The real prize for Paisley: humiliation

If the IRA offered a digital snap of decommissioning, he would insist on a DVD

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Ian Paisley is a genius. He's being hailed as a peacemaker for possibly agreeing to possibly hold talks with Sinn Fein. But he also demanded Sinn Fein should wear "sackcloth and ashes until they wear out". And even if Gerry Adams did this, Paisley would rage: "Those sackcloth and ashes were cheaply made rubbish from Top Shop. No wonder they wore out after 10 months. This is typical Sinn Fein/IRA devilry. Now start again with
Gucci sackcloth and ashes or there's no Assembly."

Ian Paisley is a genius. He's being hailed as a peacemaker for possibly agreeing to possibly hold talks with Sinn Fein. But he also demanded Sinn Fein should wear "sackcloth and ashes until they wear out". And even if Gerry Adams did this, Paisley would rage: "Those sackcloth and ashes were cheaply made rubbish from Top Shop. No wonder they wore out after 10 months. This is typical Sinn Fein/IRA devilry. Now start again with Gucci sackcloth and ashes or there's no Assembly."

Because the real prize for Paisley is humiliation. His next demand will be that every time Martin McGuinness makes a speech in the Assembly, it has to end with "Oo sorry, I've wet myself".

Paisley insists on "photographic evidence" of the IRA destroying their weapons. So it's not enough for them to be witnessed by internationally agreed arms experts. And if they offered a digital snap on a mobile phone, he'd insist on a full length DVD, with special extras such as a running commentary by Gerry Adams, and out-takes in which an IRA commander trips over a crate of Semtex.

Or maybe the insistence on photographic evidence as a means for determining the existence of weapons is part of a deal with Colin Powell. Because he did such a brilliant job of using grainy photos of sand to prove Iraq was full of weapons. Now he's retiring, he can spend his time studying photos of dismantled RPG7 rockets, and say: "But look here. This smudge may look like the Armagh branch of Tesco's but it's actually a nuclear processing plant, and each of these 'trolleys' has the capacity to launch a missile defence system from space".

No matter how much Sinn Fein back down, it's never enough. At one point, Paisley insisted the Assembly couldn't continue if the IRA were caught fund-raising. And you could imagine him screaming: "That's it, we're folding up the government - they were holding a jumble sale in Crossmaglen". If every weapon was burned in a firework display, he'd say: "But what about the stationery. One of those staples could go in someone's eye". If every IRA member committed suicide he'd scream they still couldn't be trusted because they could cause havoc as ghosts.

The scale of this mania is apparent from his reply to two doctors who speculated about his health. Paisley said they must be "Romanists". Because anyone who suggests a 78-year-old may not have the greatest fitness in the long term is obviously in league with the Pope. Whereas good Presbyterian doctors understand no one is ever ill. Paisley's religion gets stranger every day. Presumably he now believes that when Jesus was on the cross, if a doctor had lamented he didn't look in the best of health, the saviour would have yelled "There's nothing wrong with me you Catholic pig. I bet you can't wait for me to be gone, so you can tuck in to your wine and wafers and pretend it's me, well sod off, I've never felt better."

There's another reason why the obsession with arms ignores the real story in Northern Ireland. The IRA in its modern form emerged when the Catholic supporters of civil rights were battered off the streets, and supporters interned and in some cases shot. A number of people judged there were no constitutional means available, and formed the Provisional IRA. They had no weapons, not even photographed exploded ones, but they went and got them.

Now there appears to be a peaceful process open to the Catholic community, so most of them can be persuaded to disarm. But there IS something that links their previous method to the current Sinn Fein strategy, which is to take no account of the plight of the majority of Protestants, whose conditions are barely any better than that of the Catholics. A few weeks ago I sat in a loyalist pub on the Shankill Road. On the wall was a proud photo from 1912 of a ragged line of shoeless Protestants hobbling past the same pub, behind them the crumbling huts that served as their homes. Together they carried a banner saying "To popery we will never submit". I wanted to scream at the photo "That's fine, but the Pope's not got your main enemy. He certainly hasn't got your bloody shoes". Napoleon might as well have declared at Waterloo "Victory - for not once have I surrendered to Peru".

A less dramatic current example involves the plans in Northern Ireland for water charges, which will cost every household between £300 and £600 extra every year. Not one of the main parties, from Sinn Fein to Paisley's mob, opposed this when it was introduced.

But the threat of a campaign of non-payment, which would have to unite both communities to be effective, already appears to have delayed its introduction. The peace process stumbles from one row to another because it's founded on an opposite principle, that the best that can be achieved is for the communities to be kept peacefully apart, like squabbling kids separated in a classroom.

Incidentally, now the water charges are clearly unpopular, Paisley has blamed them "on the IRA". How did that happen then? Were they administering punishment beatings to the reservoirs? Or is it simply they've committed so many sins they've wasted all of Ulster's water on their Romanist confessions?

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