In the wake of the success of Democratic Unionist Party the Rev Ian Paisley is once again making regular
on our television screens.
. But every time I see him I have to smile. For I am always reminded of a strange, farcical meeting with him in the Europa Hotel, Belfast at the height of the Northern Ireland troubles.
My paper, the Daily Mirror, had sent me to the province to produce a list of ideas for future features.
I think for some reason I must have had to stay over the weekend. Most of the other English journalists who made the Europa their headquarters had flown home and the hotel was very quiet that day.
About lunchtime I was in the area about the lounge when there, right in front of me, was the bulky well-known figure of the Rev Ian Paisley, or Dr Ian Paisley as he now prefers to be called.
At the time he was having a very bad press and everything he said was being ridiculed. Why not, I thought, let him have his say and do an article that that might give readers a fairer and perhaps truer glimpse of this interesting but possibly tormented character.
I went over to him and politely and respectfully introduce myself: "William Keenan, Daily Mirror, Dr Paisley." In Unionist circles this invariably got the response, "William, that's a good name that." But I was met with only silence. I then went on to ask him if he would be willing at some stage to give me an interview. I promised 1 would write an honest piece about him and I think I even offered to read it back to him and take out anything he considered to be untrue.
He looked at me with horror. I must at this stage point out that there was nothing peculiar about my appearance. I was wearing what I usually wore in Northern Ireland; a dark blue business suit, white shirt and sober tie. My reason for my smart appearance was based on the fact that most terrorists were send:lily dressed and that neither side seemed to be going in for shooting a well-dressed man.
So I knew it wasn't my appearance that made the Rev Ian suddenly swivel round and run out of the room as fast as his legs could carry him. When someone runs away from you the natural instinct is to go after them.. So I followed, at a more leisurely pace, the Rev Tan towards the door he had shot through.
Beyond the door was a corridor which opened out into another room. To my surprise the Rev Ian was nowhere to be seen but I felt sure he couldn't have covered the distance needed to take him out of my sight in such a short time.
It was then I noticed the Europa's barber's shop on the right,. which was closed. 1 tried the glass-framed door, which wasn't locked, and looked in. At first all was still and silent. Then I noticed the barber's apron was spread right over the chair and seemed to be covering something. I also detected a very slight movement. "Dr Paisley?" I reverently inquired. "What's wrong?'4
At that the barber's apron flew into the air like a discarded shroud and the Rev Ian dashed past with his aims in the
air shouting, "Help, help. Save me, somebody save me. A dreadful Mirror journalist is after me."
It seemed to him a fate worse than death.
Looking back I suppose it was one of those rare occasions when he was without his retinue and his bodyguards so he may have felt vulnerable. But that is why I always smile when I see tough, burly Ian Paisley delivering his uncompromising Calvinistic rhetoric.
"We will never surrender. We will never talk to Sinn Fein."
In the extreme Protestant parlance of Northern Ireland what he is saying is that, "We'll never talk to Catholics."
I have often thought that politicians would see Northern Ireland's problems in a clearer light if they went back into history and looked more closely at the teachings of the so-called Reformers Luther and Calvin. Until then Christians had always believed that man or woman was saved by faith and good works, by loving God above all things and their neighbour as themselves Luther and Calvin turn things on their heads by denying that good works were necessary for salvation. Faith alone saved. Sola fide was Luther's maxim. You had only to believe and it didn't matter how much you sinned against God and neighbour so long as you believed.
Calvin, with his cold logic, developed this a stage further. Calvinists were God's elect. God had from the beginning of time pre-destined his elect for eternal salvation. Grace was given to them and they had no choice.but to receive it. And no matter how much wrong they did or how much they sinned the elect could not forfeit heaven because they were predestined to salvation.
The rest of mankind, especially
Catholics, were doomed for eternal damnation. And no matter how well Catholics behaved, or whatever good they did, they could not avert being doomed to Hell.
Calvin's teaching led to wars of religion in France, Scotland and Holland.
It was Oliver Cromwell who took Calvin's doctrine to Ireland where he slaughtered the Catholics and then drove them off their lands to give to his soldiers in lieu of pay.
From then on, for hundreds of years, Catholics were considered inferior beings to be kept down, not deserving of any human rights. They were denied decent housing. They were denied jobs.
The Protestant marches were devised as a way of hammering home the bitter message of supremacy. But why in heaven's name are they still going on?
Calvinism, I feel, is still deeply imbedded in Northern Irish psyche.
I'd love to know what Dr Paisley's views arc on the subject. Maybe one day he'll grant me that interview I asked for. My offer to write an honest report still stands, Dr Paisley.