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Paisley is left 'feeling empty': Charles Oulton reports on the events that followed John Major's dramatic walk-out

HUMILIATION and the Rev Ian Paisley are not natural bedfellows but that is what the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party experienced yesterday when he found himself addressing a virtually empty room in Downing Street on the subject of Northern Ireland.

Mr Paisley lectured John Major on why he and fellow Unionists were concerned about the implications of the IRA ceasefire, only to look up from his typed 'submission' to face an empty space which, minutes before, the Prime Minister had been occupying.

Undeterred, Mr Paisley claimed his achievement in being able to read his submission to a virtually empty room should be held as a success.

But, by the time he arrived to address the batch of microphones just round the corner from Downing Street, he had been upstaged by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who had already announced that the interview between John Major and Dr Paisley had been terminated because 'he declined to accept the word of the British Prime Minister'.

Thirty-five minutes after he entered Downing Street, Mr Paisley, lacking his usual poise and belligerence, explained that Mr Major had told him when he entered the room that he wanted him to give his categorical assurance that he believed him.

'He said: 'I will not listen to your submission. If you do not right now give me a categorical assurance that you believe my word and my word on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland I will not hold any conversation with you'.

'I said you are the first Prime Minister that ever asked a political opponent in this room or outside . . . to swear that they believe you are truthful and I then proceeded to read my submission.'

For minutes, Mr Paisley said, he had read from the submission, intoning sound bites heard many times over recent days. He had then said: 'Prime Minister I come to your question about your own integrity. It can never be right or proper for a constitutional position or future of any country to rest on the bare word of any man, let alone the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. When I said that he said: 'Get out of this room. Never come back until you are prepared to say I speak the truth'.'

Mr Paisley continued to denounce attempts to 'remove us ratchet by ratchet from the United Kingdom', but 'by that time all had left the room', he reported.

With aides suggesting that he and his delegation should now leave the room, Mr Paisley walked into an adjoining little room. - there was some suggestion that this was a polite way of saying that the party retired to the lavatory - to gather their thoughts before confronting the press.