Ian Paisley Jr – “A Wee Bit Perverse: The Steptoe and Son of Ulster Politics”

Ian Paisley Jnr


This piece first appeared in the Sunday Indpendent in February 2005

A wee bit perverse: the Steptoe and son of Ulter Politics

When Mary McAleese last week suggested that the Nazi’s hatred for Jews was similar to the hatred for Catholics that Northern Protestants instilled in their children, she was roundly criticised. If you’re going to make such an inflammatory statement, her detractors argued, then you should at least, for the sake of balance, include Catholics in your broadside.

How ironic then that just as the McAleese controversy began to peter out – thanks in no small part to a grovelling apology – one of the leading lights of Ulster Unionism issues a sound bite which could, quite frankly, have been culled from the pages of Mein Kampf. Ian Paisley Junior’s (IPJ) statement that the civil union of David Trimble’s advisor, Stephen King, was ‘a wee bit perverse’ and that ‘most people find homosexuality offensive and indeed obnoxious’ showed the depth of underlying bigotry in Northern Ireland. Even if the dragon of sectarianism were slain, that troubled little state would remain an outpost of intolerance in a liberal Europe.

Stephen King himself has written that the rampant homophobia of Northern Ireland is not a Protestant disease – and he’s right. The Anglican Church is amongst the most tolerant of the Christian churches and, if anything, IPJ could just as easily have been aping the Pope’s medieval rhetoric as his own father’s. No, the type of intolerance expressed by IPJ is much better charactarised as a unionist disease. And it’s enough to make you sick.

Alone amongst all the political parties, North and South, the two most powerful Unionist parties continue to pursue anti-gay policies. IPJ’s venomous outburst is very much in line with general DUP thinking on the matter. Last year another DUP councillor was found guilty of harassment and fined after making homophobic taunts against a council candidate while canvassing. The measured outrage of IPJ’s target – the UUP – owed itself largely to the fact that they are in no position to go throwing stones in this particular glasshouse. For the past forty years Stephen King’s own party has voted en bloc in the House of Commons against every single measure, which would have reduced discrimination against gays and lesbians in Britain.

They have made homophobia, in the words of a report commissioned by the officer for the Deputy First Minister ‘a respectable and acceptable prejudice in Northern Ireland’. The paper showed that while sectarianism was increasingly frowned upon in Northern Ireland, this was not the case for homophobia and attacks on gay people were on the rise. A separate document from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission stated that Northern society was ‘particularly oppressive’ in relation to gay lifestyles. Even the colloquial phrasing of IPJ’s insults were distinctly Northern.
And his sentiments fly in the face of political trends in Britain and in this country. Gay marriage now enjoys cross party support in Ireland and Britain remains a forerunner in passing anti-discrimination legislation. Tony Blair has had several openly gay cabinet ministers including former Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson, who IPJ found “no less offensive.” In the Republic gay people are coming out at a much younger age. Gay men in Northern Ireland meanwhile are much more likely to commit suicide than their Southern countrymen. IPJ’s provincial small mindedness would also be met with stern disapproval in Europe. Far milder statements along the same lines as IPJ’s have heralded the political demise of Italy’s Rocco Buttiglione and Austria’s right wing pariah, Joerg Haider in the EU.

It’s also interesting that, for once, the blame for this sorry state of affairs in the North cannot be fully shared with Republicans. There are undoubtedly also homophobic attacks in Republican areas (although such incidents are far less frequent in largely Nationalist Derry than in more equally divided Belfast) but the robber barons at Sinn Fein have at least accepted a policy for lesbian gay and bisexual equality at their Ard Fheis. The SDLP is amongst the most liberal parties on either island in this regard. By contrast the Rev. Ian Paisley always preferred to, in his own words, ‘save Northern Ireland from Sodomy.’

The homophobia issue is, of course, the tip of the political iceberg. IPJ and his political brethren have contributed to a new situation in Northern Ireland where fire is strategically held on the ancient enemy and redirected at gay people, blacks, the Chinese; anyone who happens to be different in fact. Even if there was decommissioning in the morning and Gerry gave the Rev. a bear hug on the steps of Stormont life would still be hell for the minorities of Northern Ireland.
It was her no doubt wearying duty to apologise last week but Mary McAleese might have had the Steptoe and Son of Ulster Unionism in mind when she said that some families in the North taught their kids to hate. Where do you think the poor wee fellow picked it up?


~ by Donal Lynch on March 31, 2008.

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