A sizeable portion of the south’s population love royalty. Which is why a sizeable portion of the south’s population must have been pleased to hear that Ian Paisley and his wife were yesterday given a conducted tour of both houses of the Seanad in action. Apparently there was heated debate in both chambers during the Paisley visit, but the former DUP leader is reported as saying “I could take you to the Ballymena Town Council and show you how they do it. That there was a genteel performance”. Brian Cowen presented Eileen Paisley with a Tara brooch as a commemoration of her visit. Today the Paisleys were given lunch at Áras an Uachtaráin by President Mary McAleese.
What is the purpose of this kind of visit? Judging by the gift of the brooch and Paisley’s chuckling Ballymena comparison, you might conclude the idea is to emphasise the human face of the DUP. A bit like those godawful TV programmes on RTE that Rhonda Paisley fronted in the early 1980s: you may think Paisleyism is a synonym for bigotry and sectarianism but look – we’re really just cheerful fun-loving Northern folk!
It didn’t work then but maybe that’s because Paisley was still a major player at the time. Now that both he and Eileen have been or soon will be assumed into the British heaven of the House of Lords, he can be embraced (metaphorically speaking) even by Caoimhin O Caolain of Sinn Féin. One of two things. Either this is wall-paper to cover the deep cracks that exist in the north’s present arrangement, or it’s a a slow shuffle of old enemies towards each others until they can eventually, painlessly, become as one.