The World According to...

Heaven, hell and Irish politics: Conversations with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley

February 1997: Robert Fisk met Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley and spoke of war and peace and Ireland

Saturday 16 October 2021 21:30
<p>Rev Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, at Stormont</p>

Rev Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, at Stormont

There was a gin and tonic on the bar table and the former Northern Ireland Office official, features as gnarled as his cynicism, a Protestant as brutally honest about his own people as he is about Catholics, was waiting for me in his usual Belfast haunt. A quarter century ago, he would curse my pessimism. Now he was worse than me; and I was shocked. “Bob, I’ve never seen such sectarian hatred. You know, I was talking to a senior policeman the other day about Drumcree. He had been working for Chief Constable Annesley – whom we called ‘the eternal flame’ because he never went out – and I told this policeman that it all ended last summer at Drumcree when the RUC let the Protestants march through the Catholic streets. I said to him there was no way forward since the loyalists set aside the rule of law at Drumcree. It proved for everyone that the Protestants, when they take to the streets, have more power than the law.”

Drumcree has become a milepost of Northern Ireland history, like Bloody Sunday in Derry or the Protestant Ulster Workers’ Council strike that brought down the power-sharing Belfast government in 1974. In 1972, Bloody Sunday destroyed finally and for ever the British army’s credibility among Catholics. The Protestant strike destroyed the British government’s credibility among Catholics. And Drumcree, in the early summer of last year, destroyed the last shreds of Catholic hope that the RUC could be trusted.

Sometimes I suspect that Ulstermen take pride in these epic disasters. I must have been told 100 times – with pride, of course – that it was the men of east Belfast who built the Titanic. And like that state-of-the-art White Star liner, my old friend with the gin and tonic could see his province sinking ever deeper into its grave.

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