It’s important not to let a book’s cover put you off but Ian Óg Paisley has a way of sitting in a chair that I find...peculiar. It involves hooking one arm around the back of his chair and positioning the rest of him in a forward-thrusting way. Lolling, you might say. Odd. Either he has a bad back or as one of the psychiatrists said to the other after five minutes with Basil Fawlty: “There’s enough there for a whole conference”.
The BBC’s Question Time was from Belfast Thursday last and Ian Óg was on the panel so I had a chance to study his seating posture of choice. And to listen to his views on, among other things, gay marriage. He prefaced his judgement by explaining that he’d no doubt be demonised, castigated, told he was homophobic and a bigot and maybe a few other things, simply because he had the view that marriage was an institution for a man and a woman only. At that point he had my sympathy. It is true that if you don’t take the liberal line on this subject (and many others) you’re opening yourself up to a barrage of abuse. I was at the Nolan Show on Wednesday night and Ian Óg’s ex-colleague, Jim Allister, suffered just that fate. So much so that Jim Allister came out looking logical and rational, whereas the gays involved came out sounding shrill.
But then, back at Question Time, David Dimbleby kind of ruined it for Ian Óg by quoting some of the things he had said in the past about gays and what they got up to and how he felt about it. In no time it began to look as though the man sitting beside him, Peter Tatchell, along with quite a few audience members might have had some grounds for castigating him. In fact, things got so hot and heavy, it seemed at one point that Ian Óg was issuing an implicit challenge to one audience member to step outside, just you and me, mate. Thinking back, he can’t possibly have said that, but he definitely did end his remarks to the audience member with the word “mate”, and you didn’t need to see the look on his face to know he wasn’t using the word in a friendly, let alone marital way: more in a “You talkin’ to me, mate?” sort of way.
Or maybe that was just me. If you saw the programme you may have interpreted it differently. Thing is, I’m grateful to Ian Óg - he gave me a half-hour of his time about a year ago with an interview for my book Whose Past Is It Anyway?, and I'm grateful for that. Though as I remember, he did sit in that funny way then too. Must be a bad back. Mustn’t it?