First Minister Ian Paisley, we hardly knew ye

There was a time that any left-leaning Northern Irishman would have greeted the news of Ian Paisley’s resignation from the DUP leadership with the popping of champagne corks and loud, fiddle-based party music. But it is a sign of how far the political landscape has moved that Paisley will leave if not to a standing ovation, at least to polite applause from the four corners of the Stormont chamber, and with the majority of his naysayers within his own party.

I’ve spent a large portion of my time on this planet decrying Paisley’s intransigence, his intolerance and his pandering to the lowest common denominator, something that he was in a position to do because both sides of the NI political spectrum were only too happy to provide an environment where the lowest common denominator could flourish.  It’s not been totally banished, but most commentators agree that such progress has been made that even the most retrograde forces within Stormont can now not turn the bus around and drive back to the days of Gerry Adams being voiced by an actor, and the regional news actually being interesting.

When Ian Paisley took the DUP into government with Sinn Fein it was a courageous step, as his past antipathy to that party was a matter of record.  People more cynical than I (there are a few) felt it proved nothing other than his desire to hold a little bit of power before he marched off into the sunset – but I feel that underestimates the man.  The photographs of him grinning broadly alongside Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness show a good-natured collaboration that has, in my view, nothing to do with artifice.  Both men have compromised, shaken off their more extreme clothing, and worked for a future in which Northern Irish politics have to do with boring shit like bus fares and bin collections, not bomb craters and burning roadblocks.

So yes, I come not to bury Ian Paisley, but to praise him, if faintly.  The reasons for his departure have been hinted at, but he leaves with more goodwill than one could ever have imagined.  I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but good luck to the man.

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