George Negus and the Dateline team are in Northern Ireland, where
Protestant leader Ian Paisley talks about the extraordinary
transformation that's taking place in Irish politics.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reverend Paisley, I appreciate your time because you're a very, very busy man at the moment. I guess we have to say things have really, really changed. Can you believe what's happened in Northern Ireland in the last few months?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY, NORTHERN IRELAND FIRST MINISTER: No - if you had told me that the Sinn-Feiners were prepared to take a pledge of allegiance to the police and the courts of the land and feed information to the police force of the country, I would have said, "Where are you living?"
GEORGE NEGUS: Yeah, exactly.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: But it has come about and we should be very thankful for it.
GEORGE NEGUS: I'm talking to a man here who actually said that Sinn Fein weren't fit to partner decent people.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: That's right. That's right.
GEORGE NEGUS: That you'd rather sup with the devil than deal with Gerry Adams.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: That's right. That's right.
GEORGE NEGUS: Over your dead body would you deal with him.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: That's right.
GEORGE NEGUS: What has happened? It's an extraordinary change, not just a change.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, I realised personally that the only way we could change the situation was to put up requirements that they must bow to, and if they didn't bow to those requirements, then there was no hope of us getting even a semblance of democracy. The British Government were very weak. If they had been stronger, I think we would have got it sooner. But I held out for that and refused to talk to them, refused to negotiate with them - I only negotiated with the British Government. And I told their government towards the end, "Now, you don't need to come back to me, come back to me when they have agreed that they are going to recognise the police."
GEORGE NEGUS: People have used words like 'backdown' and 'about-face', a 'somersault', a 'cop-out'.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: No, you could say that to the Shinners.
GEORGE NEGUS: Why do you think they agreed?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Because I think they saw, they read the writings on the wall. And, I mean, I think the most interesting thing happened just in the elections to the south of Ireland. I mean, they got a terrible hammering. So here you have the southern republic, who is supposed to be for a united Ireland, actually rejecting them, saying, "We don't want the united Ireland on your terms."
GEORGE NEGUS: I heard one analyst who suggested that peace has broken out in Northern Ireland, but not reconciliation, that old habits will die hard - all those antagonisms and the hatred and the vengeance that existed for so many years, 30, 40 years, is still with you.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, of course people have been severely slaughtered and I suppose you cannot blame them for that. If I had my father murdered or a brother of mine murdered, I would have felt it. I salute the Loyalist population in being prepared to say, "Well, we are prepared to let bygones be bygones." I mean, it will never heal the scar or even take away the scar. That will be there.
GEORGE NEGUS: It's a massive change of heart and mind, as I said, but why didn't you shake Martin McGuinness's hand?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Because I thought that... I thought that people better realise that we still have a way to go. We're not at the end of the road. And if you get too much encouragement to people, they might think, well, we've got all we want but we haven't. I mean, the army council needs to go too. I mean, if they're democrats they shouldn't still continue the work of the army council.
GEORGE NEGUS: Dismantle the IRA?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Yes, it has to all go.
GEORGE NEGUS: How do you regard people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness these days? I mean, Martin McGuinness I'm quite sure at some point you regarded as a murderer.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: He was a terrorist and he was the commander of terrorists and, I mean, he doesn't make any cover about that. And of course that is something that is very sad.
GEORGE NEGUS: Now he's your deputy?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Yes, and he's my deputy - not by my wish, by the skulduggery..
GEORGE NEGUS: You're not his First Minister by choice either.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Could I say by the skulduggery of the south and Britain, they brought in this system of so-called democracy. But, having said that, it's an amazing thing that here we have Sinn Fein, who saw every policeman as a legitimate target and shot them, now to say, "We're supporting the law and we've taken the..." The highest hurdle they had to go over was of course taking the pledge when they were appointed to office and they had to take the pledge, the same way as I had, to support the police.
GEORGE NEGUS: Another analyst said that, "This is just a bunch of old warhorses dividing up the spoils after 40 years of futile violence and killing."
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, I mean, I was not in the violence. I wasn't leading an army, I wasn't at that. And, I mean, the Protestant paramilitaries were as much against me as they were among Catholics.
GEORGE NEGUS: Because the violence was certainly not one-sided?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: No, it was not, it was not. It's sad to say and that is right. And of course then when my stand was taken as I took it, then of course the Protestant paramilitaries looked at me as public enemy number one. And I have kept a lot of the cuttings of some of the things they have said about me.
GEORGE NEGUS: You've managed to offend everybody?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Yes, I did, I did.
GEORGE NEGUS: As a Christian, whatever happened to love thy neighbour in Northern Ireland?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, I think I have proved that I have loved my neighbour. I have been prepared to say to him, "If you do the decent thing, we will...are prepared to work as best we can with you." And I mean, that was a, I mean, I have some people in Northern Ireland who to this day think that I have lost my thinking capacity.
GEORGE NEGUS: Lost your marbles.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: They're not too happy about it. But what I want to say, I want to salute the families of those who have been bereaved because, I had a man wheeled into my office just at the time, he had no legs and he said to me, You know, if I should hate the IRA, nobody should hate them as much as I do - I lost my legs, you know." He said, "I just called to tell you you're doing the right thing." He says, "We can't live in this all the days of our life, we can't bring up our children this way. We've got to make a break."
GEORGE NEGUS: Enough is enough.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: And this is a break. And I'm prepared - if it costs two legs to get peace, I'll give my legs.
GEORGE NEGUS: How many Protestants and Catholics died during the Troubles? And looking back now, you'd have to say, for what?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, they had no I mean, when IRA went out to lay a bomb they didn't count who was going to be killed once the bomb went off. The same as the Protestant paramilitaries do when they let off a bomb, I mean, they couldn't guarantee who was going to be killed, you know. All I can say is it's sad that we had to have all these years of bloodshed and darkness. But on the other hand, some of the brightest parts of history have been written up after dark days in countries. And perhaps the brightest part of Irish history is still to be written.
GEORGE NEGUS: So how great is the risk that this could come unstuck as well?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: I don't know - if I was a Sinn-Feiner reviewing the situation, where would I go? I mean, the majority Roman Catholic population is not going to side for more violence.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think they are a spent force politically?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: In the south of Ireland, yes, I think.
GEORGE NEGUS: And that means that a united Ireland is probably a long;
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Yes, yes, a long-term.
GEORGE NEGUS: You famously declared..
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: It's not even a long-term. I think it will never be.
GEORGE NEGUS: You're not a young man.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: No, I am not.
GEORGE NEGUS: How much longer do you think we're going to hear the rambunctious Paisley style and voice thundering around this place?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Well, they'll hear it till I die. And when they're putting me down in the coffin, they'll say, "Well, we'll not hear this voice anymore." But, I mean, the Northern Ireland people trust me.
GEORGE NEGUS: Even the Catholics?
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Even the Catholics. And they say, "Big Man is not going to do anything that's wrong because he has Christian principles." I mean, I am surprised at the amount of Roman Catholics who have contacted me and said, "Big Man, stay with us, don't let us down. You're the only one who can do this."
GEORGE NEGUS: Good to talk to you again under these quite different circumstances to the last.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY: Thank you very much.
GEORGE NEGUS: Thank you.
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