calms it with his own certainty.”

ED MOLONEY: That’s right, and I think that’s a phenomenon that is familiar in this country too. You see it with white racism. There’s no accident that paisley has strong religious links to people in north Carolina and south Carolina, the fundamentalist Baptist churches where his view of the world and theirs coincide in many ways. It’s a view which is familiar to those in South Africa, the Africans. The reason that I would argue in both circumstances or all circumstances is more or less the same, that the protestants in Ireland occupy the same positions at early white settlers in the United States and the white settlers in South Africa, which is that they came in and stole land.

They have a great fear that they’re going to lose it again and lose the political power that goes with it. They know that they have done bad things and they fear retribution. That accounts for the insecurity within the northern Ireland unionism and accounts for racism both in this country and I think in South Africa. It throws off individuals like Paisley. Paisley is a phenomenon or was a phenomenon because we are now more and more talking about in the past tense about this man. We have an expression in Ireland when someone is over the top they look failed, and Ian paisley looks failed at the moment. He is a shadow of what he used to be. Nevertheless, the result is there. It’s going to cause a blip in the peace process, but no more than a blip.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Tony Blair’s involvement in this situation?

ED MOLONEY: Tony Blair has a problem here because Northern Ireland was his one big success story in many ways. When he came into power in Britain in 1997, the I.R.A. had, cease-fire had broken down. He managed to get it together again. He got the good Friday Agreement negotiated. He had taken a great deal of personal interest in the problem. He clearly sees this correctly, as do the Irish and U.S. governments as a major compromise by Sinn Fein and the I.R.A., something which is going to transform Angelo Irish relations, end the troubles forever, potentially, regarded it as a huge historical opportunity, grasped it with both hands and went for it.

It appears to have stumbled, as they say, at this last sense. If you look at his remarks in the press conference the other day, his read of it is quite accurate and not too different from mine. He’s saying, well, we have a political problem here, but the war is over. No one is talking about this being a security crisis. No one is saying Paisley means that the I.R.A. is going back to where. No one is saying that. It ain’t going to happen. He knows that and most people know that now.

AMY GOODMAN: We have less than a minute, but you were elected Irish Journalist of the Year in 1999 after you successfully defeated an attempt by Scotland Yard to force you to hand over notes of an interview with a source about an alleged cover-up. Can you talk about the cover-up of that murder?

ED MOLONEY: That story is still going on. The murder was of Pat Fanukin, an attorney in Belfast who specialized in I.R.A. cases. He was assassinated by loyalist paramilitary groups. The information and evidence that has emerged, including the incident that you are referring to points more and more to the probability that the British security forces had a hand in encouraging those who killed him to, they encouraged them to pull the trigger and gave them information and assistance, and then covered up afterwards. That’s the story that I was involved in. I interviewed a loyalist who was part of that gang, who was himself an informer to the authorities who warned them, warned the authorities that there was going to be an assassination. They did nothing about it, nor afterwards.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for joining us, Ed Moloney, veteran journalist from Ireland.

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