Ian Paisley’s abrupt resignation as First Minister came amid secret DUP plotting to ease him out of office, a controversial new book claimed today.
The Fall of the House of Paisley by Belfast Telegraph journalist David Gordon argues moves to unseat the veteran political firebrand were more subtle than a coup and the party managed to avoid a public bust-up.
According to the book — from which an exclusive extract appears in tonight’s paper — documentation seeking action over the party leadership circulated for DUP Assembly members to sign as internal unease over the leader’s negotiations with Downing Street and “Chuckle brother” relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness grew.
“The available evidence, such as it is, points to this being a planned operation. The documentation more closely resembled a letter than a petition.
“MLAs have privately said they signed it individually, with no sight of the other names that may also have backed the call,” the book says.
“The full facts of the internal manoeuvre may be permanently lost to the history books, as a result of the DUP’s strict confidentiality regime. Just like the mafia, omerta — the code of silence — applies here.”
The book says the secret documentation never actually got as far as Mr Paisley himself, but it is believed he was alerted about “unrest in the ranks” by Executive Minister Edwin Poots, a long-time ally of the Paisley family.
“It seems too neat to suggest that it was actually part of the plan to have someone like Poots warn the party leader about the situation. But the fact that the “message job” — to borrow another phrase from the mafia — was delivered did the operation no harm at all.”
Four days after Mr Paisley Snr re-appointed his former Junior Minister son, Ian jnr, to the Northern Ireland Policing Board — which caused anger within DUP ranks and was viewed by some observers as a de facto declaration of war against those agitating for a new leader, Mr Paisley announced his retirement.
“The word coup does not really capture what happened in the party. It was more subtle than that ... put another way, he jumped before he had to be pushed,” the chapter All Fall Down records.
“A public bust-up was avoided. It was all dependent on Paisley playing his part. Like the old pro he was, he carried off the role extremely well.”
Today’s extract also points to a significant article which appeared in the Irish Times in mid January 2008 — just before Mr Paisley officially vacated his position as Free Presbyterian Church Moderator — in which London editor Frank Millar quoted one unnamed MP pointedly questioning Paisley’s “capacity to continue doing the job”.
In a frosty response, Mr Paisley said: “No Dublin newspaper will drive me out of a job”, but there was no statement from the DUP parliamentary party refuting Millar’s claims.
Not long afterwards his wife, Baroness Paisley, told the Belfast Telegraph: “He is doing a jolly good job. If he was not, I would be the first one to say to him ‘give it up'.” A DUP source responded: “She would like him to stay but he is more accepting of the fact that that is not achievable.”
There was no immediate response from the DUP today.